iron tonic borscht

Something about borscht is so filling and comforting to me. I felt betrayed when I looked up the iron content of beets and found it wasn’t very high – the colour made me think it would be rich in iron. Iron levels often dip in pregnancy, contributing to the fatigue felt by many in the first and third trimesters. Iron can also be low postpartum, when recovery is assisted by eating soups made by other people. By replacing the traditional stew meat with liver, you significantly increase the iron (2.2mg vs 7.17mg per 100g). I generally don’t care for the texture of liver, but the substitution here is almost unnoticeable if minced appropriately. Beets have a negligible amount of iron and some vitamin C, helping iron absorption. A few other additions – kidney beans, wilted spinach – make this an iron rich food suitable for meat eaters. Pair with a raw spinach salad topped with strawberries and oranges for maximum iron absorption – just don’t take a calcium pill with this meal or it will inhibit iron absorption.

Nutritional information from USDA Agricultural Research Service FoodDate Central. I added a quick look table below the recipe.

Use your largest pot – I used a 5qt cast iron and it almost didn’t fit! Borscht is very forgiving, and you could use a bigger pot or reduce some of the beets and potatoes to add in carrots, a mirepoix base, or lentils for even more iron. Spice to taste – you could definitely add some paprika, and I’m partial to fennel with dill. Those who prefer a thinner soup can add some red wine and more broth while it cooks.

This recipe is suitable to make ahead and freeze.

a steaming white pot on a black stovetop, filled to the brim with beets, potatoes, onions, beef liver, and broth being cooked into borscht.
no, those aren’t sweet potatoes. they just got dyed by the beets


  • 4 beets
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 head garlic
  • olive oil or beef fat
  • 1 lb beef liver
  • 2.5+ cups broth
  • fresh dill
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • dark red kidney beans, 1 can
  • raw spinach, at end
  • rye bread, for serving
  • sour cream, for serving


  • mirepoix (diced carrots, onions, celery) or holy trinity (onion, celery, bellpepper)
  • tomato paste
  • carrots
  • parsnips
  • red wine
  • fennel
  • paprika
  • lentils (precooked or add more liquid)

Chop 4 large beets into about ½ inch cubes, and 3 medium potatoes about 1 ½ inch pieces. Set aside.

Chop into bite size pieces 1 onion and 1 head of garlic. Sauté on high in a little olive oil or beef fat until there is some colour, but not too much. The entire soup will be boiled for at least 30 minutes. Lay 1 lb beef liver on top of the hot alliums so it develops a slight sear, then cut into bite size or smaller pieces. I used kitchen scissors in the pot, but you could remove and mince on a chopping board.

Add about 2.5 cups of broth – I used a mix of homemade chicken, beef, and brisket with varying amounts of fat, which added enough richness for me. Stir. At this point, since I was using a cast iron pot, I turned the heat to low.

Add in the chopped beets and potatoes, then add fresh dill, salt, and fresh ground black pepper to taste / smell. Stir, making sure the herbs and spices are in the liquid. It’s okay to be scant on the salt, but the salt is necessary at this point to draw water from the vegetables. It will look like there is not enough liquid, but the vegetables will release more as they cook.

Cover with a lid to keep all liquid and nutrients in the pot. Add scant amounts of water if too much steam escapes. Simmer until beets are soft through when stabbed with a fork, and taste test to be sure. Turn off the heat.

Add 1 can rinsed dark red kidney beans (about 15 ounces cooked) and as much spinach as you desire. Just let the spinach wilt – it’s highest in nutrients when raw. 

Serve with dark rye bread and sour cream (if not keeping kosher).

a white bowl with deep red borscht, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprig of dill sits on a chopping board. to the left between a chopping board cutout and the bowl is a glass bottle labeled 'smoked paprika' with a head of unpeeled garlic in the lower left. the lower right has a larger sprig of dill. everything is on a wooden chopping board. there is a spoon in the bowl, on the top of the image with the handle towards the right and leaving the frame.
make it fancy or just scoop a big bowl and call it good
food (per 100g)iron mgvitamin C mg
beef stew meat2.2mg
beef liver7.17mg
kidney beans, dark red*3.3mg
spinach, raw1.05mg30.3mg
a quick look at iron and vitamin C levels in foods, from the USDA

*the USDA lists uncooked dry kidney beans. My research indicates kidney beans about double in size (due to water absorption) during cooking, so I halved the dry bean nutrition information. Talk to your medical provider for more information.

**I added strawberries and oranges to this table, as both are commonly known to be high in vitamin C, and a helpful reference point to compare beets and spinach. They are also great in a smoothie or salad on the side with this borscht.

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