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I love beets.
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I love their full, earthy flavor.
I love their colors.
I love seeing the tops peek through the soil as they reach maturity.
But what I love even more is getting to eat beets in the middle of winter, when nothing colorful seems to exist.
Beets are a fantastic storage vegetable, which means it keeps well from the sweetness of summer into the darkness of winter. They're also packed with a nutritional punch, so they give us nutrients we desperately need in this darker time of year, including folate, manganese, potassium, and Vitamin C. The pigments that give them their vivid colors provide us with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, showing effectiveness in preventing heart disease, birth defects, and some cancers, especially colon cancer. ((The George Mateljan Foundation)) ((Nutrition Data))
And when beets are combined with cabbage and beef broth made from pastured beef bones, it's a particularly potent winter soup. Cabbage provides the important Vitamin K, as well as a very decent dose of Vitamin C, and the beef broth, laden with the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D, will warm both your body and your soul. (Vitamin D is essential is fighting away those winter blues!)
Borscht is a common Eastern European soup that has its regional variations in Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, and several other Baltic regions. This recipe is how we've come to like it in our house, but it's certainly open to variation should you choose – there are as many ways to prepare borscht as there are cooks!
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 – 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
2-3 large beets or 4-5 medium beets (about 1 1/2 lbs), trimmed, peeled, and finely grated
1 tablespoon raw sugar or honey
2 cups peeled, crushed tomatoes
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
4 cups beef stock
salt and pepper, to taste
Melt butter over medium-high heat in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the onion. Saute until the onion is wilted, then add the garlic and cabbage. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is wilted.
Stir the beets and honey into the cabbage and continue to saute for 1-2 minutes to slightly caramelize both the beets and the honey. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, and broth, along with the salt and pepper if desired. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
When the beets and cabbage are soft, the borscht is ready. You may serve it hot or chilled, pureed or straight from the pot. Personally, I like it it “as is” with the shredded beets and cabbage distinctly shredded when it's served hot, but I prefer it pureed if it's served cold. Again, totally up to you.
Slow Cooker Method
Melt butter over medium-high heat in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the onion. Saute until the onion is wilted, then add the garlic and cabbage. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is wilted. Add the honey and stir until the honey coats the cabbage.
Scrape the cabbage and onions into a 6-quart slow cooker and add remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 2-3 hours – if on low, this soup is very forgiving, so you can leave it for up to 8 hours if necessary.
When the beets and cabbage are soft, the borscht is ready. You may serve it hot or chilled, pureed or straight from the pot. As mentioned above, I like it it “as is” with the shredded beets and cabbage distinctly shredded when it's served hot, but I prefer it pureed if it's served cold.
To serve, top with sour cream and fresh dill fronds and serve with rustic dumplings or boiled potatoes. I also love it as a first course or a side on the holiday table at Thanksgiving or Christmas.