Tuesday, February 27, 2007
First, Make Your Beer...
I have a small confession, with all the hot and humid weather we've been having around here lately, my cooking mojo is somewhat ailing. It's not that I don't want to cook, rather eating has seemed a rather tiresome chore, so things that would normally have me leaping about the kitchen, like Soup, Glorious Soup seemed like a river too far.
However it wasn't that I didn't have an idea about the kind of soup that I wanted to do, there was a recipe I've had for some time, it's just that it entailed a bit of mucking around in that the base for the soup has to be started three days before the actual soup making can occur. There was a cheat to be had in the form of bought dark beer, but where's the fun? It was the chance to ferment the soup base that caught my eye in the first place.
Now I'm sure Homer Simpson would approve of any soup made with beer or beer like liquid, as he says in that coveting way, "Mmmm, beer." Well not beer in the strictest sense but kvas, a fermented liquid made from rye bread and flavoured with molasses (treacle). What this liquid possesses is a pleasant sourness that is essential to several Eastern European dishes. Fermented soups have a long and proud tradition throughout the region including Poland, Ukraine and Russia from where this particular soup, botvinya, hails. Another soup, borscht or red barszcz, is nowadays mostly soured by the use of vinegar but was traditionally made with fermented beetroot juice, but white borscht or barszcz can only be made from fermented rye bread as this is what gives the soup its particular character.
There is a second confession to make. I haven't actually made the soup - yet. What I have made is the kvas which kept me up to 1.00 am last night. Now I'm not taking you on a journey and throwing you out of the car half way, it's just the kvas has to ferment for three days and by then the Soup, Glorious Soup event will be over. I blame my failing mojo, cooked as it is with the summer heat. But I do promise another post with the completed soup.
The kvas making was a bit of a trial itself. I kept forgetting to buy the molasses even though I had been to the Russian bakery for the dark rye bread, no problem as rye bread has the ability to keep forever and it does need to be dried out. When it came to the drying part, it took the best part of an hour in a low oven. There was a further complication in the amount of liquid required. The recipe said to use two litres of water to soak the bread, then strain it off, the soup needs two litres of kvas. See the problem? Well I didn't straight away, it wasn't until the kvas was straining that I realized there was no way that the eight slices of rye bread sponges were going to give up two litres of liquid, more like only half a litre came out. So a further steeping was required with another two litres of water.
But eventually it got done and when I tasted the result this morning it did have mellow, dark beer nuances. It was even a bit foamy like a good beer. The kvas needs to ferment for a couple more days in well sealed bottles, the recipe suggested a cool place like a cellar but because I don't want exploding bottles, I'll keep mine in the fridge. Then it will be on to the soup. There are several versions of botvinya, the one I'm making contains salmon, prawns, spinach, sorrel, cucumber and spring (green) onions and is served cold, perfect for a hot Australian summer.
8 slices stale rye bread, dried out in a low oven
4 litres boiling water
50 ml molasses (treacle)
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
4 raisins or sultanas
Break up the bread and put into a large bowl or pot. Pour over the boiling water, cover with a cloth and leave until lukewarm. Line a sieve with a cloth and strain the bread, do not press or squeeze it. Add the molasses to the strained liquid along with the yeast and stir to mix. Cover again and leave for twelve hours, strain again and pour into bottles with tight seals, adding two raisins or sultanas to each one litre bottle. Seal the bottles and leave in the fridge for two days before using. Kvas will keep for two months.