Prairie Faire: Give beets a chance

Julie Garden-Robinson
NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist,

I have been a church musician for more than two decades.

Sometimes we play or sing even when we aren’t feeling that great.

When I came down with a bad cold recently, I decided I needed to take steps to avoid infecting other people. On that Sunday, I parked myself in my usual spot hidden behind the grand piano in a distant corner from the congregation. I waited for my usual cues to play.

I didn’t shake hands during the greeting. I wasn’t being anti-social, just cautious. I could barely talk, anyway. I had a large cup of water by my side, and frequent cough drops were stifling my coughs.

Unfortunately, the sermon was punctuated by coughs and sneezes emanating from people around the church.

I had a foggy brain from taking cough syrup, so I will apologize to the clergy for this next remark: I began timing the intervals of the coughs and sneezes. About every minute, a new person coughed or sneezed. I was hoping my immune system could withstand the new germs.

Cold and flu season has arrived. At least 200 viruses are linked to the common cold. The flu is a little different, which typically includes fever and body aches.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are some strategies to keep yourself and people around you from becoming ill:

• Wash your hands often with plenty of soapy water. You can use a hand sanitizer if hand washing facilities are not readily available, but be sure to use enough hand sanitizer and rub your hands until the alcohol evaporates. The sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol.

• Be sure to cover your coughs or sneezes. Use a tissue or you can sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands. Toss the tissue and then wash your hands as a precaution.

• Avoid close contact with people who are ill.

• Stay home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone.

As I recovered, I decided I was really hungry for soup, but not the typical chicken soup associated with fighting colds. I wanted some borscht, which includes beets and other vegetables. I needed to send some powerful disease-fighting nutrients throughout my body.

I was thinking about the soup recipe we tried in our new “Germans From Russia” program, but I didn’t feel like cooking. Although I am not a member of the Germans from Russia cultural heritage, this Scandinavian is hooked on borscht.

I had grown up eating buttered beets and pickled beets from our garden. More recently, I had been reading about beets and their impressive nutritional qualities. Some studies link them to fighting heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even dementia.

Some people do not like beets. Yes, beets may have a bit of an “earthy” taste, but they are worth exploring. Beets provide a variety of nutrients, including potassium; vitamins A, B and C; iron; magnesium; and a good dose of fiber.

Beets also contain betalains, which are natural chemicals responsible for their rosy red color. This natural antioxidant compound protects our bodies at the level of our cells. These compounds also reduce inflammation.

If you enjoy some beets now and then, keep in mind that eating beets can color your urine or stool pink or red. Don’t be alarmed. You are OK. Beets, however, contain oxalates, which can contribute to kidney stones, which can be very painful.

You also can eat the beet tops, which are rich in calcium and iron. Simply rinse, chop, saute and season the beet tops as a side dish. Young beet tops are tasty in salads.

Because I wasn’t feeling like cooking, I had some borscht from a local German restaurant. It was pretty close to this recipe, which was adapted from “Memories from a German-Russian Farm Kitchen” in the North Dakota State University Library’s Germans From Russia Heritage Collection.

German-Russian Borscht Soup

3 medium beets with leaves or substitute 2 c. spinach (remove stems) for beet leaves

1 Tbsp. olive oil or other oil

1 pounds beef, cut into small cubes (stew meat or short ribs recommended)

2 Tbsp. butter

1 onion, diced

2 c. celery, chopped

1 3/4 c. fresh tomato, diced

1 tsp. fresh dill

5 c. beef broth, low sodium (to make broth, you can use beef short ribs; simmer in 2 quarts water for three hours)

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 c. cabbage

2 Tbsp. vinegar

1 Tbsp. sugar

To prepare beets:

Trim leaves from the beets and leave an inch of stem attached. Rinse the beet leaves (or spinach). In a 6-quart kettle, add water to beets until beets are covered with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover for about 45 minutes or until beets are tender. Drain and slip off the skins from the beets. Cut beets in small pieces to measure 4 cups.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the beef and sear for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until browned. Transfer the meat and any juices to a bowl. In the same 6-quart kettle, melt butter; add onion and celery and cook for five minutes. Add the tomatoes, dill, broth, salt and pepper. Bring to boil; lower the heat to simmer and cook covered for five to 10 minutes. Stir in beet tops or spinach, cabbage, beef, vinegar and sugar. Carefully stir in cooked beets. Simmer covered for five to seven minutes more to heat through. Serve with sour cream and fresh dill garnish.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 120 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 7 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 420 milligrams sodium.

Borscht is a soup that includes beets and other vegetables.