Boza… A Turkish Winter Wonderland Drink…

Everybody has their own habits at certain times of the year. Jay, for example, finishes almost a liter of eggnog everyday between Thanksgiving and Christmas (ok, maybe not that much but definitely enough to be under the influence!). I, on the other hand, crave for my grandfather’s boza every winter.

And I have been away from it for the past ten years, especially after he passed away in 2005. At that time my family stopped making boza. Because it was his thing. You know certain tasks belong to certain people in the family. My grandfather Ziya did not really get involved with the cooking that much except for a couple of special times in the year. One was at the Ramadan celebration, Eid. At the end of Ramadan, my family used to make baklava from scratch. My grandma, my mom, and Aunt Gülhan would handle the dough, rolling out 60 pieces of the filo dough into thin sheets—which required a lot of muscle work.  My grandfather was responsible for cutting the baklava into small diamond shapes… tray after tray… I think because he was an old school structural engineer and had a way with the ruler and measurements. He was very precise in his work, so nobody got a bigger piece than anybody else.

His second “thing” in the family was to make boza. Boza is a famous fermented drink in Turkey and the surrounding Black Sea countries. It is usually made from maize, millet or wheat. In Turkey, it is served with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas on top. It has a tangy, acidic flavor with a hint of sweetness. And as I recently found out, due to the fermentation process it often has an appreciable alcohol content. So now I think of all the times when, as a kid, I would drink it as a replacement for breakfast before rushing off to school… maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. It’s sweet/tart flavor masks the presence of alcohol, which Ziya Dede never mentioned! Could that maybe explain my sometimes erratic behavior in the middle school (alcohol and hormones are a bad combination)??? And now, of course, I know why I was so addicted to it.

As soon as the weather was cold enough to allow a slow fermentation (he kept his boza on the apartment balcony, outside, never in the fridge while making it), he would get down to the business. He would boil bulgur, mash it through a strainer and add sugar. Then he would add a small amount of boza reserved from last year’s batch. I would go to their house every day to ask “Is it done yet, is it done yet?”. He always patiently would say “Let’s stir and taste it.” It starts on a sweet note on day one and as the fermentation takes place, it get sour each day. How fast it ferments depends on the amount of the pre-fermented boza used. As soon as it was sour enough for our taste, we would fill the pitchers and put it in the fridge (Unless the weather outside is colder than your fridge, by all means keep it outside!).

So instead of craving, I got to work this year. Of course, I did not have boza from last year to use as a yeast culture, so I decided to make my own. I used small amounts of bulgur, sugar, and active dry yeast, and let it ferment for a while. After it reached the sourness I wanted, I took a cup of it to use in the next batch and drank the rest, though it did not taste quite right because there was a big yeasty aftertaste.

I used 800 gr of sugar and 500 grams of bulgur for the real batch. Some friends, after tasting this batch said it was sweet for their taste, and they are used to less sweet boza. As a family, we have a big sweet tooth, so my grandfather might have altered it until he found the sweet-enough boza. If you like, you can use much less sugar and experiment.

The hardest part is to mash the bulgur through a strainer. I first used a hand blender, and tried to puree it as much as possible, then mash it. Still, I had to work on it for a while. Make sure you are feeling strong and patient when you set out to make this drink.

I am so happy that, with the second batch, I was able to reproduce my grandfather’s boza, and I will keep the tradition he left with me alive. I can not think of a winter without boza now that I have drunk lots of it for the past two weeks.  I called my grandmother right away when I tasted the first batch. I could hear the tears in her voice. She said Ziya Dede would be proud of me . Wherever he is, I do hope it’s true!

Boza

Pre-ferment ( This made three cups of boza, I used one cup of it as preferment and we drank the other two. But I do not recommend drinking this due to the aftertaste that comes from the yeast, so you can halve the amounts here if you are doing it solely as a pre-ferment)

250 grams of bulgur

300 grams of sugar

8 grams of active dry yeast

1. Put bulgur in a pot and fill with water until it comes up about 1 inches over the bulgur. Boil until it is cooked throughly.

2. Let it cool, puree with a hand blender and mash it through the strainer over a big bowl. (This step is a time consuming one, you can do it in batches in several attempts). Collect the strained, mashed bulgur in the bowl and put it back into the pot.

3. Proof the yeast with a 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a separate small bowl.

3. Add water until it reaches a thick soup consistency. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. If it does not dissolve you can heat it up a little, but make sure you cool it enough (lukewarm) before you add the yeast. If you add the yeast when it is too hot, it can kill the yeast.  Also, if there are still clumps of bulgur, you might want to use hand blender just to reach the smooth consistency before you add the yeast.

