Yes, yes, I’m aware that I already did a beet phickle for you this summer. This one’s different, and, I’ll admit, it might kind of be cheating where the whole phickling it thing is concerned. But not really? Basically, what you’re going to be doing, is pickling so that you can drink the brine. That’s right, folks, I’m talking beet kvass. one of my very favorite fermented drinks. So tasty! So customizable! So, as I recently learned, explosive!
So let’s talk about that explosive part and get it out of the way. I had my first explosion. It was fun, cuz it was beets, so it made my kitchen look like a gorgeous slaughterhouse. You know, the way you want it to look on your last lazy Sunday morning of the calendar year. With the help of my wonderful husband, I got everything spic and span in the space of only an entire weekend day. Everything, and I mean everything was spattered with kvass: the utensils inside my drawers, the pots and pans inside my cupboards, my walls, my refrigerator, the molding, the doormat and, obviously, the floors. I’m not complaining that much; I mean, I got almost all of the stains out. And if that hadn’t happened, I’m not sure would have discovered that doing it with mostly chioggia beets is definitely the way to go if you want a shockingly pretty drink. Anyway, I fermented this in my 1 gallon Fido jar, which in theory, should’ve meant some wall spray (like what happened with my mul kimchi back in April) when too much carbonation built up inside my jar. Instead, a big chunk of jar just popped out of the bottom. In a way, I am grateful; beet kvass sprayed all over my walls would likely have been a harder stain to remove than a little splatter on the walls and a lot of soaking on my floors and wood countertop (and inside my drawers, etc., etc.). However, I’ll admit, I’m still not sure what exactly happened. Yes, it should have gone in the fridge that night. It was on day 5 of room temp, and that’s when the ruby liquid usually gets chilled in my house. But honestly, it’s never been all that vigorous of a fermenter for me, so I thought I’d be alright waiting until morning to clear a space in the fridge. Live and learn, right? I’m going to act like it’s a rite of passage to have a thing explode. That said, don’t let it happen to you! And now I can serve as a cautionary tale: no one was hurt in my home, but that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t have been. Please, please, be careful, vigilant and strict when fermenting liquids in glass containers.
So the exploded kvass was supposed to be a long-fermented kvass (about 2 weeks) for a little talk I was giving at the Philly Homebrewer’s Club, and after the explosion, I had to act quickly to make something drinkable for the event. I couldn’t find red beets, which I prefer, because then it looks like you’re drinking blood, which just seems a little badass to me (only because you are not drinking blood; actual vampirism seems uncool to me). Or if you’re not a gross person, it looks like a sumptuous ruby liquid that you couldn’t fake the color of with all the food coloring in the world. In any case, I couldn’t get my hands on red beets that day, and I had to get the kvass made, so I settled for one tiny, leftover bull’s blood beet and several extra large chioggia beets. You know the ones? They look like a bullseye and taste like a beet. I love those guys for salads and the like, but usually for pickling they leave me unimpressed. The red dyes the white and then they’re just like less pretty regular beets. Blah. But in kvass, oh lord. You get organic neon, something I didn’t think possible.
The word kvass actually means “yeast” in a whole host of slavic languages (thanks, Wikipedia!), but this beet kvass is produced through lactic acid fermentation. The final beverage is usually described as earthy, but I find it to taste like beet lemonade. It’s touted to have just about every health benefit under the sun, from anti-carcinogenic to liver cleanser. I drink it because it tastes amazing, and I do get a little extra pep in my step when beet kvass is around. I also find it to be a great recovery drink after a workout (this statement has definitely not been evaluated by the FDA).
There are other kvasses out there. Everything from super wacky combinations to the traditional rye bread variation are called “kvass” by some people, and I’ll definitely share some other recipes with you in the future. For now, though, you can enjoy drinking something that looks like it came out of the worst possible aisle of the convenience store, but actually came out of an organic garden!
CHIOGGIA BEET KVASS
Yields 11-12 cups of beet kvass
Some people use whey to make beet kvass ferment more quickly. In my opinion, this could not be less essential. Your beets will ferment just fine without whey, so why add it? I also omitted salt in this last batch, but you may choose to use a very small amount. Most people do, since the salty environment favors good bacteria over bad and slows fermentation. Just remember that a little goes a long way.
A gallon jar with a gasket, two half-gallon ball jars, a large pickl-it or other airlock jar, or a water sealing crock
Something to serve as a weight inside of your fermentation vessel. I place a cabbage leaf inside and then place a boiled stone or small glass on top of it to keep the veggies below the surface level of the liquid.
- 3 extra large chioggia beets, about 3.5 pounds
- 4 inches of turmeric root, chopped into chunks (optional, but excellent for dealing with inflammation)
- 4 inches of ginger root, chopped into chunks
- 2 ORGANIC lemons, quartered and scrubbed, separated
- 1 T coriander seeds (optional)
- 1 cinnmon stick (optional)
- ~11 cups of filtered water
- small pinch of salt (optional)
- Chop your beets into large chunks. I chopped mine into eighths, but depending on the size and shape of your beets, you might want to quarter them or cut them into irregular chunks. Do not shred them or cut them into small pieces or slices. That will make the sugars too available, and will give you a yeast, rather than a lactic acid, fermentation which is not desirable in this case.
- Put your spices, if using, all but one of your lemon quarters, unsqueezed, and your ginger and turmeric into your fermentation vessel.
- Place beet pieces on top and fill with water. The size of your beet pieces will determine how much water you will be able to get into your jar, but I usually get 11-12 cups in there, leaving about 1.5 inches below the shoulder of my jars.
- Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon quarter into the liquid and then throw that lemon peel in as well.
- If you’re only leaving it for two days (which is fine) seal the vessel and put in in a room temperature spot away from direct sunlight. If you’re going to let it sit at room temp for 3 days or longer, find a weight that will fit inside the jar but still let you seal the jar. See above for suggestions.
- Burp any sealed containers regularly.
- One the beets have steeped to your desired acidity, 2-4 days, stick them in the refrigerator for an additional 2-4 days. I normally do 5 and 5, but given my last explosion, I’m going to start refrigerating earlier in the summer months.
- Once you’re satisfied, strain off the liquid to drink. Enjoy!
- You can add similar quantities of water to the jar with the veggies in it and repeat the process with a shorter fermentation time (3 days is good). I like to do three batches with the same produce, with successively shorter fermentation times.
- Once you’ve been through three batches, it’s time to say goodbye. My dog loves beets, so I always give her a couple chunks before composting the rest. For the more hardcore among you, I’m sure there are some great ways to reuse the goods!
What’s your favorite thing to add to beet kvass?