Monday, November 5, 2012

Meatless Monday - Kale and Bean Soup

There's been increasing talk lately about the concept of a "Meatless Monday," perhaps coming to a head earlier this summer with a big dust-up between the USDA and the meat industry. First the USDA issued a memo supporting the idea, then various livestock organizations got upset, the USDA retracted the memo and said it never officially endorsed Meatless Monday at all. And for a few days in July, a nice environmental movement was politicized by every talking head on TV. Sigh.

Fortunately, here at You Can't Eat a Lawn, we don't need anybody's permission (the USDA or the Cattlemen) to try something out, and we're happy to introduce a new and hopefully recurring segment about Meatless Monday here on the blog. For the record, we do eat meat, but it's indisputable that the production of meat uses up significantly more resources than plant-based protein sources. For instance, it takes 1800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef (link), where beans only take 43 (link). So we try to have a meatless dinner at least once a week, and we'll share our favorite recipes here.

This week started with a trip out back to the garden, just like many of our meals have begun all summer long. Unlike the summer months, we were greeted by a small smattering of plants instead of our former cornucopia. But one crop that grows well in Iowa and can tolerate a mild frost is kale, and we had a lot of it! Kale is a really tasty leafy green (in the same family as broccoli) and it's very good for you, full of healthy omega-3's, iron and calcium, just to name a few. We knew this needed to be part of our meatless meal, and luckily we had just the recipe to go with it: Noodle Soup with Kale and White Beans, adapted from Fine Cooking. We'll put our adapted recipe at the end of this post.

As we always do when we start cooking, we began by arranging the ingredients in a pretty formation (kidding!). We were able to make use of a few home grown items in the kale, onion, and our frozen, homemade chicken stock. Other items we bought - we never had good carrots this year, didn't grow celery, and augmented our homemade stock with one box of storebought. Generally speaking, we like to rehydrate dry beans, but we didn't plan ahead enough this week and ended up going with canned. Either one is fine for the recipe; it's just a trade off between the low cost of dry versus the convenience of canned.

As our vegetarian friends will notice, we might have a slightly different definition of "meatless" than others.  Yes, we used a chicken stock, but you could just as easily use vegetable stock if that's your preference.  We still feel like using chicken stock is in keeping with the spirit of Meatless Monday, because stock is typically made from bones, and those are a by-product that would otherwise be thrown away. We'd rather see those scraps get some use, and since the actual chicken was used in another meal, we're choosing not to count the stock.  (We'll make the same exception for lard in the future.)  By all means, if you'd rather make a vegetarian soup than a meatless soup, don't let our choice of stock stand in your way.

This is a pretty easy soup to make, with nearly as much time spent chopping things as actually cooking. We first made and sauteed a mirepoix in olive oil. The mirepoix is shown in the picture above - it's really just chopped carrot, onion and celery in about equal proportions. But call it a mirepoix and you're sure to impress your friends! After we'd reveled in our fancy culinary abilities, it was quickly on to everyone's favorite step in soup-making: throw everything in a pot and let it simmer. By the time the savory smell of hot soup on the stovetop becomes too much to bear, everything should be done and it's time to dig in!

This is one of our favorite soups, hearty and flavorful without needing any meat. It has a hint of lime that makes it just as appropriate for the summer, but with enough savory body to warm you up in the fall, too. With the goodness of the kale and the other veggies, you can go back for multiple bowls knowing that this is as good for you as it tastes. It's a delicious option for Meatless Monday, or any day.

Kale and Bean Soup


2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 box whole-wheat spaghetti, broken into thirds
2 quarts chicken stock
1 bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves chopped
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 Tbs lime juice
salt and pepper

1. Finely chop 1 medium onion, 2 carrots, and 2 stalks of celery. Call it a mirepoix and be really proud of yourself.
2. Heat olive oil in skillet and saute mirepoix until tender
3. Combine chicken stock, mirepoix, kale, lime juice and spaghetti in large pot.
4. Simmer 8-10 minutes or until kale is tender and spaghetti is cooked.
5. Salt and pepper to taste, serve and enjoy.

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