Veg Borscht

Borscht is a soup coming from the Eastern European traditional cuisine. Seems that there are many different recipes for this soup, this is mine: vegetarian, full of vegetables, rich in colour and flavour. By adding amaranth and lentils, it becomes a balanced meal that provides you vitamins, fibre, carbohydrates, proteins and a little amount of fat. You can easily make it vegan, just using a plant-based yogurt when serving. I have decided to make this version with different vegetables that combined together make this a highly nutrient-rich soup: it’s a perfect example of “eat everything in moderation”. Anyway, Borscht is famous for being a healthy and blood building recipe. Why? Whether is meat-based, vegetarian or vegan, has a unique combination of nutrients and a traditional deep red colour given by beetroots (the original version has also beef and a meat-based broth). A meatless version it’s easier to digest and the content of fat it’s significantly lower.

This recipe for Borscht is overall a good pick-me-up soup, whether you feel tired or a little under the weather or dealing with stress, for example. A little bit about beetroots: they are rich in vitamins from the B group, folate (especially important for pregnant, or trying to be pregnant, ladies), iron, magnesium, potassium, nitrates, and betaine. Also, they are rich in fibre and vitamin C: good for the immune system and heart health. Nitrates? These compounds have been widely studied, looking for a correlation between a dietary intake of beetroots and exercise. These researches show that nitrates in the body become nitric oxide (nitrates are first reduced to nitrite by a nitrate reductase enzyme on the surface of the tongue, prior to forming nitric oxide gas), providing more oxygen to the muscle and improving the sports performance (there is an increase of the oxygen uptake). But pay attention to a couple of things: an excess of nitrates can lead to gastric and kidney-related problems; also beets contain oxalates, so people with kidney or gallbladder problems should be careful because they could worsen a situation of kidney or bladder stones. Beetroots are overall low in fat and full of nutrients, but, due to their high sugar content, it’s important to consider their glycemic index, that is quite different if the beets are cooked (high) or raw (low). Below there are a couple of links if you want to check out some of the studies regarding beets and exercise. Anyway, you will read more about beetroots on these pages for sure.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23640589
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28067808
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24089377
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24481133

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Borscht
(serves 4)

120 g amaranth
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 medium-sized beetroot, finely chopped
3 handful of chopped red cabbage
1 shallot
juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
1 handful of lentils (preferably puy or beluga, but red split lentils will be good as well)
4 sundried tomatoes (rehydrated in water)
1 tsp coconut oil (measured solid)
4 tbsp tomato puree (passata)
3-4 dried apricots, finely chopped (optional)
4 tbsp plain yogurt
½ tsp ginger powder
½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a pinch of black pepper
fresh parsley to garnish

Heat the oil in a pot, then add the chopped shallot, crushed seeds, black pepper, and ginger, ensuring that they don’t burn. When the spices smell fragrant, add the amaranth and lentils. You will need to add some water, step by step always adding small amounts otherwise the final result will be too liquid. Start by adding enough water to keep all the amaranth and lentils covered. Add the carrots and finely chopped sundried tomatoes. The amaranth will take approx. 35-40 min. to cook on a medium heat. Halfway, add the chopped red cabbage, tomato passata, and lemon juice. Then, when the soup is almost ready, add the chopped beetroot, a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste and mix well. If the soup looks too dry, add some more water. Serve with a tbsp of yogurt (unsweetened plain yogurt – any kind of yogurt will work well) and fresh parsley on top.

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