With such a cool, rainy spring, I’ve been extending my soup season much longer than usual. I love soup anytime – it’s a filling, naturally low-calorie and vegetable packed food.  Instead of hearty soup this time of year, I aim for light and bright – focusing on what tastes best during spring cleansing period when we naturally crave lighter foods with inherent detoxifying properties. 

Root vegetables are still available – and they can bridge the season from winter to spring vegetable dishes beautifully.  I was craving the flavors of this soup a few weeks ago when I had Israel on my mind. Four springs ago we made a trip there to visit dear friends, and were treated to a grand tour around the small country. After one excursion, we returned to find that Grandma, who had generously offered to babysit, had also prepared a delicious borscht for us.  It was a perfect soup - flavorful and bright, whether eaten plain or topped with crumbled hard-boiled egg, dill, diced potatoes, pickles and a little dollop of yogurt.

With that in mind, I created this quick beet soup.  Beets are a lovely food – earthy, naturally sweet and mineral-rich – as well as a being a wonderful tonic for the liver.  It’s a good idea to take a little extra care for our livers this time of year since they’ve (most likely) had a busy season cleansing our bodies from winter excesses of rich foods, alcohol, and sugar from the holidays that started at Thanksgiving and lasted up through spring.  Beets are rich in folate and potassium as well as the antioxident betacyanin, found in deep red color varieties of the root.  Betacyanin is one of the antioxidents that is especially important for cancer prevention, especially colon cancer.  Beet roots also contain a little discussed nutrient called betaine which is important for cardiovascular health by helping to reduce homocysteine, a protein that can build-up in the blood and contribute to heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.  Beets are great eating year round - whether shredded raw, roasted, or steamed - and added to salads, eaten as part of a roasted vegetable plate, or juiced with other fresh vegetables.

In this case, I was in the soup mood.  For this recipe, adding a potato to the soup gives it a little more body, while garnishing it with fresh basil gives it spring-like and optimistic nod to summer.  Use any tender herb that’s coming up in your garden, though - anything fresh will taste delicious.

If you happen to make this soup in the weeks to come, be sure to save the green tops from the beets to use just as you would kale, chard or spinach – it’s delicious simply sautéed with a little garlic and olive oil while providing a phenomenal source of iron, calcium and magnesium.

Spring Beet Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large beets*, scrubbed, trimmed of tough peel
1 small Yukon Gold potato*
1 medium carrot*, scrubbed and diced
1 large leek*, white and tender green parts only
2 large shallots or 1/2 sweet or red onion*, chopped
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups (one quart) water
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
large handful fresh basil (or fresh parsley, oregano, marjoram, dill, or tarragon), chopped just before serving.

*preferably organic

Heat a medium saucepan or soup pot over medium heat.  When it is warm to the touch, add the oil, leeks, shallot and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes until tender and starting to color.  Add beets, potato and carrot, season with 1 teaspoon of sea salt, and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, for an additional 5 minutes. 

Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits of potato that have stuck to the bottom of the pot.  Bring the soup to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat, and to allow to simmer for 25 minutes.  Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground pepper, add fresh herbs and serve immediately.

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