I was lucky enough to harvest some beautiful beets from my mom’s garden this past weekend and am excited to incorporate them into a wonderful recipe that is consistent with the Chinese Dietary Therapy "middle burner" methodology that I have been writing about and now actively practicing.
Beets are one of my favorite vegetables, I love roasting them in the oven with their skins, which brings out even more of their natural earthy flavor and retains most of the nutritious colored pigment of the beets. A recipe that I love to make and that will align nicely with the middle burner diet is a beet borscht - what's a borscht? It's a popular soup in Russia and the Ukraine which gets its distinctive red color from beet roots.
A Reminder of Your Digestive Middle Burner & How it Can Support Better Health
In Chinese medicine, the "middle burner diet" concept is that the process of digestion is a function of the Chinese spleen and stomach. Chinese dietary theory becomes very clear and logical once we understand this simple concept.
Your stomach's function is to receive food and liquids and to decompose and cook them. According to Chinese medicine theory, the stomach is likened to a pot on the stove and the spleen is the fire under the pot. The stomach does not like dryness and the spleen does not like dampness. In a way, this makes sense: the spleen function is likened to a fire under a pot - too much dampness could put out this fire.
Because the vitamins and enzymes of raw vegetables are largely locked in hard to digest cellulose packets, you may actually only absorb 50% of the available nutrients. However when the vegetables are cooked (not over cooked), you begin breaking down the cellulose walls which allows your body to absorb as much as 65% of the available nutrients.
Why Soups are Great for the Middle Burner
This is why soups are so nourishing and why we often times eat them when we are sick. The food is more like the hundred degree “soup” in our stomach and is easier for our body to digest and absorb its nutrients.
Similarly, this is why chewing food thoroughly before swallowing is so important. The more we chew, the more the food is macerated and mixed with liquids, in other words, the more it begins to look like soup.
Going along with this, Chinese Medicine theory makes the important distinction between the physical temperature of food and its post digestive temperature, referring to the foods' effect on the bodies thermostat.
Most foods are cool, level or warm. In general, we should mostly eat level and warm food since our body itself is warm. Some vegetables have neither a warming nor cooling property, in these cases their thermal nature is considered to be neutral or level.
Beets have a neutral thermal nature and a sweet flavor, which strengthen the heart, sedate the spirit, improve circulation, purify the blood, benefit the liver, moisten the intestines and promote menstruation. We can warm the beets to better align with the middle burner by roasting them and by adding warming ingredients to the soup like onion, garlic, horseradish, dill, clove, black pepper and vinegar.
A Chinese Medicine Friendly Middle Burner Beet Borscht
Prep/cook time about 45 minutes
4 Cups Roasted Beet Root
4 Cups Green Cabbage
½ Cup Carrot
1 Cup Potato
1 Cup Red Onion
2 Cups Diced Tomatoes
2 Cloves Garlic
6 Cups Beef Stock
2 Tablespoons Horseradish
¼ Teaspoon Allspice
½ Cup Fresh Dill
2-3 Ounces White Wine Vinegar
1-2 Ounces Cider Vinegar
Sea Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper to taste
If the skin on your beets is very thin and tender, you will only require a light scrub with a vegetable brush. If your beets have a thick skin you may need to peel them. Cut off the tops and the tails, dice to about 1½ inch pieces and roast plain or toss with olive oil, thyme or dill and salt and pepper in a 400 degree oven until starting to roast (about 25-30 minutes) but not completely cooked as they will finish cooking in the soup and you want them to be still be a bit firm even when the soup is finished.
Slice the cabbage, peel and dice the carrot, dice the potato, chop your garlic and dice your onion and add all to a stock pot with a couple cups of water and some salt and pepper and begin cooking on medium high heat until the ingredients begin to break down a little, maybe 5 minutes or so.
Add the tomatoes, horseradish, allspice, beets and stock and bring to a simmer. After this has simmered for a while and the beets begin to color the soup and flavors start to come together, add both vinegars the fresh dill and adjust seasoning. Allow the flavors to come together a few more minutes, you want the vegetables to be just cooked but still have a nice firm texture to them.
Remove about 2 cups of the soup and broth and puree until smooth and add this puree back to the soup to add texture. Adjust seasoning and possibly add another splash of cider vinegar as you want a nice acidic note. Garnish with fresh dill and enjoy.