It was one of those warm middle-of-California-summer nights in a tiny lakeside town near Yosemite. You know, the type where you don’t feel like doing anything but don’t really feel like doing nothing either, so you just kinda slowly walk around in this hazy fog of dehydrated confusion. We were spending a week by the lake with other Russian families. The kids were glued to the TV. The adults were obsessing over how to unglue them from the TV. And as I sat next to a friend of a friend, listening to her talk about how her son had been taking piano lessons for over a year and could play a slightly off-key rendition of “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” I saw it.
A plastic soda bottle filled with a mysterious brown liquid that seemed like root beer in disguise. I lifted it up to my nose to smell it– and took a whiff of my childhood.
I filled up a bubbling glass of the drink I knew was one of my early memories– Kvass. A common Russian drink. I gave some to my son to try, and it was love at first sight. We’ve been making the drink ever since.
If you’ve never had a taste of Kvass before, you’re in for a surprise. Tasting like a milder version of Kombucha, it is tangy, slightly sweet and very refreshing on hot summer days.
Just like Kombucha, it is a Health drink, packed with vitamins C, B1 and E, amino acids, micronutrients and amazing natural bubbles. It energizes and regulates the body’s metabolic processes. It helps prevent infections and keep the heart and circulatory system healthy. And for those like me, suffering from gastritis, the acids that form during fermentation help in the digestion of meat and fat dishes.
Where I grew up, Kvass was a humble street drink. In Peru, the street drink is Chicha Morada. In Mexico, Tepache. In Soviet Union, Kvass! A thirst quencher, it was sold on almost every street corner, in any city from the smallest villages to the largest metropoli.
Picture a large metal barrel on wheels laying on its side in the middle of the sidewalk . A sweaty overweight woman stuffed into a long cotton dress, sitting in a creaky chair with a sack of coins around her waist. “Next,” she’d yell to the long line of thirsty locals waiting patiently for their turn.
3 kopeyki for a small. 6 for a large. A communal glass goes under a spigot and fills with the cold brown bubbly liquid. The next in line downs it in three large gulps and hands the glass over. In one fast motion, the vendor drops the glass into a bucket of water, swirls it once or twice, pulls it out, shakes off the water and waves to the line, “Next.”
This recipe I am sharing is of that nostalgically authentic Russian Kvass. Minus the germ-polluted glass. Minus the barrel. Minus the long line. Minus the hot and muggy Soviet Union. Minus the sweaty woman.
Recipe by Cucee. Edited by Mika
- 5 qt water (20 cups)
- 1/2 lb (5-11 slices of classic Russian/Jewish black or whole wheat bread), depending on the density of the loaf
- 1.5 cups organic sugar
- 1 tbsp dry yeast
- ¼ cup organic raisins
- Toast the bread slices on the darkest toaster setting, until the bread looks VERY burnt. Darker bread makes darker kvass. You might need to toast the bread twice. (Alternatively, you can toast it in the oven)
- Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the bread. Cover with a clean towel (or a lid) and let rest in a dark, cool place overnight or for 8 to 10 hours
- The next day, carefully remove the toasted bread and discard it
- In a medium bowl, mix together sugar and yeast, add them to kvas mixture and stir. Add raisins
- Cover again with the towel (or the lid) and let set another 8 to 10 hours. Taste your kvass to see if it is the right flavor. For the the right flavor means Kvass tastes tangy and not too sweet
- When ready, scoop out the raisins and discard
- Poor Kvass into bottles, close with the lids and leave them in the fridge overnight. Make sure to have a tight seal if you want bubbly Kvass. Plastic bottles work best for this
- You can enjoy your Kvass drink the next day. However, like borscht, it does tastes better each passing day