On butter – and some KALE soup

Within a day this week I used up 250 grams of butter, and that is the largest increment in which it is sold here. I really wish butter was sold by the pound like it is at home. But don’t take this to mean that Londoners don’t love butter as I do. Most of my butter went towards a Very English batch of scones. I made soup too, and if you believe it, it turned out almost better.

Although I no longer call myself a vegetarian, I still cook that way. After dedicating this fall to stew, I have refined my standards. This one covers all the bases for a good vegetarian soup. It is brothy, but not watery. It is flavorful, not just salty. There are several different sources of protein, carbs, and vegetables. It lasts well and best of all… the colors look pretty together.

Seven-layer KALE soupmakes four servings

one medium onion, minced
4 tablespoons butter (or more!)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, julienned (or as I do, cut into coins and then into little sticks)
2 tablespoons flour
balsamic vinegar

1 slice of sharp farmhouse cheddar, 5mm wide
1 bag kale, 200 grams
1 cup white beans
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup pearl barley
1 cup cooked, seasoned and mashed waxy new potatoes (I used leftover mashed potatoes)

Note: This recipe calls for white beans, which I like to prepare from dry beans in advance using a “hot soak”. In a medium pot, add a half cup of white beans and a whole tablespoon of vegetable broth powder. Pour in boiling water to generously cover the beans and soak for at least two hours. They will be much more flavorful this way. When you’re ready to settle in and actually make soup, just turn the element on high so your beans can boil away for a half hour before they are needed.

1. In a big heavy-bottomed pot and over medium-high heat, saute an onion in butter until soft. Add garlic and cover again for a minute. Stir in the flour and cook til the flour-onion mixture browns slightly. Toss in the carrot and simply cover the pot, turn the heat down and let all the vegtables almost roast in the pan. After a few minutes, a layer on the bottom of the pot will like have formed. This is crucial flavor development; the goal is to get some browned bits before you stir again. Use a circular motion to splash a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar over the mixture and do not stir it in.

2. Instead, lay the piece of cheese in the middle on top of this onion base. This is where the seven layers come in, and that was #2. Next, open the bag of kale and add it al. You may have to compress the kale down so you can cover the pot. Let the kale shrink in the steam until there is room to start adding more ingredients. Layer #3.

3. By this point, the bottom layer is well roasted, but hopefully not burnt. Don’t even peak. Just do another splasheroo of balsamic vinegar on top of the kale. Add in the pot of white beans and broth over the kale, layer #4. Pour in milk, and then paprika and the bay leaf. Do not stir- I think of this as the spice layer. Finally, sprinkle the top with your half cup of pearl barley (#6) and then (#7) sort of cover with the mashed potatoes as you would a shepherds pie. Add hot water (from the kettle) so that liquid covers all the ingredients- this will take several cups. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about twenty minutes.

4.When you check on the soup, it is finally time to stir everything. Go ahead and use that spoon to scrape anything off the bottom of the pot, if it hasn’t already been deglazed. Simmer until the kale, beans, and barley are done and the broth has thickened a little. Season with salt and pepper as you like, and serve!

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