I’ll admit it – I wasn’t sure what to do with my first bunch of Land’s Sake CSA share beets. Beyond my fond memories of Nana’s cold borscht soup, and well, of course, gefilte fish with (lots and lots of) beet horseradish, I hadn’t gone out of my way for the stuff. Thankfully, with credit to my fellow Land’s Sakers, that’s changed.
Since that first season I’ve prepared and enjoyed grilled beets, roasted beets, beet chips, stir fried beet leaves, and have experimentally explored the borscht. I was sad in my second season to see that Chioggas don’t hold their candy-cane bull’s-eye allure, and indeed most of their color, after boiling, but the outcome was a milder and still tasty cold summer soup. For the beet-wary, our farmers have produced some magnificent golden beets, which are milder in taste than the reds.
You might notice that the Land’s Sake Farm Stand advertises our leafless beet offerings as ‘beet root,’ but that simply means that we have liberated the root from the leaves. (I really enjoy giving beets these “haircuts!”) Though the leaves are still pretty tasty this time of year, some stand and CSA guests prefer to live without them, while others (including our field foes) enjoy them heartily. Depending on the day, we have been generally offering both loose and leafy red and golden beets.
This functional food looks gorgeous, and I don’t mind a betraying post-beet-cooking magenta stain, but if pink isn’t your color considering wearing gloves when preparing beets. Red beets’ color (and subsequent stain) is caused by betanin, an ingredient often used in prepared foods and juices as a natural coloring. Beets are also chock full of nitrates that may help with a healthy blood pressure.
Runners take note – a small study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012 suggested a connection between eating 7 ounces of beets about an hour before running a 5k and a modestly improved pace, a change attributed to the natural nitrates. The study is too small to take the beet-pace connection as gospel, and I’m not sure that beets figure in to my traditional pre-race peanut butter and jelly meal, but the findings are just another reason not to shy away from beets.
Today my hands bear the mark of the red beet. Instead of scouring Pinterest for another interesting borscht recipe, I dug out a battered copy of Love and Knishes: How to Cook Like a Jewish Mother, a cheekily-narrated cookbook filled with traditional Jewish comfort foods. I was looking for one borscht recipe, but I found five! Since I didn’t have four weeks to ferment beet russel, don’t eat brisket (a shame I’ll admit), and can’t eat sour cream, I adapted a recipe that seemed fairly similar to Nana Spunt’s, identified in the book as Israeli Borsch. Nanas everywhere will deny having recipes at all, but I welcome your suggestions on making authentic Eastern European Jewish-style borscht.
[One of Many Variations on] Red Beet Borsch(t)
2 bunches (about 10 small) red beets, grated
2 carrots, grated
1 onion, grated
2 quarts water
2 tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
sour cream garnish
Peel and grate beets, onions, and carrots. Shred cabbage. Add salt to water and bring to a boil. Simmer grated mixture and cabbage until tender, about 25 minutes. Add lemon juice (and sugar if desired, though Land’s Sake carrots are very sweet). Simmer for 10 minutes longer. For traditional cold borscht, remove from flame and chill thoroughly. For a cool autumn night, serve hot alongside a hearty meal. Some swear by sour cream, but I think the soup sings on its own.
Kasdan, Sara. Love and Knishes: How to Cook Like a Jewish Mother. New York: Vanguard Press, 1956. Print
Murphy M, Eliot K, Heuertz R, Weiss E. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Apr;112(4):548-552.