February is heart health month (thank you, St. Valentine) and I can’t think of a more perfect food to showcase than the beet, or beetroot for the Brits.
Beets have a number of health benefits, including boosting stamina and reducing blood pressure (BP), as well as containing potassium, magnesium, iron and vitamins A, B6, C and folic acid. Beets also have powerful antioxidant properties, help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, detoxify the liver, aid in cancer protection, digestive health and improved stamina. Combine these with its share of carbohydrates, protein and soluble fiber — and you have a nutritional powerhouse.
Several studies showed that a daily intake of beet juice provides a significant drop in blood pressure, and the higher the starting BP, the more significant the drop. Lowering your BP to healthful levels (130/80 or less) as well as your cholesterol, both reduce your risk of a stroke and/or heart attack.
As mentioned, beets are high in folic acid. Folic acid is said to help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Just one medium beet — whether it be eaten cooked or in raw juice — will give you 75 percent of your recommended daily intake of this essential mineral/vitamins.
Also, with the inclusion of vitamin C, iron absorption is increased, therefore having both in the one vegetable makes for a great source of iron. With 7 percent of your recommended daily intake in one medium beet, it can give a well deserved pick-me-up to anyone suffering from fatigue, at the same time as boosting folic acid intake.
Due to the mineral silica contained within it, beets help the body to utilize calcium. This is an important component for bone growth and bone health, also reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Ruby Red Beet Soup
(adapted from “Clean Soups” by Rebecca Katz)
I read somewhere that certain foods take on the shapes and colors of the organs they influence the most. Take the ruby red beets and red cabbage in this recipe; they’re the color of a heart, and sometimes even shaped like one. Their taste, when combined with sautéed onion, fennel, and celery, plus cumin, coriander, and caraway, gives a result which is rich and luscious.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Pinch of red pepper flakes
6 cups vegetable broth or bone broth
8 ounces red cabbage, chopped
3 red beets, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons full-fat plain or Greek yogurt, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat, then add the onion, fennel, celery, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and sauté until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, and red pepper flakes and stir until well combined. Pour in 1⁄2 cup of the broth to deglaze the pot, stirring to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the cabbage and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir. Add the beets and another 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir, and cook for about 1 minute. Add the remaining 5 1/2 cups of broth and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the beets are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.
In a blender, puree the soup in batches until very smooth, each time adding the cooking liquid first and then the vegetables. Pour the soup back into the pot and heat gently. Taste; you may want to add a pinch more salt. Serve garnished with the yogurt and dill, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Note: This is a wonderful soup that can be served hot or cold. If it’s been sitting in the refrigerator, give it a taste. I like to liven it up with a spritz of lemon or orange juice.