4. Keep it in a cool place (balcony, deck, garage… the temperature should be cold, around 30-40-degrees F), covered.

5. Stir it once or twice a day, letting air in to get the yeast working. It starts bubbling right away, but it gets to the desired sour taste in 3-4 days.

Real Boza – With pre-fermented starter

500 grams of bulgur

800 grams of sugar

1 cup of pre-fermented boza

1. Repeat the same steps above except the yeast addition. Instead of yeast, add the pre-fermented boza to the mixture and stir.

2. Boza will be done in 4 days to a week, depending on how cold your location is, the colder it is , the slower the fermentation. Taste as you stir each day to find the right time for your taste.

3. After it is done, you can transfer into air tight containers/pitchers and keep it in the fridge. I set aside a cup of boza, and will keep it for the next batch.

4. Serve it cold, sprinkled with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas on top.

10 Comments:

  1. by Citra
    12:04 pm
    Dec 24, 2010

    I just heard about it, Boza. Hmmm.. looks nice and comforting .. Maybe I should try it also :)
    Thx for sharing

  2. by Kristi Rimkus
    8:57 pm
    Dec 26, 2010

    This is really a lovely story of your grandfather. We all have a place in the family, don’t we? It looks like you did your grandfather’s Boza justice. I love the roasted chickpeas on top!

  3. by Monet
    10:24 am
    Dec 27, 2010

    What a beautiful post…such a great story with such personal, family connection. I’m sure your grandfather would be proud! I’ve never heard of this drink before, and it was so interesting to read about. Thank you for sharing with me!

  4. by Yana
    12:32 pm
    Dec 30, 2010

    Thank you for sharing this great recipe and even more grater story!:)
    I am from Bulgaria. I live abroad for many years and BOZA is the only thing i cannot find anywhere here.. I am so happy I finally found a recipe for making it myself:)
    It is winter now and the right time for me to try make some good old BOZA:)
    Happy New Year!!!

  5. by Ilke
    12:39 pm
    Dec 30, 2010

    Thanks Yana, for visiting! I am glad I can help because I know the feeling, desperately craving for something all the time. If you try it with something other than bulgur, please let me know how it turns out since I have never had any other! Good luck! :)

  6. by Rich
    6:49 am
    Jan 3, 2011

    Oh wow, this sounds good – and you locked me in with the ‘appreciable alcohol content!’ Any drink with chickpeas is one I’m going to have to try.

  7. by vilma
    2:55 pm
    Jul 23, 2011

    Hi there ,
    Congratulations on your webpage it’s very helpful…i just wanted to ask you if you can substitute bulgur with corn flour ……thank you

  8. by Bob
    12:55 pm
    Dec 19, 2012

    I tried several times to make it with packaged yeast, but it never produced the right kind of fermentation. Rather it made an alcoholic, fermented mess. Since boza should be sweet/tart, not alcoholic, I decided to just try making my own starter. It worked great.

    To do it, I boil a few spoons of bulgur or millet (better), add equal parts sugar and water, and let it set for a couple days till it starts getting bubbly. If you use this, your boza might be a bit off though, so I do it again, adding a bit of this starter to the second starter batch. (Make sure you let it cool before you add the starter.) This time the fermentation will be faster, and the lactic acid produced will kill the other bacteria that could give your boza a less-than-great flavor. Now do the recipe as provided here (or use hulled millet in the same way). It should be ready in a day, and you’ll have that flavor you miss from Turkey!

  9. by bebe
    8:35 am
    Feb 3, 2013

    Hi Ilke- thank you for this recipe!!

    I just made the pre-ferment and have popped it in the fridge (too warm in my corner of the world at the moment to leave on the balcony!), do you think this will be okay? Are there any signs I need to look out for that may mean something has gone wrong with my pre-ferment?

    Also, if this works for me, where do I store the cup that I need to keep back to make more Boza and how long will it keep?

    Any other hints will be greatly appreciated.

    Much love x

  10. by Hasan Cengiz
    11:22 am
    Sep 7, 2013

    Merhaba İlke Hanım,
    Blogunuzu tesadüf eseri kusadasi.biz forumundan buldum. İngilizcem yeterli değil belkide hiç yok. Tarifin Türkçesini nereden bulabilirim? Yada e-posta adresime göndermeniz mümkün mü?

    Teşekkür ederim.

    Hasan.

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