Warm & Comforting with Hannah Casparian
Kale & White Bean Soup with Irish Soda Bread
Words by Hannah Casparian Photos By Ashley Haguewood
Until recently in my adult life, I was scared to make soup. My mom made such incredible soup, I had deemed it an impossible task. She’s a painter, so as a child and aspiring chef, she would explain soup making to me like layering colors on a canvas. The goal is to build flavor upon flavor, creating a complex umami of melded nuances. I was intimidated by the tasting spoon frequently dipping in the simmering pot and traveling the arm’s length to my mom’s mouth, where she would step back, hand on hip—her stance while she paints—and slurp, awaiting critique. Like all cooking methods, the resulting dish requires a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and acidic. My mom’s palate always knew the right adjustments to make to round out the flavor matrix. Thankfully, I got over my fear and began experimenting.
Ever wonder why every culture in the world has its own traditional soup? Soup allows for great metaphors of sharing and community. It’s warming and comforting. Crafting soup can be as complicated as an Escoffier-inspired French recipe that requires days of bone boiling and adding things with perfect technique. Or it can be the most pragmatic ‘get everything out of the fridge and see what happens’ surprise. Being the child of an Episcopal priest, soup and loaves of hearty bread were always a staple to feed the masses, be it at a church potluck, a newcomer’s party or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Soup is more of an art than a science. However, soup recipes can serve as an inspirational guide. I encourage you to take the amounts with a grain of salt, as it were, and taste and adjust for yourself. Just remember, the true secret to almost any soup is a low, slow simmer. Regardless of ingredients, the time on the stove is what really develops the depth of flavors.
Kale White Bean Soup is perfect to put on the stove in the morning and let simmer for hours. The kale is sturdy and takes a little time to break down from the heat of the broth and the acid of the tomatoes. Also, keep in mind that canned or dry beans will make a big difference in cooking time.
Accompanying any soup, of course, should be a hot loaf of bread. My favorite is whole wheat Irish Soda Bread. It’s a convenient bread to make by dinner time because it is chemically leavened as opposed to yeast raised, which can take more time and planning.
kale + white bean soup
Yields: 4 servings
1 onion, diced
1 head garlic, chopped (Use less if desired.)
1 can white beans/ or 1 cup of dried (butter beans or Great Northern)
1-2 jars (e.g. Pomi brand) rough cut tomatoes or several cups of fresh chopped tomatoes
A bunch of roughly chopped kale
1-2 qts chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup shredded parmesan or a large piece of parmesan rind
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning
and/or Herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
Other options to consider:
Thyme and rosemary—throw some in and see how it goes.
Add shredded chicken or sausage for extra heartiness.
Sauté the diced onions with a little oil or butter in the bottom of the pot. Cook slowly on low to develop the most flavor. Add chopped garlic and let cook for 1-2 more minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn it down to a simmer and let it be. Taste and adjust sporadically.
irish soda bread
Yields: 1 loaf
570g/1.25# whole wheat flour (can be half white, half whole wheat if you choose)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
450-500 mL buttermilk
Fully preheat oven to 450o. Mix all dry ingredients together well in a large bowl. Pour buttermilk in with one hand while slowly starting to mix ingredients with a spoon, bowl scraper or by hand. You’re looking for all of the dry ingredients to be incorporated, and the dough to be slightly tacky to the touch. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and generously sprinkle with cornmeal or flour. With a spatula, form the dough into a ball and transfer to the sheet pan. (This can be better accomplished with a little flour on your hands.) With a sharp knife, score the tall mound with a criss-cross. (This allows the baking soda ample room to leaven the loaf in the oven.) Bake at 450o for 15-20 minutes, then turn the oven to 400o and finish baking until the loaf is golden brown all the way around (about 20-25 minutes more).