Kale and white bean soup, hearty and marvelously simple, makes it to our kitchen table a few times each winter when the damp, cold, dark days of the Pacific Northwest call for something both warming and filling. It's an inexpensive soup to make, combining good broth with winter vegetables and beans.
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Making Kale and White Bean Soup is also an exercise in patience and in delayed gratification. It's not a food of immediacy (though you can certainly use some purchased chicken bone broth and a jar of organic beans and have it done in twenty minutes), and, instead, it takes a bit of advanced planning: preparing a long-simmered bone broth, soaking beans and boiling them until tender before assembling it all in the soup pot.
Bone Broth gives this soup richness.
A real broth adds not only flavor as the base of soups and stews, but it also provides much needed nourishment, too. Bone broth's savory flavor enhances and gives depth to otherwise bland foods like beans. Those savory notes which aren't quite salty and are certainly not sweet, are more accurately described as umami - a Japanese term - and they're the result of the long-simmering time required in making good broth. As bones simmer slowly, they release amino acids, the most notable of which is glutamine - an amino acid that is particularly responsible for bone broth's elusively described but distinctly savory flavor.
Bone broth is also particularly rich in gelatin, which is produced when the collagen-rich connective tissue that adheres to bones dissolves in water. Gelatin helps you to get more protein out of the foods you eat, making bone broth a perfect partner for beans.
Cannellini beans give this soup body.
Cannellini beans, a small, kidney-shaped white bean, gives this soup its body. Cannellini beans, like all beans, are rich in folate - a B vitamin that is critical for women of reproductive age. They are also particularly rich in fiber, which not only helps to keep you feeling full longer, but also helps to nourish and feed the microflora of the human gut. Fiber is food for good bacteria, and eating fiber-rich foods correlates with more diverse, and better overall gut health.
Kale gives this soup brightness.
Lacinato kale, added just to the end, gives this soup its brightness. Kale is particularly rich in beta carotene, an antioxidant that can be converted to vitamin A in the right circumstances, as well as vitamin K1, a nutrient that helps your body respond to injuries and helps your blood to clot efficiently.
Kale and White Bean Soup
- 2 cups cannellini beans
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons finely ground real salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces bacon (chopped fine)
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 yellow onion (chopped fine)
- 3 carrots (chopped fine)
- 4 celery ribs (chopped fine)
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 8 cups bone broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch Lacinato kale (trimmed)
- Toss the beans into a large mixing bowl, and cover them with hot water by 2 inches. Stir in the baking soda, and allow the beans to soak at least 12 and up to 24 hours. Drain the beans and rinse them well.
- Toss the beans into a pot, cover them with water by 2 inches and then stir in the salt. Bring the beans to a boil over high heat, and then turn own the heat to medium. Simmer the beans until tender and yielding, about 90 minutes. Drain the beans and set them in a waiting bowl, and then wipe out your soup pot.
- Warm the olive oil over medium heat, and then stir in the chopped bacon, allowing it to cook until it renders its fat and crisps, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the crushed red pepper, onion, carrots, celery and garlic, and stir them into the hot fat until they release their fragrance - about 5 minutes.
- Pour in the broth and the cooked beans, and then drop in the bay leaves. Cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Uncover the pot, turn off the heat, adjust seasoning with salt, and drop in the chopped kale. Cover the pot once more and allow the kale to wilt in the residual heat of the broth, about 5 minutes further.