Monday, August 07, 2006
As I write this, a batch of kvass is fermenting in my basement. Kvass is a mildly alcoholic Russian bread beer, usually made out of stale rye bread and yeast, and flavored with fruit juices or mint. You drink it cold as a summer beverage or use it as a base for okroshka, a chilled summer soup.
You can buy kvass or kvass starter at some Russian stores, but I wanted to make my own. There's no reason or rhyme for this. I don't have any nostalgic childhood memories of kvass. In fact, I remember tasting kvass only once. The most memorable part of this experience was buying it from a street vendor who was manning a beer barrel-like contraption (see the Wikipedia photo). I don't know what kvass tastes like, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to taste like. It should be yeasty, carbonated and sweet and sour, with a hint of lemon and mint.
While making kvass at home is not unheard of, it's not something people in Russia do everyday. When I told my parents that I'm making kvass, they smiled indulgently and wished me luck. Making kvass isn't hard but it does stretch over a couple of days and involved soaking dried rye bread in hot water and a lot of straining liquids through a sieve. I used two recipes, one here, and the other from a hilarious, out-of-print cookbook called Perestroika: The Dinner Party. (The theme of this book is a multi-course, perestroika celebration dinner, complete with a kulebyaka--cabbage pie--in the shape of a hammer and sickle and tablecloths made of Pravda newspaper.)
I'm holding off on praising homemade kvass for now. It takes a couple of days to ferment in a cool place, so I haven't tasted it yet. I don't know if the final result will be blog-worthy--I suspect my kvass will taste a bit flat. However, I can tell you that my kvass smells exactly how I think it should taste, and that my kitchen now has a not at all unpleasant aroma of a beer brewery.
I wish I could quote you Pushkin or some such on the greatness of kvass, but for now I can only offer these tidbits, mined from the Web:
*"Kvass is considered a tonic for digestion, an excellent thirst quencher and, consumed after vodka, an antidote to a hangover."
*Coke is ruining local kvass production by dominating the market with quasi-kvass. Kvass is hardly a "Soviet-era" beverage, by the way; Kvass production goes back centuries.
*Kvass has an alcohol content of anywhere from .7 to 4 percent.
*The recipe I'm using has the potential to taste terrible.
*You can make kvass out of apples, huckleberries or beets.
*Okroshka is low-carb. I can't wait to make orkoshka if my kvass turns out. This soup is basically a Russian version of gazpacho--you chop up cucumbers, scallions, ham, potatoes, eggs, radishes and dill, add kvass as stock, chill and eat with sour cream or spicy mustard.
*Americans are not so keen on kvass.