Sometimes I shop for groceries with a recipe in mind, but more often I head to the market and let the ingredients speak to me. A recent trip had me loading my bags with a gorgeous array of freshly unearthed root vegetables: carrots, beets, celery root and onions, along with a nice firm head of cabbage.
I was in a reverie throughout my trek home, imagining all the dishes I could create with them. But the minute borscht came to mind, it was settled. No dish could bring these ingredients together more synergistically, turning the sturdy, hard-working vegetables into a homey yet luxurious meal in a bowl.
This borscht recipe is what I made that evening. It incorporates bite-size chunks of lean beef (I used top round) simmered with the vegetables in broth for about an hour, until everything is fork-tender. Meat is in every spoonful, but the stunning medley of vegetables remains at the helm. A splash of red wine vinegar added at the end brightens the flavor a notch, and the finishing garnishes of dill and sour cream provide a fresh, cool contrast that defines the dish as much as the roots do.
It's a healthful stew that will satisfy on any winter's day but has just the right flourish for a holiday week.
Yield: 16 cups
1 pound lean beef stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed 2 tablespoons olive oil (extra-virgin is OK) 1 large onion, chopped (1½ cups) 3 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 small head green cabbage, shredded (41/2 cups) 2 large beets (1 pound total), peeled and chopped 3 medium carrots, trimmed, scrubbed well and cut into half-moon coins 1/2 medium celeriac (celery root), peeled and diced (2 cups) 4 cups low-sodium beef broth One 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, plus their juices 31/2 cups water 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, for garnish 2/3 cup low-fat sour cream, for garnish
Season the beef with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add the beef and sear for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until browned. Transfer the meat and any juices to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the remaining tablespoon of oil, then add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until softened. Stir in the garlic; cook for 30 seconds.
Add the cabbage, beets, carrots, celeriac, the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot. Add the broth, tomatoes with their juices and the water. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook for about 1 hour, until the meat and vegetables are tender.
Stir in the vinegar. Taste and season with more salt, pepper or both, as needed.
Divide among individual bowls. Garnish each portion with dill and a dollop of sour cream. Serve warm.
Nutrition information per serving: 190 calories, 17 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar.