Our Simple Supper: Kale and White Bean Soup

Kale and white bean soup, hearty and simple, works its way onto our supper table a few times each season.  It’s a favorite soup: rich with flavor, inexpensive to prepare with enough bulk to fill hungry bellies.

In the summer time, I serve it with a crusty slice of no-knead sourdough bread topped by garlic scape pesto or chopped tomatoes and olive oil and a glass of white wine.  In the winter, I pair it with savory pumpkin muffins and a mug of hot herbal tea with cream and honey.

Like many dishes, kale and white bean soup offers a lesson in patience – in delayed gratification.  It’s not a food that offers immediacy; rather, I soak white beans in hot water and a pinch of baking soda over the course of day, cook them gently and then prepare the soup.  In this way, the beans are soft and tender.  This long and slow method also removes offending antinutrients found in beans that can create gas, or prevent you from best absorbing the trace minerals they contain.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Benefits of Bone Broth

A real broth adds not only flavor as the base of soups and stews, but it also provides much needed nourishment, too.  A good bone broth is rich in minerals that support your bones, teeth and organs.  It is also a good source of amino acids and proteins like gelatin which can boost skin and hair health and support digestive system function which is why bone broth is a critical component of the GAPS diet – a diet designed to heal the gut and optimize systemic wellness.

When we prepare Kale and White Bean Soup, I typically rely on bone broth simmered away in a slowcooker or fresh chicken broth.

Kale for Soup

Kale, the darling of health food circles, is a good source of antioxidants including beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) as well as vitamin C.  It is also rich in manganese and copper.  Kale, like many vegetables, is easier to digest when cooked; however, many of its vitamins are heat-sensitive and so subject to deactivation during prolonged cooking.

For this reason, I recommend adding the kale to the soup at the very end of cooking, covering the pot of kale and white bean soup, and allowing the kale to wilt in the residual heat of the soup.  This practice helps to make the kale easier to digest while still preserving most of its vitamin content.

White Beans for Soup

This recipe calls for cannellini beans, a white bean popular in Italian cooking.  You ca

n find cannellini beans at any well-stocked health food store, and you can also purchase them in bulk online.  Among beans, cannellini are typically more expensive (but just by a touch), and you can substitute any white bean, such as Great Northern or Navy beans, for them in this kale and white bean soup recipe.

White beans are a good source of folate, a nutrient critical for women of reproductive age, as well as thiamin – a vitamin that helps your body to convert carbohydrates to energy while also supporting cognitive function, nerve and heart health, as well as emotional well-being.

Beans, like all pulses, nuts and grains, benefit from soaking overnight in warm water and prolonged, gentle cooking.  This enhances the availability of their nutrients while also improving both flavor and texture.

Where to Find Piment d’Esplette

This kale and white bean soup also calls for a special pepper – piment d’Esplette – which offers a sweet, almost floral note.  It’s not hot, but complex.  You can find it online or substitute paprika.

kale and white bean soup

Kale and White Bean Soup

kale and white bean soup

By Jenny Published: July 18, 2012

  • Yield: 2 1/2 quarts (6 to 8 Servings)
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 0 min
  • Ready In: 26 hrs 5 mins

Kale and White Bean Soup, perfumed by rosemary and bay, is a staple on my kitchen table. It's simple fare for hungry families. Save time by preparing the white beans in advance and stirring them into the kale and white bean soup at the last minute.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white beans (such as cannellini beans)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon butter or ghee
  • 4 ounces bacon (chopped)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 medium carrots (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 3 ribs celery (finely chopped)
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 branch rosemary
  • rind of a hunk of parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon piment d'Esplette (or paprika)
  • 1 bunch kale (trimmed of tough stems and sliced thin)
  • extra virgin olive oil (to serve)

Instructions

  1. Toss the beans in a large mixing bowl, cover with hot water by 2 inches and stir in baking soda. Soak for 18 to 24 hours, changing the water once or twice. Drain and rinse well.
  2. Transfer the soaked beans into a large stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until beans are tender - about 1 1/2 hours. Drain.
  3. Melt butter in a large stock pot until it froths. Stir in bacon and cook until crispy. Stir in onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Stir frequently, and fry until fragrant - about 10 minutes.
  4. Pour in chicken stock, add rosemary, bay and the rind of a piece of parmesan cheese. Simmer over medium heat, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, stir in piment d'Esplette and kale. Cover and allow the kale to wilt in the residual heat of the soup for about 5 minutes. Salt as needed and serve with extra virgin olive oil.

