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Post-holiday season, most people aim to shed the holiday weight and cleanse for the year ahead. I suppose the beginning of the year serves as a natural reset button for many, but with the cold weather becoming harsher in January, that can be hard to do, because all you crave is a warm, filling meal oozing with richness and flavor.
I did my share of indulging over the last few weeks in December by dining out with friends at restaurants, savoring decadent sweets served at office holiday parties, and seeking comfort in carb-rich and cheese-filled foods for warmth and satisfaction.
Once the new year arrived though, I was ready to leave the heavy foods behind for something lighter and healthier, but still full of flavor.
I wanted something different, a dish that would make me feel good inside, and also one that would leverage seasonal ingredients, so I flipped through some of the recipe books I had and landed on Borscht, an Eastern European beetroot soup whose deep red color drew my attention, and the list of ingredients for which sounded like just the reset I needed. I had flipped past this recipe so many times in years past, skeptical that it might be too sour for me. In the end, I found a way to modify it a bit to make it more palatable to my tastes, while still removing me from my comfort zone and forcing me to try something completely new.
Detoxifying Winter Ingredients
What I absolutely love about this soup is that it overflows with healthy, detoxifying nutrients while also leveraging key winter ingredients:
- Beets: This root vegetable contains properties that stimulate liver function, skin elasticity and protect mitochondria, according to Jolene Hart’s book Eat Pretty, a wellness guide that offers nutrition tips for building beauty from the inside out. Plus, you can use multiple parts of this vegetable since the leaves contain vitamins A and C.
- Onion: I used to dismiss these pungent veggies as not having any nutritive value, but actually, I’ve learned that they are filled with anti-viral, anti-inflammatory properties, and can also help with defending against aging, according to Hart’s book. Plus, they are great for the colder months because they warm the body with their ability to boost circulation.
- Carrots: Notice a trend here? This root veggie is full of carotenoids and biotin, which promote healthy hair, skin, and nail growth. Carrots, too, contain vitamin A, which helps regenerate collagen, and reduce the deterioration of eyesight, according to Hart.
- Cabbage: Full of fiber, this cruciferous veggie, like its relatives kale and broccoli, contains antioxidants and helps with digestion and regularity. Certainly, if you’re looking to cleanse the holiday toxins from your body, cabbage is a good place to start.
Tips for taste
Growing up, the only beets I had were a shredded beetroot curry my mom made with green chillis, onion, and the usual Indian seasoning. That, and now the occasional golden beets tossed onto a kale salad at a restaurant, have been my experiences with this root until now.
However, borscht would take on a different flavor: it would use vinegar, so it would be more on the sour side. I didn’t want my soup too sour, so I added an extra tablespoon of sugar and also added some Greek yogurt into the soup and to top it off (instead of sour cream as most recipes state). I figured Greek yogurt has a naturally sour-ish taste so that would work well to keep it true to the intent of the original dish while making it more palatable for me. I used vegetable broth for my version, and also blended all of it up in the end for a smoother consistency.
Because we have been experiencing below-freezing temperatures in Atlanta, I consumed this soup hot, but I could also see how this could be a refreshing cold soup for the summer months as well, served like a gazpacho.
No ingredient left behind
Since the leaves of beets are also packed with nutrients, I saved the leaves to use them for a salad I served alongside the borscht. I still had several carrots from the bunch of carrots I had purchased for the borscht, so I decided to roast these in the oven to add some substance to my bed of greens. I felt the carrots in both dishes would tie them together well.
In the end, these two dishes ended up being delicious! I ate all of the six servings of soup myself over the course of several days. I will admit that it is definitely beet-heavy, so if you don’t care for beets, this is not the dish for you. My soup turned out not being too sour, since I had mitigated the sourness with other ingredients.
Meanwhile, the salad was so good I didn’t have to even have to use much of the dressing. The natural sweetness of the carrots paired well with the goat cheese and nuts I had used. Further, since I made a dressing mixture of honey and balsamic vinaigrette, the vinegar in both dishes worked well together too.
So with that, here’s how I made the borscht and roasted carrot salad. Cheers to healthy eating in 2018!
Makes 6 servings
- 3 medium-sized beets — I shredded 1.5 of them and thinly sliced another 1.5 of them into thin sticks (save the leaves)
- 2 carrots – shredded
- 1/2 onion – diced
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 stalks of celery, sliced thinly
- 1/2 head of white cabbage – shredded or chopped finely
- 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 7 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2-4 sprigs of fresh dill – most recipes will call for only 2 sprigs, but I love dill and I was extremely generous with this
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (optional, but I used it)
- salt & pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the sticks of beet, carrot, celery and chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently for 4-5 minutes.
- Add the stock, vinegar, and sugar, and snip a tablespoon of dill into the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 35-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
- Stir in the cabbage, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in the grated beet and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
- (Optional, but my personal step) Add Greek yogurt, remove from pan and blend in batches until it becomes smooth in consistency.
- Ladle the borscht into warmed bowls. Garnish with sour cream and dill.
Roasted Carrot & Beet Leaves Salad
Makes 2-3 servings as main, 3-4 as side
- Beet leaves from 1 bunch of beets, removed from the stems and chopped roughly
- 4 carrots – sliced lengthwise into 1/2 inch thickness
- 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons herbs de provence
- Dressing as desired: 2 parts honey to 1 part balsamic vinaigrette
- Sea salt if desired
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- While the oven is heating, in a medium mixing bowl, combine olive oil, herbs de Provence, and sliced carrots. Use a big spoon or manually mix the ingredients to ensure the carrots are evenly coated in olive oil and seasoning.
- Arrange carrots lengthwise onto a baking sheet. Once the oven is ready, pop the baking sheet into the oven and allow carrots to roast for about 20 minutes, or until they start to brown on the outsides.
- While the carrots are roasting, remove the leaves from the beet stems, rinse them and give them a rough chop. Arrange them in a salad bowl or on a plate as the base of your salad. Sprinkle goat cheese crumbles and nuts over the bed of leaves.
- Once the carrots are brown on the outside, remove from the oven. Add sea salt if desired and mix on the sheet to ensure even coating. Remove from baking sheet and arrange as strips on top of the salad.
- Mix the honey and balsamic vinaigrette together well in a small cup so that they are completely combined. Drizzle this dressing over the salad as desired and serve.