Stew or soup – beans and kale do the job.

Having spent the last three autumns away from the UK in India, I had forgotten how suddenly the weather can change – even in the same day! We’ve had some beautiful sunny days recently, the low sunlight magnifying the stunning autumn hues. Vivid red, yellow and deep orange leaves have created a spectacular view. But now the temperature has suddenly dropped, and so have the leaves, almost overnight, the last few clinging on to stripped branches battling the bitter northern wind.

When it’s cold outside, it seems only natural to turn to comforting food to warm us up on the inside. This kale and bean soup is perfect for a cold November day; warm and tasty, it’s packed full of nutrients that really do feed the soul!

Kale is being hailed as the latest wonder food, and with good reason. Yet another one of those miracle-working cruciferous vegetables, it’s packed full of vitamin A and C, provides good amounts of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium, has a wide range of phyto-nutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids and lutein, and a hefty dose of fibre. So basically, it’s really good for you! All these anti-oxidants help protect the body from a range of health problems. Kale also contains excellent amounts of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. Tryptophan is essential for the formation of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that affects mood – so kale can make you feel good on so many fronts, and help battle those winter blues.

However, kale is not perfect for everyone and some people need to exercise caution. Kale also contain whopping amounts of vitamin K – this is involved in clotting and potentially could cause problems for people who take anti-coagulants such as warfrin. Kale also contains oxalates. Some people with kidney or gall bladder problems may have difficulty breaking it down and may lead to other health problems. But I guess it’s a question of how much you eat of it!

Kale does have pretty tough cell walls, so it needs a good chopping to get the nutrients going.
The other star in this dish – cannellini (or navy if you’re in the States) beans – are also wonderfully good for you, and brilliant for this kind of dish as they hold their form even when cooked for a long time and don’t go really mushy, although they do mash easily if you want a creamy texture. Low in fat, high in fibre, magnesium and B vitamins, these wholesome white beans are a brilliant ingredient to have in your store cupboard.

I first made this dish as a soup, adding in some cooked black rice afterwards to make it a mega hearty lunch. This worked so well, I realised dropping the fluid content would also make a wonderful creamy stew. I love finding a dairy free alternative for creaminess! The tomatoes give a fabulous contrasting texture, so don’t miss them out. The squeeze of lemon juice at the end it to help make the iron content more absorbable, but leave it out if it’s not your thing.

I served this as a stew on a bed of wholegrain rice, but a couple of chunks of beautifully crusty wholemeal bread would mop up the juices a treat! Maybe I need to make some soda bread to get a yeast free bread accompaniment…..
Autumn was made for dishes like this!!!

Cannellini bean and kale soup/stew
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
150g raw kale, washed and well chopped
1 courgette chopped
up to 500mls vegetable stock
1 400g tin of cannellini beans, well rinsed
2 fresh tomatoes cut into 8’s
1 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until its soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so but don’t let it brown. Add the kale and sauté until it’s wilted slightly – a few minutes. Add the courgette and sauté for a minute. Now add 2/3rd of the beans, the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning and stir well.  This is the point you need to decide if you are having a soup or stew. For soup, pour in 350mls of the stock, for stew about 200 mls – enough to nearly cover the veg and beans. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the remaining cannellini beans and a good dash of the stock in a blender and blitz until smooth. Stir this mixture into the simmering pan – this thickens the sauce and gives it a creamy texture. Continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, adding in more stock if you need it.
Just before serving, squeeze in the lemon juice if you are using it, then ladle into a large bowl and feel hugged and warm from the inside!

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