Join over 100,000 Real Food Lovers …

Inspired Recipes, Tips and More

What people are saying

  1. says

    I make a vegan version of this soup; in my house it’s called “it’s Tuesday and the CSA pickup is tomorrow and I’ve got all these veggies to use up to make room for the new stuff” soup. I can’t imagine life without kale. Well, I can’t, but it’s not nearly so nice.
    (I do confess, though, I rarely soak my beans.)

    Debbies last blog post..got some time to waste?

  2. says

    That is, “I CAN, but it’s not nearly so nice.” Good thing I don’t type for a living. Oh wait, I do.

    Debbies last blog post..got some time to waste?

  3. Bonnie says

    I usually don’t drain my soaked beans since I use spring water to soak them. Is this a problem? And does anyone know why beans would stay hard after soaking and cooking? Is there a connection with not draining the soaked beans?

    • Ingrid says

      Beans can stay hard after cooking if you have hard water. I am new to this site and cooking, so I don’t know if this idea is frowned upon or not, but adding a bit of baking soda to the water helps. Also have heard not to add anything acid to the water until the beans are cooked as it can lengthen cooking.

    • Debbie Wood says

      My understanding is discard the soaking water and rinse the beans. This washes away the anti-nutrients that have been broken down from the beans and reduced the glassiness that beans can produce.
      Old beans can take longer to cook as well.

    • Surabhi Mukhi says

      This is agreat recipe, can I substitute kale with spinach.. maybe the goodness wont be the same.. any inputs..My four year old daughter will eat a bit of spinach but not kale..
      Please advise.

      Thanks

  4. Amy Love says

    How funny- I made up a soup quite similar to this! I add leftover grass-fed ground beef (browned from the night before with onions/garlic) and some diced tomatoes (organic in a BPA free can will work in a pinch) and some gluten-free rice penne pasta (about a handful). It’s like pasta fagioli. Yum!

  5. Angie says

    Am I understanding these steps correctly?
    1. Soak beans overnight (then drain)
    2. Cook beans overnight (then drain)
    3. Cook beans more with the rest of the ingredients (minus the kale) all day
    It just seems like a lot of cooking with the beans.

    Thanks!

    • Normajean says

      Yummy and nice hearty warming winter soup. I love all beans and bean soups but white beans are the cream here in our home.
      ANGIE: in Answer to your question above. you would soak the beans over night, and drain. Then pop them in the slow cooker with all of the other ingredients except the Kale that is save to the last part of the cooking .
      You do not have to cook the beans twice

  6. Nailgun says

    Jenny –

    A great serving idea for this soup would be to add some milk, cream, butter, cheese, dairy kefiran, or I guess even powdered eggshell to go along with it.

    That way, the calcium in the garnish can form a precipitate with the oxalic acid during mastication or digestion (this process, I’ve read, is responsible for that ‘mealy’ texture you get when eating rhubarb pie with cream), and no longer be bioavailable to do real damage. I’m glad you don’t consider goitrogens and oxalate to be too terribly alarming as some of the healthiest foods out there contain one or the other (e.g. green tea for oxalate, broccoli for goitrogens).

    Anyway, I just got my slowcooker back from repair, and I am overpoweringly excited to get back in business. Soup is my bread and butter, and, breaking my metaphor, I don’t have anything to eat with my bread without soup.

    On a sidenote I figured I would complain about how a friend of mine told me that 5.50 for a gallon of raw milk from the farmer’s market is “expensive,” as I actually consider that to be dirt-cheap, given that a halfgallon of semi-UHT Organic Valley is around $5.00. I told him that he’ll pay for every penny he saved on “Dean’s” later on.

    Cheers.

