The first few weeks after Mia was born were the soupiest weeks of my life. My mother made mushroom barley soup, my friends dropped by with lentil soup, more lentil soup, and minestrone, and when we ran out of all that, Eli defrosted a container of his mother’s chicken soup. We ate it with matzo balls, parsnips, carrots, and celery and then, when Mia was five and a half weeks old, my stepmother, Amy, came to town.
I wish I could remember more about that visit. According to my journal, that was the week when Mia started crying actual tears, and the week she first looked me straight in the eye and beamed, so that’s something. Amy did laundry – I remember that – and she hung out with Mia early one morning so that I could sleep for an hour or two. She cooked, of course: a pumpkin stuffed with everything good, some kind of chicken in wine, maybe a pasta dish. And because Amy knows what you want to eat most of all when you’ve just made a human, she made soup.
Soups, I should say. Four in the not even five days she was here. She started with pea soup, I think, then moved on to beef stew, which isn’t exactly soup, but I’m counting it anyway, then to kale and bean soup, which we’ll come back to in a second. On Amy’s last morning here, Eli, Mia, my father, and I drove up to the Newburyport Half Marathon (Eli ran, we cheered), and when we got back, she was gone. In her place, a tomato-based vegetable soup, still warm, sat waiting to be sealed and stowed. Poof! Amy knows how to make an exit.
I like soup, and this specific cluster of soups was especially good. I hate to play favorites, but -- as you've probably already guessed -- the kale and bean soup was a standout, for me. Amy sent me the recipe when she got home, and I’ve been making it on repeat ever since. Kale and bean soup is a homely soup with just a few simple ingredients: an onion, two garlic cloves, kale, a couple of cans of beans, and vegetable stock. You can toss in a Parmesan rind, too, if you have one. What got me excited about this soup is the way you lightly mash some of the beans when you add them to the pot so that they give their guts over to the broth. Now that I have an eye out for it, I realize that partial bean mashing is standard operating procedure for a lot of bean soups, but I had never done it before. One recipe that I came across last week says that mashing the beans “thickens” the soup, but I would describe the effect more as a “texturizing.” It reminds me a little of miso soup, the way the mashed beans cloud the broth.
I took a break from this soup over the last few days to focus my attention on latkes and all manner of sweets, but today, it’s making a comeback. I’m guessing that in these last days of 2011, we could all use a little soup. Enjoy.
Kale and Bean Soup
Adapted from The Columbus Dispatch
I’ve made a few changes to the recipe that Amy sent along. Instead of two cans of cannellini beans, I use one can of cannellini, and one can of chickpeas. I tried the chickpeas at Eli’s suggestion, and he was right. They make the soup feel richer. I’m not sure why. Are chickpea guts richer than cannellini guts? Maybe. At any rate, I think chickpeas have a more distinctive flavor than cannellini beans, so that might be it. I also added garlic into the mix. As for the kale, I usually prefer dinosaur kale (a.k.a. Lacinato kale, the kind with flat, dark leaves), but for this soup, I go with curly. It stands up better to the twenty-minute soak and steam in the pot. (Though if all you have is dinosaur, use it. It will be fine.)
1 lb. kale
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 14.5 oz. can each cannellini beans and chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 c. water
2 c. vegetable broth
A Parmesan rind, if you have one
Shaved Parmesan for serving (I use a vegetable peeler to shave nice, wide ribbons.)
Salt and pepper
Rinse the kale and tear the leaves away from the stems. The original recipe says to cut the leaves into ½-inch strips, but I just tear them into small-ish pieces with my hands.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic, and push it around a little with the onions. When the aroma rises, add half of the beans, and mash them lightly in the pot. I find that a potato masher works best, but a fork will also do. Either way, hold onto the side of the pot with one (oven-mitted) hand while you mash to make sure that the pot doesn’t slide.
Add the water, the broth, and the Parmesan rind, if using, and bring to a boil. Stir in the kale and the remaining beans, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, partially covered, until the kale is tender, about 20 minutes.
Ladle the soup into bowls, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Top with the shaved Parmesan and plenty of black pepper.