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Recipe: White bean soup with kale and rosemary

Kim Sunée
Kale and bean soup with a touch of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Kim Sunée photo
This clean, light soup develops a complex flavor, but it can be ramped up in a few different ways.
Kim Sunée photo
Dried beans are perfect kitchen staples, but their freshness will affect their cooking time.
Kim Sunée photo
Dried beans come in many sizes and have distinct flavors.
Kim Sunée photo

A new year, a new slew of resolutions. Everyone around me seems to be making a list and checking it twice, vowing to travel more, drink less, lose weight, exercise regularly, etc. I had similar aspirations for Jan. 1, but then, let’s just say, I ended up hosting a nine-course wine dinner for a friend from Talkeetna on Jan. 3. The menu included non-resolution-friendly dishes such as duck-fat-roasted potatoes, porchetta, and Kobe-style Wagyu beef, as well as all those amazing wines that had been tucked into an Alaska cellar in need of some air and attention.

So, instead of chastising myself for the indulgence, I just decided to take things one step at a time. I find it’s easier to take on one or two things rather than make a long list that just seems to grow as the newness of the new year fades. In the kitchen is where I always start because healthier eating begets more exercise, which translates into more energy to accomplish the other things on the list.

I like to kick off the New Year by eating extra clean -- lots of fruit and green vegetables -- for the first few weeks, slowly adding back lean proteins and dairy. If you live in an area where the farmers’ markets are going strong, stock up on winter greens, root vegetables, and legumes. In Alaska, there are a few open year-round, such as the one in Bethel at Myers Farm, the Center Market in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Farm market in Palmer. For more info, check out Alaskafarmersmarkets.org.

Time is always a consideration when it comes to meal planning, but if you have an extra hour or so on the weekend, consider cooking up several batches of grains, legumes such as beans and lentils, and fresh vegetables, which, when sealed and stored in the refrigerator, will keep for up to a week. Some grains are actually better just soaked in water, such as Bob’s Red Mill quick-cooking bulgur or oats for muesli. Undercook the beans just a bit so you can finish them in soups and stews. Cooked veggies are excellent tossed with pasta, added to stir-fries, whizzed up in the blender for smoothies or to make a healthful dip like this roasted vegetable hummus.

A refrigerator full of already-cooked staples is much more motivating when it comes time to whip up a salad or soup. This is not to say that there won’t be more duck fat-laden goodies in the year to come. But until then, I leave you with a recipe for bean soup with kale and rosemary and a thought from Julia Child, the beloved Queen of the Kitchen who said, “The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.”

Bean Soup with Kale and Rosemary

This is a very lean and clean soup, but you can always amp up flavor by sautéing the vegetables first in a little bit of olive oil, or by adding some bacon or sausage to the veggies and cooking them before adding the beans and broth. If you have a heel or rind end of a chunk of good Parmesan cheese, throw it into the soup for added flavor and creaminess. Cooking time will vary according to the freshness of your dried beans and if you’ve partially cooked them ahead of time. For excellent quality beans, check out Rancho Gordo.

To Soak or not to Soak: Some people believe that soaking beans helps to rid them of indigestible sugars that produce flatulence. For a quick soak, place beans in a pot with water to cover; bring to a boil for about 1 minute. Turn off heat and let sit 1 hour. Drain well.

Ingredients

2 cups dried white beans, such as cannellini or great northern (if using partially-cooked beans, cooking time will be less)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for garnish, as needed
3 to 4 cloves garlic
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 medium white or yellow onion (about 1 cup), finely diced
2 large ribs celery (about 1 cup), finely diced
2 to 3 medium carrots (about 1 cup), diced or sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (about 1 1/2 teaspoons), leaves removed and finely chopped
10 to 12 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock
Pinch crushed red pepper
Rind or heel of a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
3 to 4 cups roughly chopped kale
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Directions

1.  Combine beans and next 9 ingredients (or 10 if using the rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano) in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and bring to a full boil; reduce heat to a low simmer.

2.  Stir and partially cover pot and let cook, stirring occasionally, 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until beans are tender. Add water as needed while simmering to keep beans covered by about 2 inches.

2.  Taste and add more salt, as needed. Stir in kale and let cook another 5 minutes. Serve warm with grated cheese on top.

More diet food while 'waiting for the steak to cook'

Thai Cashew Quinoa with Ginger Peanut Sauce from Alaska from Scratch

Black Bean and Barley Chili Soup by Laurie Constantino

Coconut Green Smoothie from Two Peas and Their Pod

Slow Cooker Maple-Hazelnut Oatmeal from Oxmoor House

Roasted Vegetable and Kale Salad with Honey Vinaigrette from Chena Girl Cooks

Kim Sunée ate and lived in Europe for ten years before working as a food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American and Asian American Poetry and Writing. Sunée has appeared several times as a guest judge on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America. She is currently based in Anchorage and working on a cookbook, "A Mouthful of Stars," to be published by Andrews McMeel in 2014. For more food and travel, visit www.kimsunee.com.