    • Crystalline Ruby Muse says

      Nailgun ~
      What do you mean by “to do real damage”? I thought the “real damage” that oxalic acid does is that it makes calcium (in particular) non-bioavailable. Thus, if you add high-calcium foods, it will just prevent you from getting the calcium. Is that not the case?

      Also, from my readings kale is low in oxalic acid, unlike spinach, rhubarb, sesame seeds, lambs’ quarters, sorrel, parsley, etc. Do you have a reliable source of information that they are in fact high? Or were you referring to another ingredient here? Thanks!

    • Kelly says

      A quick question…when I change the water when soaking the beans do I add more baking soda? Or do I only add baking soda initially? Thanks for your amazingly informative posts!

  7. Shannon says

    Love Kale…but be sure to get organic or grow your own if you can. It is one of the worst offenders for pesticide residue.

  8. Cindy Rangel says

    Gosh, this looks amazing. I am vegetarian thinking about going vegan and I would totally make this!! Cool.

  9. says

    I made a similar soup once, but unthinkingly used purple kale from my garden. The entire soup was purple! Delicious and amusing for the younger crowd, but that’s just a little warning for those who don’t want to eat “Barney Soup” as it was dubbed.

  10. Alice says

    Jenny-
    Isn’t 1 Tablespoon of whey, vinegar or lemon juice supposed to be added to the soaking water for each cup of beans that are being soaked?

    • Jenny says

      No. This does not apply to certain beans who, instead, benefit more from baking soda or another alkalizing ingredient.

  11. Libby says

    Thank you!! I needed this very simple explanation of soaking beans and preparing them to be easily digested! I very much appreciate your posts and recipes. Keep em’ coming! :)

  12. Mary Bee says

    I wasn’t sure when to add my beans and I overcooked them anyway so I’ll be adding them when I’m ready to eat the soup (which is on the stove right now!). Unfortunately I don’t have a parm rind or the piment, but with just the veggies, broth, and herbs, it’s already quite tasty. I put just a tiiiiiiny bit of salt and fried the bacon in an over-generous helping of ghee and it’s just about perfect. This is the first time I’ve cooked with bone broth, and although my family is horrified that I’m eating something so stinky, I quite like it. :3

  13. Mary says

    Hi,
    I was making broth, again, to cook the beans in and the broth is now brown. I like my bean soups with pork, so I had a pork hock and tail which I used. What am I doing wrong? I looked at this recipe when it was emailed, and didn’t cook the beans in water, just the broth. Is this the problem? Did I over cook it? Is it still ok to eat?
    Thanks!

  14. Brianna says

    I don’t have any celery and since I can’t get organic celery locally I’m not running to town to pick some up. I think it will still be good, just not quite the same. I made this soup a month ago and have been craving it bad!

  15. Ashley Deaner says

    Hi Jenny,
    I just made this recipe last night for dinner and it luckily turned out delicious. There were a couple problems I had with the directions:
    1. Do you drain then add the beans back into the pot then continue to melt the butter with the beans? Crisping the bacon and softening the onions was a little challenging with the beans still in the pot and took a long time.
    2. Your directions mention adding garlic in but they are not in the ingredients list. Should there be garlic? I thought it tasted great without and probably would not add any.
    My husband and I just got back from our honeymoon trip to Tuscany and we have eaten similar delicious meals.
    Thank you!
    Ashley

      • joy says

        yes, but the last instruction involving beans was to drain them. they were never added to the actual soup which is in ‘a large stockpot’. so i can see how ashley misunderstood.

      • Maureen says

        Thanks, that helps to know. Though like some others I am wondering exactly when the fully cooked beans are added to the second pot of onions/bacon etc. Would that be when you first add the chicken stock to the pot, or when the second pot has finished it 20-30 minute simmer?

  16. Gina says

    This is the second recipe I have tried from this site. While I like the recipes I am often disappointed with the directions, which often omit steps or ingredients or both. I have been able to fill in the blanks, but someone with less cooking experience may not. Might be beneficial to re-edit the recipes more carefully.

  17. says

    I think the recipe is missing a few things. How much garlic (not listed in the ingredients) and when do you add the beans back to the soup after cooking (not in the directions). Thanks, I can’t wait to make this, sounds so good!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>