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This incredibly healthy soup, featured on Mad Hungry, is absolutely simple, as well. Use the best ingredients you have and this soup shines. Absolutely old-fashioned (it was an Italian Grandmother’s recipe) it took me a bit to get used to, but the “toasted crouton” saved the day.

(sorry, photo coming)

This recipe originally called for Escarole, a green not always available in my area, and expensive when it is. A kale swap out seemed in order. I’m always looking for new ways to use Kale, by far my favorite of the greens:  it’s good for you, the flavor is wonderful if not overcooked, it’s cheap and readily available. What more can I say?

By the way, the trick with Kale is to use it fresh!  It should be bright and colorful and crisp – if it’s a dull green, it’s on its way out – it reduces quickly in size and the taste becomes bitter.

But back to the soup – I also made a few other adaptations – I used home-made chicken stock and pulled portioned bags of beans from the freezer. Since the canned beans are not drained and rinsed, the completely home-made version is a bit thinner. These are some of my strategies for getting homemade food on the table on a budget price.

White Bean and Kale Soup, serves 6, cost $3.70

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups white or cannelloni beans (or two 15 ounce cans with liquid)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or two 15.5 ounce cans)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • Slices of toasted bread for serving (see note)

Fill a large basin with water and add kale; drain basin, refill with water and repeat. Drain and roughly chop.

Bring about three inches of water to boil in a large pot. Add kale, cover, and steam for about 10 to 15 minutes until tender, but still a bright green. Drain and rinse with cold water if you’re not making the soup right away – you don’t want it to sit and keep steaming.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just golden brown, four to five minutes. (You can remove if you wish, for a milder flavor.)

Add beans. If you use canned beans, add with the liquid – the starch will help add body to your soup. If  you’ve just cooked your beans, you can replace about a cup of the broth with the cooking liquid for a little more body. If you are pulling them frozen from the freezer, just puree or mash a few of them and they’ll help thicken the soup slightly.

Add oregano, red pepper flakes, chicken broth and kale. Bring up to a gentle simmer, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Watch the color of your greens – you want them bright and vibrant, and to my mind this is best if the greens are just cooked through.

Place bread in the bottom of the bowl, ladle the soup over and serve with a few shavings of Parmesan over the top.


  • I like to serve soups like this with a little vinegar – red, white or balsamic – it just perks up the flavor.
  • After the bread is toasted, I like to rub it with a crushed garlic clove, sprinkle with a little Parmesan and broil for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and turning slightly brown.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied

  • Greens:  I sometimes buy whatever’s on sale, but I’m a big fan of both Kale and Turnip Greens.  Kale, I think is the better choice here – it’s nice and sturdy, although you can use other greens.  Even at regular price, most greens are not expensive.  A bunch runs between 89 to 99 cents here in Minnesota – other regions may well have lower prices.  Cost:  $1.00
  • If you fold the greens so the stalk protrudes, you can very easily remove most of it by running your hand down the stalk and pulling.  I don’t worry about the thinner bits of stalk higher on the leaf – I like the texture.
  • Beans: I find the navy much easier to find, but any white bean, or near white bean will work in this recipe.  Dried beans and peas are generally on sale the week or week after any large Holiday when people eat ham – think Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter – and they are often unadvertised.  I really like to stock up, because we eat them quite often. (By the way, if you’re concerned about side effects, eat them more!  Your body will adjust, all by itself.  It doesn’t hurt to give them a good rinse before soaking and before cooking.)  A good price is $.80 to $.89 cents a pound.  When you are making some for a meal, simmer two or three packages, divide up into 1 1/2 cup bags and freeze.   (The equivalent of a can of beans – that’s the standard you’ll find in most recipes.)  You should get *almost* three packets out of a pound.  Cost 60 cents.
  • Olive Oil: See my strategies for buying Olive oil, but basically watch for sales and coupons!  My buy price (I pick it up whether I need it or not when it’s at my ‘buy’ price!) is about 8 cents an ounce.  In a case like this, I’ll break out the “better” Olive oil – when the olive oil is a main flavoring of the dish it’s no place to skimp. I still try to buy it on sale, and with a coupon, but the cost for a 1/2 cup is about a dollar.
  • Chicken Stock: Again, I make my Chicken Stock from bones and scraps that I save.  I don’t count it as costing anything, although I do suppose the small flame for simmering (not much higher than a pilot light) costs something…I freeze for use later.  Cost:  Zero.
  • Parmesan Cheese:  Here, you really want to use a good parmesan or Romano – which is often a less in price and has a stronger flavor (so you get to use less!)  Cost for about 1/4 cup to shaved over the soup, about a 50 cents.
  • Garlic:  four cloves runs about 10 cents, more or less, depending on when you’re buying.  Check out and see if it’s cheaper by the package, the head or the pound.
  • Bread:  I do really like this with the chewy, Crusty Bread – it costs about a quarter to make.  If you use Italian bread, watch for it to go on sale at the store every three to four weeks, in our area for about a dollar.  Cost 50 cents.

Nutrition (for soup, not counting bread and cheese which will vary):

Calories 406, Cal from fat 183 (remember this is high in fat, but it is olive oil – full of Omega threes – reduce the amount if you’re concerned)  tot fat 20g; sat fat 3g; chol 0mg, transfat none; sod 551 (this will be greatly reduced if you make homemade) tot carb 41, fib 11g; sug .55g; prot 15g.

Put Your own Spin on It:

This soup as it stands is a simple country soup – “comfort” food – but you can take this in a lot of different directions:

  • You can use escarole like the original recipe stated, or another green of your choice. If you use something less hardy, like spinach, you’ll want to drop it in at the very end and cook for just a moment or two, depending on how sturdy your spinach is.
  • You can saute up diced onion, carrots, canned or fresh tomatoes.
  • You can flavor this up with Italian spices, basil, rosemary and lots of garlic, maybe some balsamic vinegar.
  • If you like a heartier soup, you can saute Italian sausage at the beginning, remove it and continue, then add it back in when it’s time to simmer.
  • If you’re a vegetarian, just use vegetable broth.

Recipe made June 2012

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