Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kale rib soup with rice

It has been a while since I paid tribute to the memory of Birdie Paris,  my wife's aunt and force of nature. Coincidentally, last time was in connection with her recipe for kale soup. She never made this kale soup, but certainly would have been proud of me for coming up with it.  Birdie was one of the most generous people in the world, but she was also one of the most frugal.  We used to say that she would give you the clothes off her back, and then tell you what she paid for them and most importantly, what it was marked down from.  While such frugality was not uncommon in people born after the First World War who came of age during the Great Depression, Birdie brought it to new levels.  She would brag about buying dented cans and expired and marked-down meat and claimed to have built their Cape house on the savings. . She would buy scraps of leftover cold cuts at the deli counter and turn them into a (mighty tasty) antipasto, of course reciting the price of  each component as she dished it out..  Her daughter Susan says that it took her years to realize that she did not need to buy tuna fish just because it was on sale, and, if she wanted to, she could but it even if it was not on sale.
We have become addicted to kale salads but are often trim off the leaves and are left with a whole lot of ribs.  Here is something tasty to do with them:

Kale rib soup with rice

  • Ribs from one very large bunch of kale, preferably Tuscan (lacinato) kale, which will yield about one quart chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • medium onion, chopped
  • carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 ribs celery, trimmed stringed and chopped
  • 2 or more cloves or garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (more if you like it tomatoey, which I do not)
  • 5-6 cups liquid (I used water and a tablespoon of Osem powder;  a homemade vegetable stock would be nice if you are so inclined)
  • Parmesan cheese rind (a two inch piece is fine, but the more the merrier)
  • Bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup short grain rice, like Arborio or Spanish rice
  • grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  1. When you make the kale salad, you will strip the leaves off the stems, which will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator. 
  2. You can use all of the ribs except for the hard, woody stems which may still be attached, particularly if you got the kale from a farmers' market or CSA. Strip the ribs off the stem and discard the stem, since it is too fibrous to use.
  3. Rinse the ribs and chop them.  You should have about one quart.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a 3-4 quart soup pot and add, as you are finished preparing the, the onion, carrot, celery and garlic.  Stir occasionally until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes total.
  5. Add the chopped kale ribs, and saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and stir until it is mixed in.
  6. Add the liquid, cheese rind, bay leaf and some grindings of pepper and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for  about 20 minutes, partially covered.  
  7. Taste the kale, which should be cooked but still somewhat firm before adding the rice.  Cook a few minutes more if necessary.  Add more salt if needed -- the rice will absorb some salt so it should taste every so slightly on the salty side.
  8. Add the rice and cook uncovered for 10 minutes.  Cover the pot and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.  The rice should be cooked but al dente, with a little toothiness.  If you want more tender rice, cook it a few minutes more.
  9. Serve with grated cheese.  Serves 6-8 as a first course and 3-4 as a very hearty main dish.
Variations: Rice is our favorite, but you can also prepare this with soup pasta (like ditalini) or toasted bread.  Just substitute the pasta for the rice, but cook the kale a little longer and  only cook the pasta for 5 minutes after adding.  If you use bread, the best choice is a stale, non-sweet whole grain loaf cut into 1-inch thick slices.  Toast them and rub with garlic and pour the soup (not a true zuppa/sop) over it when you serve. This can also be served with frissell, the hard biscuts available in some Italian bakeries. It is particularly good with pepper frissell. The soup itself should cook about 10 minutes more to tenderize the kale ribs.


  1. oy.... i've thrown away so many ribs the past few weeeks. Birdie would not be happy

  2. Thanks for the tribute, Alan (and the recipe). I should add that when we were growing up, the frugal side of her behavior was less in-your-face. She was still frugal, by necessity, but she didn't talk about it so much. As she aged, and became financially secure, oh boy, did she ever take every opportunity to let people know about her bargains. Confession: In the last few months, I have found myself attracted as if by magnetic force (by genes?) to the marked-down section at the meat counter. The apple doesn't fall far....