The longer I live on this sweet-sleepy full-of-opinions and people-who-want-to-be-hippies wacko rural island in the middle of Puget Sound, the more interested I am in what is happening here.
On dozens of farms and acres of private land, there are people growing food, holding pop-up supper clubs, making cheese, and crafting fermented cashew cream for sale at the farmers’ markets. Like many small towns and rural places in America, Vashon is full of entrepreneurs making unusual dreams come to market.
About 10 minutes from us, on the property of a friend, in a tiny building painted with sunshine and sunsets, our friend Leila is brewing kombucha. And not just any kombucha, Behesht kombucha is some of the best kombucha I have ever tasted, made with Vashon strawberries or activated turmeric or rosehips and cardamom. I’ve become so fond of this good-for-the-gut fermented drink she makes that I can’t imagine a week without it in our house. Luckily, now that Leila Katapoush has gone through the rigorous process of getting her kombucha legally permitted, those of us who live on Vashon can buy it any time we want.
On the afternoon I visited Leila while she tended to her various kombuchas — whom she called “the ladies” — she shared some of her history with me. She began brewing kombucha in 1994, after dealing with some autoimmune issues. She read plenty of accounts of the benefits of fermented foods on the gut and tried it out. After awhile, she moved onto other passions for a time. But in 2003, she picked it up again and she hasn’t stopped.
Now, for her business, she brews 100 gallons of kombucha a month. The reaction to her brew on the island has been so resounding that she’s going up to 130 gallons of kombucha a month. What makes it different? Leila is really driven by flavor. She uses strawberries she picks herself at Sun Island Farm on Vashon. In the spring, she started experimenting with a spring fir tip kombucha. “It read like champagne.” This is kombucha for people who truly love food.
And it’s Leila’s attentiveness that makes this kombucha special. She’s putting every label on every mini-growler by hand. She talks to the kombucha, regularly, in a reverent tone. And she loves what she does. As I stood talking with her, I heard her say several times, “I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful.” Leila doesn’t take this lightly.
Behest means heaven or paradise in Farsi, the language of Leila’s Iranian family. It’s also the name of the street where her family had their home in Iran where a beloved family member lives. This kombucha, for her, is the marriage of Iran and the Pacific Northwest, her chosen home.
Leila told me that her aunt in Iran is one of the inspirations for her indefatigable work ethic. Her aunt has run an orphanage for decades. “She doesn’t take sh-t from anyone,” Leila told me. She’s 80 years old and she still makes meals for everyone at the orphanage once a month.
Nobody should mess with Leila either. She has work to do, kombucha to brew.
And she is, refreshingly, not interested in building an online store or getting this kombucha into stores in Seattle, and then across the country. She wants to grow this business slowly, over time, still giving herself the time to put the labels on every bottle. Right now, her kombucha is sold at the Roasterie here on the island.
If you want to try some of this kombucha, looks like you’re going to have to come visit Vashon. I hope you do.
Most of you reading might not make it to Vashon this summer to try Leila’s Behesht. Instead, we thought we’d share a tea made with the same flavors as one of Leila’s kombucha.
I first learned about turmeric paste through Heidi’s wonderful post a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve seen some form of turmeric paste on many blogs and Instagram feeds. Did you know that turmeric is “hot” right now? (Don’t get me started on this. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years across the world, particularly in India. Just because we have suddenly discovered it thanks to Google food trends…. Well, I’ll stop.)
I love the taste of turmeric and ginger, mixed up with honey, to form a golden paste. Keep the paste around any time you need tea. Just pour some hot water in, add some fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a touch of black pepper. I like all the wild flavors together. It’s said that the black pepper helps with the absorption of the turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties. I’m not a doctor so I make no claims. I really just love the way this tastes.
Make the paste. Spoon the ground turmeric and ginger into the honey. Blend them together and mash them up until they form a golden paste. Set aside the paste for when you want to make tea.
Make the tea. When you want to have a cup of tea, put a teaspoon of the paste into a cup. Pour hot water (not boiling hot) and stir for quite awhile until the paste is entirely dissolved. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon and a pinch of cracked black pepper and stir it up. Sip slowly.
Feel like playing? You could also use this paste to make a delicious hot milk. Use whatever milk you want. Some folks swear this drink is helpful for restful sleep.