Beets, sweet tubers with a bright colour and a tender-crisp texture, play a significant role in Ukrainian cuisine. Many appetizers, soups, salads, and other simple dishes of Ukraine feature cooked or fermented beets as a main or complementing ingredient. Beets are native to the Ukrainian land, where they were cultivated in peasants’ vegetable gardens already hundreds of years ago.
Beets are valued as a blood tonic and praised for their nutritional qualities, since they contain many natural vitamins, such as carotenes, B complex and vitamin C, and beneficial minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Some researchers believe that eating just a few spoonfuls of beets a day is a sure way of ingesting all necessary nutrients, as well as detoxifying the body. Beets are capable to protect the liver from food pollutants and to stimulate the flow of bile. Due to their high beta-carotene content and the presence of other beneficial components, beets and their juice have been successfully used in cancer therapies. In Ukraine, beets are often eaten together with the leaves, which makes delicious and nutritious meals as the sweetness of beet roots makes a good contrast to their bitter greens. Traditionally, beats in Ukraine are boiled, baked, roasted, fermented, distilled, or added to soups or stews.
Ukrainian Beet Kvass
This sour-sweet beverage is used in the preparation of Ukrainian borscht or as a refreshing and beneficial tonic. Peel and chop coarsely 3 medium raw beets. Place in a 2-quart glass or clay container together with 1/4 cup home-made whey and 1 tbsp salt. Add filtered water to fill the container, stir well, and cover tightly. Keep in room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to a cold storage. When most liquid has been drunk, fill up the container with water again and keep at room temperature for another 2 days. After the second brew, discard the beets and start again.
Ukrainian Beet Salad
Bake 6 medium beets at 350 degrees for about 1 hour (until tender). Let cool, peel, and chop finely. In a bowl, mix together 3 tbsp homemade beet kvass (see above) or raw apple cider vinegar, 4 tbsp extra virgin sunflower oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, 1 tsp caraway seeds, and a pinch each of salt, cayenne pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. Toss the mixture with the beets and refrigerate until well-chilled. Serve on lettuce leaves as a starter.