Monday, January 14, 2013

Eat More Kale Soup!

I think I'm going to skim right over how long it's been since I first started this post.  Let's just say that I believe it was in 2011.  That's right--not even last year, but the year before.  And then I'm also going to skim right over what a bad blogger I was in 2012.  It's a new year, 2013, and we're looking ahead.  So I'm going to first say Happy New Year to the five people who are still reading this, after my prolonged absence, and then I am going to tell you about one of the best ways to eat kale that I know of. (In the interests of honesty, I will also tell you that I made this linguine with kale and breadcrumbs from Food52 last night, and it was also delicious, but make the soup first!)

Remember Bo, the Eat More Kale guy?  He's the guy in Vermont selling "Eat More Kale" t-shirts who was told to cease and desist by Chik-fil-A because, according to them, "Eat more kale" trespassed on their copyright of "Eat Mor Chikin"?  This was in the news last winter--here's the New York Times story on it.  I googled to see what's been happening since, and one thing that's happened is that a documentary called "A Defiant Dude" is being made about Bo and his fight.

While I don't own my own Eat More Kale t-shirt, I have, in fact, been eating more kale, and that's because of this kale and potato soup.

Last fall, or perhaps the fall before that, a kale-growing colleague brought me a big bunch of kale.  I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it.  It's not that I don't like kale--it's more that I'd never cooked it regularly.  I poked around looking for recipes.  I was tempted by Molly's recipe at Orangette for Boiled Kale with a Fried Egg and Toast--I like almost anything if it includes an egg and toast--but it wasn't quite what I was in the mood for.  I decided, instead, to make kale soup.  I remembered that there is a Portuguese soup called caldo verde (green broth) with kale and potatoes in it, so I thought I'd make that.

Alas, I soon learned that traditional caldo verde also includes large quantities of pork sausage.  But since I had recently discovered that smoked paprika could add a nice smoky flavor to a vegetarian soup, I decided to experiment.  (Exhibit A in this category is the smoky minestrone with tortellini and parsley pesto, which remains a favorite.) I also had been making a lot of potato-leek soup, and I used that as another inspiration. 

I've made this soup over and over since then, and it's almost certainly true that I've never made it exactly the same way twice.  That's actually one of the great things about it--you can be flexible with the ingredients, and the soup will still be delicious.   As long as there is some kind of allium (onion, leek, shallot), some kind of potato, garlic, kale and smoked paprika, you will end up with delicious--and deliciously healthy--soup. 

You basically start as if you're making leek and potato soup, by sauteing leeks (and/or onions and/or shallots) in a bit of butter.  I usually put my first hit of smoked paprika in with the leeks or onions.  Then, you add diced, peeled potatoes and mix everything up.  Once the potatoes have had a few minutes to mix and meld with the leeks/onions, you add water.  Meanwhile, you're dealing with the kale. 

Kale can be kind of annoying to process--you need to cut out the tough stems and chop it thinly.  (In traditional caldo verde, the kale is sliced into ribbons, and the soup isn't pureed.  In my version, since I do puree it, it doesn't matter how thin the kale is sliced since it's all going to get ground up anyway in the blender. Still, thinner slices cook faster, so that's what I usually go with.) 

Then, you add the kale, which eventually cooks down. 

Once the potatoes and kale are both soft, you're basically done.  I like my kale and potato soup pureed, so at that point, I use my handy immersion blender and whirl it all up until it's a nice shade of green.  You could also put it through a food mill instead, if you were so inclined.

 At this point, you still have options.  I often add more smoked paprika, and I always season it with Maldon salt, which is another kitchen favorite.  (Really, I was never a believer in the power of good sea salt until I tried Maldon salt, and now I am never without it. It is especially good for finishing a dish and bringing the flavors out.)  Sometimes, I add a bit (maybe a few tablespoons) of half and half, which gives the soup a luxurious touch.  (It also mellows out the flavor of the kale in a nice way, which is especially helpful if you have kale-doubters at your table.) 

Last summer, for the first time, with this soup in mind, I decided to grow my own lacinato kale. (That's the dark kale, also called dino kale and Tuscan kale.)  Except, being the haphazard gardener that I am, I bought a six-pack of it in the spring, thinking I'd plant that so I'd have some while waiting for my seeds to grow.  But then, I didn't plant the six-pack or the seeds, and by late August, there was no kale at all in my garden.  But suddenly I discovered that the six-pack of kale was still alive.  Blessed, hearty kale.  So, I planted it in the garden, and it grew.  Not as huge as it would have been if I'd planted it earlier, but it still grew.  And at exactly the moment it was getting big enough to eat, tragedy struck.  I looked out my kitchen window one day in the fall to see how it was doing and learned that what it was doing was nourishing a deer.  The deer was gone by then, but so was the kale, every single last edible piece.

The thing with gardening, though, as it is with blogging, is that there is always another chance.  Summer will return, and hopefully before then, the urge to blog will return as well. (Maybe it even has already!)  And January, after all, is a good month for blogging and soup eating and dreaming of, if not exactly kale, then of gardens in which to plant it and deer who will find someone else's greens to munch on next summer.

Smoky Kale and Potato Soup

  • 3 large leeks (or 2 onions or several shallots or some combination thereof)
  • 2 large (or 3 small) cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large bunch kale--I always use Lacinato, but other kinds should work
  • 1-2 tbsps. butter
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or more to taste)
  • 2-3 tbsp. half and half (optional)
  • Sea salt
  1. In a large soup pot, saute the white part of the leeks (and/or the onions or shallots) in the butter until soft but not brown.
  2.  Once the leeks are soft, add the garlic and continue to stir.
  3. Add 1 tsp. smoked paprika to the leeks and garlic and stir until coated.
  4.  Meanwhile, while leeks are cooking, peel and dice the potatoes.  Add to the leeks and garlic and cook for several minutes.  If anything starts to stick, you can add a bit of water now.
  5. Add approx. 2 quarts of water.
  6. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.
  7. Take out the tough ribs of the kale and chop the kale leaves finely.  (I usually do it in ribbons, even if I'm pureeing the soup.)
  8. Add the kale to the soup.
  9. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or as long as it takes for the potatoes to be soft (they should break up when you mash them against the edge of the pot).
  10. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or grind it up in a food mill (and return to the pot.)
  11. Salt to taste, ideally with Maldon salt, and season with additional smoked paprika to taste
  12. (Optional) Add several tablespoons of half and half (I never usually measure but use just a splash from the carton).
  13. Eat more kale and enjoy!