Kale and white bean soup, hearty and marvelously simple, makes it to our kitchen table a few times each winter. It's a good soup to make on cold days, and its combination of savory broth, creamy beans, and vegetables make a lovely, satisfying dinner.
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What is it?
Kale and white bean soup is a riff on the northern Italian classic soup Ribollita. Ribollita is a Tuscan white bean and kale soup that features loads of seasonal vegetables, beans, day-old crusty bread, and broth.
Cannellini beans (white kidney beans) and Lacinato kale are popular additions to the original recipe. These two ingredients carry over and become the foundation of kale and white bean soup.
Why this recipe works
- It comes together in one pot, so there's less mess, and you can still put a wholesome, nourishing meal on the table.
- Carrots, celery, onions, and garlic are highly aromatic vegetables that make the soup both filling and flavorful.
- Bay leaf and rosemary lend an herbaceous, aromatic note to the savory broth.
- It's nourishing. It's loaded with fiber, complex carbohydrates, potassium, and antioxidants such as beta-carotene.
- Like most bean recipes, it's affordable to make. Beans are cheap and nutritious. If you learn how to make bone broth rather than purchasing it, you can save even more.
- It's a great option for your weekly meal prep since it takes very little effort, is made in one pot, and stores well for several days.
Naturally, kale and white beans are the foundation of this soup recipe. In addition to these wholesome ingredients, you'll also find herbs, broth (or another liquid), and aromatic vegetables.
- Cannellini beans are the best choice for kale and white bean soup, but you can also use navy beans or even Great Northern beans if that's what you have available.
- Fresh kale is added at the very end of cooking, just long enough to let it wilt. Lacinato (aka Tuscan) Kale is the best choice, but you can also use curly or Russian kale in a pinch.
- Liquid ingredients can include bone broth, chicken broth, vegetable stock, or even plain water. Homemade broths will give your soup the best flavor.
- Vegetables include carrots, celery, and onions, as these are highly aromatic and help to provide bulk to the soup.
- Aromatics include garlic, rosemary, and bay leaf. These fresh herbs lend a brighter flavor and a bit of depth to the soup.
- Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with healthy fats and antioxidants. It has a fragrant character and is perfect for sautéing vegetables. You can also drizzle a little on top of the finished soup for even more flavor.
How to Make Kale and White Bean Soup
Since this soup is an easy, one-pot recipe, there are only a few steps to follow. You'll start by cooking the vegetables in olive oil, simmer them in broth, add the beans and then add the kale. Overall, the steps are basic, but there are a few things you'll want to pay attention to.
- Sauté the vegetables in olive oil and then let them sweat. Sweating the vegetables in a covered pot, with occasional stirring, allows them to cook without caramelizing. This way, they won't darken your broth, and you'll get a fresher flavor.
- Add the aromatics and simmer the vegetables in broth. Aromatics give the soup a subtle brightness, and simmering the vegetables helps to soften them.
- Add the beans. Stirring the beans into the pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking means they won't overcook or fall apart.
- Add the kale. Once your soup is finished and everything is hot and cooked through, you'll turn off the heat and add the kale. The residual heat will cook the kale to perfection, and leave its color bright, too.
- Serve the soup hot with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, or a few gratings of pecorino or parmesan cheese.
Like most soup recipes, this white bean kale soup recipe is pretty forgiving. There's a lot of room for both error and experimentation. But there are a few tips you'll want to keep in mind when you make it.
- The quality of ingredients matters. With so few ingredients (just a few vegetables, beans, broth, and greens), lackluster flavor can impact the entire dish. So try your ingredients before you toss them in the pan, using the sweetest carrots, most savory broth, and richest olive oil.
- If you're using a ceramic nonstick pan, such as Caraway pans, you'll need to use less oil, or it will pool up. One tablespoon, rather than three, will work best for this style of pot.
- Remove the kale stems, or they may give the soup a rough texture.
- For a faster version with less prep work, consider substituting frozen vegetables for fresh. It'll come together much faster with less kitchen work.
