Lentil and Cabbage Borscht

Photo by Alea (no last name provided) accompanied her post on AllRecipes.com


Glade Road Growing's farm share for September 24 is expected to include cabbage, Greenstar organic lettuce mix, garlic, delicata winter squash, and spinach. 

Most Southern mountaineers and many who call Appalachia our adopted home love our cole slaw.  There's even a slaw line, similar to the kudzu line or the sweet tea line.  Here, though, is a cabbage recipe that might be new to you.

This sweet and sour cabbage soup uses many of the same ingredients as my (late) mother's  stuffed cabbage rolls.  While retaining the flavors of one of my favorite comfort foods, it's much less labor intensive, since you don't have to painstakingly pull off all the leaves, keeping them whole and undamaged--which usually requires multiple steamings.  Nor, do you have to worry about the rolls falling apart.  

I've replaced the rice with potatoes, so that you won't have to stir the soup frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. And to make this recipe attractive to vegans and vegetarians, I've substituted lentils for ground beef. 

If you prefer a meat-based soup, I'd suggest 1 and 1/2 pounds of chuck roast or short ribs, which you would brown in an iron skillet or dutch oven, before adding to the soup.  You will have to cook longer until it is tender (maybe an hour) and can add the tomatoes and tomato paste right away, as they tenderize the meat, while, paradoxically, they have the opposite effect on beans and keep them from getting tender.  If you want to make this with both meat and lentils, therefore, cook the lentils separately for 10-20 minutes until tender and add last.


Serves 6

The night before or at least 1 hour before you make this soup or bring a generous cup of dried lentils to boil in at least 2 cups of unsalted water.  Turn down heat, cover  and simmer for 5 minutes.  Skim any foam and leave to cool and soak until lentils at least double in volume.  Drain and rinse until water runs clear. (This method not only  softens lentils, shortening the cooking time, but makes them easier to digest.  You can also use this method to cook dried beans and split peas.)

Wash cabbage and trim bottom, any discolored leaves.  Quarter head.  Depending on the size of the head, you may need to use 1/2 to 3/4 to yield 2 cups of chopped cabbage.  You can store the rest for another use (such as slaw!) in an airtight container in the main part of the refrigerator, or in a plastic bag in the crisper.  For each quarter that you use, cut out the core and chop coarsely.  Then thinly slice the leaf section.

Cut 1 or 2 bell peppers in half, depending on size.  Remove stem and seeds and slice in strips to make 2 cups.

Thinly slice 1 medium sized onion or equivalent sufficient to make 1 cup.

Thinly slice 3 stalks of celery or equivalent to make 1 cup.

Scrub and cube 1/2 lb of potatoes.  (I prefer Yukon gold or red potatoes.  White potatoes are fine, too.  I'd avoid baking potatoes such as russets as they don't hold up well in soups.)

Smash, peel and mince 3 or more garlic cloves.

Chop 2 cups of vine-ripened tomatoes.  If unavailable, you can substitute a can of diced tomatoes.

Put soaked lentils (which will measure about 3 cups by the time they cook)  in the bottom of a 3 quart or larger stainless steel pot with an inset steamer and cover with 3 cups of water. Add 2 bay leaves  and pepper.  Bring to boil and steam cabbage until translucent and add to bottom of pot. Steam potatoes for ten minutes or until tender and remove to a plate.

While the cabbage and potatoes are steaming you can start sauteing the onions and garlic, then the green peppers and finally the celery and add to pot.  Once the lentils are tender, add tomatoes, up to one small can of tomato paste (to taste), 1/4 cup or more of brown sugar and salt to taste.  You want this to be sweet and sour.  If the tomatoes aren't tart enough you can adjust this component with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. 

Serve in bowls, topped with cooked potatoes and with yogurt.  For vegan version, you can find a tofu "sour cream" here