- Use pre-cooked beans. It'll save you loads of time. But you can also soak dry beans overnight and then cook them in advance before adding them to the soup if you have time.
- If you're using canned beans, drain and rinse them well.
- Make your own broth, as it'll have the best flavor and is often the most affordable option. If you don't have time, here are a few of the best broth brands to try.
- Experiment with the flavor the next time you make it, adding more garlic, different herbs, or even bacon or ham to the soup. You can really find something your family loves this way and make a version that's all your own.
- Adding the kale when the pot is off the heat means that it keeps its vibrant color without overcooking.
Toasted sourdough bread slathered with garlic confit is a delicious accompaniment to kale and white bean soup.
Consider serving the soup with a substantial salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Dandelion salad is a good option for springtime, while a cherry tomato salad might be a better choice for summer.
It's a great recipe to take to a potluck, but bring a bowl of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese for guests to add to their bowls. Toasted garlic croutons can also work well, too.
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Variations + Substitutions
Crisp some pancetta or bacon in the pot before adding the vegetables. It gives the soup a rich, savory flavor and subtle smokiness. Additionally, it can give the soup a bit more staying power.
Consider thyme and sage in place of or in addition to rosemary. They both work well with the vegetables in this soup recipe, notably onion, garlic, celery, and carrot.
For a creamy white bean and kale soup, pluck out the herbs and then add half the beans to the pot. Next, puree the soup using an immersion blender until you achieve the desired texture. Then add the remaining beans and follow the remaining recipe.
Substitute a cup or two of diced tomatoes for some of the broth. It is a delicious summertime version of this recipe. A few tablespoons of tomato paste added to the soup pot can also brighten up the flavor a bit, too.
Add sausage. Sweet or spicy Italian sausage is a delicious addition to Tuscan kale and white bean soup and makes for a heartier meal.
If you don't care for crushed red pepper, you can leave it out or add a little black pepper which has a milder flavor.
Other greens can stand in for kale in a pinch. Baby spinach and Swiss chard are good options, but mustard greens are also delicious (we use them in our lentil stew).
Try adding a glug of dry white wine to the pot, as it gives the soup a delicate acidity and complex brightness.
Add potatoes for a more substantial meal. Yukon gold potatoes or even Russet potatoes are nice additions if you want a heartier soup.
Other bean and lentil soups you'll love
You can store this kale and white bean soup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To reheat it, add a little extra water or broth to the pan and warm it on the stove over medium-low heat until it reaches 165 F.
Yes! Cool the soup to room temperature, and then pour it into individual containers or jars, allowing 1 inch of head space. Freeze for up to 6 months.
Thaw in the fridge overnight, and then reheat in a saucepan on the stove over medium-low heat until it reaches 165 F. You may need to add additional liquid to the pan as it reheats.
Yes. Add all the ingredients, except for kale, to the slow cooker insert and cook on low for about 6 hours. Add the kale during the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Yes! Add all the ingredients (except kale) to the insert for your pressure cooker, and then cook for about 10 minutes, then allow the pressure to release naturally for a further 10 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf and rosemary, and then stir in the kale. Cover the instant pot with a lid or cloth, and let the kale cook in the residual heat of the soup until wilted.
Yes! Dump 1 cup dry cannellini beans in a medium bowl, and then pour in enough hot water (140 F) to cover the beans by 2 inches. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon baking soda. Let the beans soak overnight at room temperature.
The next day, drain the beans and rinse them. Cook them in the Instant Pot for 8 minutes, or boil them until tender. Then reserve for the soup.
For a creamy soup, some recipes will encourage you do add heavy cream, coconut milk, or even cashew cream. But these additions can dampen the flavor.
Instead, purée a portion of the beans (or even all the beans) which means you'll preserve the flavor of the soup better and get the texture you like, too.
For kale and white bean soup, you should use Lacinato kale which is also known as Tuscan or Dinosaur kale. It has long, forest-green leaves with thick stems and pebbled surface.
If you can't find it, other varieties work well, too.