Weeknight Cooking

Anna Thomas' Green Soup

October 15, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A robust vegan soup with all the richness of long-cooked greens -- without the long-cooking.

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Boiled-down greens might sound drab for dinner, possessing all the charm of a bowl of kelp. But, as you know if you've ever tasted slow-cooked collards, stewing down stiff greens may wash out their structure and color, but it leaves behind something soft yet substantial, earthy and haunting and sweet.

What you might not realize is that it doesn't take hours to get that kind of character from your greens -- you can get it in about 30 minutes, if you cook them like Anna Thomas, filmmaker and author of the classic Vegetarian Epicure books. She dedicated a full two chapters of Love Soup, her most recent book, to green soups -- one chapter for winter, one for warmer weather variations. When I wrote to her earlier this week, she already had a batch in her fridge.

This recipe is one of the wintry types, a rich, vegan purée that doesn't rely on any of the typical tricks for implying meatiness, like liquid smoke or nutritional yeast. The greens are enough.

To get there, you'll cook down a very full pot of greens, herbs, and one potato in just 3 cups of water, steaming that big pile down into a denser one, and concentrating the liquid into an intense green stock.

At the same time, you'll caramelize onions in another pan, dump those into the pot; sizzle a garlic clove, dump that in too. Splash in some sherry if you like. By splitting the action between two pans, your cooking time is cut in half -- all of this is done in half an hour, but tastes like collards that have cooked all day.



Only then do you add just enough extra broth "to make the soup a soup" that will pour from a ladle, and blend it all together. Then you shine up the flavor with lemon juice and cayenne, and serve with an essential finishing swoop of olive oil.

This is an excellent recipe, but also a template. You could use any greens, and any herbs. Instead of the potato, Thomas has bolstered the broth with arborio rice, yams, sautéed mushrooms, or squash. The caramelized onions are key for filling out the flavor of the soup, but there's no reason you couldn't use shallots or leeks instead.

Thomas first wrote about her happy experiments with green soup in the L.A. Times in 2001 and the recipe took on a cult following. Love Soup won a James Beard Award, then a spinoff article on green soups for Eating Well magazine won another. When Roger Ebert wrote The Pot and How to Use It, Thomas found herself developing a rice cooker version for him too. As Thomas told me, "Though it began as a turn to healthier eating after the holidays, it soon became a year-round favorite for all the right reasons -- it’s just damn delicious!"

It's good for dinner parties, for brown bag lunches, and for dinners alone with a fridge of greens you don't know what to do with. Thomas has also used the soup to comfort very sick friends: "More than one has told me that it was the only thing they wanted when all appetite faded, and that it brought them back to life a bit," she said. "If it never did another thing in its soupy career, that would be enough."

Anna Thomas' Green Soup

From Love Soup (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009)

Serves 4 to 6

1 bunch chard or spinach
1 bunch kale
4 to 5 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 medium Yukon Gold potato
1 medium yellow onion
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Marsala or dry sherry (optional)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 1/2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to my Genius book assistant Emily Stephenson for this one!

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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  • Clara Åhlvik
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Clara Å. April 11, 2015
Please, how much is a "bunch" (of spinach, of kale?)?
Kerry February 26, 2015
I never comment on recipes for some unknown reason but I'm compelled to comment on this one because I have truly loved it. I love how healthy it is, how it empties my fridge, but most of all how absolutely delicious it is. THANKS!!!!
Katherine February 2, 2015
At the same time you would add the potatoes.
Stacey H. February 2, 2015
Hi there, I'm making this soup this weekend and I'd love to use the suggested rice in place of potato - can anyone tell me at what point I'd add the rice? Would love to know how to modify the recipe to incorporate the rice idea, thanks so much!
Donecia October 30, 2014
I honestly thought I wouldn't get ANYBODY in my family to try this (which was ok because I knew I would love it!! LOL!) to my suprise everybody was willing to give it a taste and EVERYBODY LOVED it!! Not just like loved!! Mine too was made with chicken stock as I forgot to pick up vegetable stock at the store, but this was flat out delicious!! velvety and satisfying on a gloomy fall day!! The ate it all no leftovers and are requesting it again for lunches next week!! Will be making a huge batch this weekend for the freezer!!
tota October 30, 2014
Am sure it was great, but there definitely is a taste difference with chicken stock, so I usually just use a stock cube (one of the better Swiss brands) to make what I need. Also, I have used escarole as well as chard or kale for this--it's amazingly easy and soooo good!
Rissako October 30, 2014
Just made this for the first time. I thought I had vegetable stock in my cabinet. Turned out I only had chicken stock. Of course this means it's no longer vegetarian, but it turned out absolutely delicious.
Kate S. October 17, 2014
Ack! I'd totally forgotten about her green soup, which I came across in the Eating Well article mentioned here. I made multiple batches and then, forgot. Never again! We loved that soup, and right now, with Winter on the horizon, this will be a perfect antidote to the cold North wind.
Carol October 16, 2014
Yes, let's just celebrate the sharing and the love. Nobody really owns anything.
PamellaB October 16, 2014
I use cooked white beans in place of potato. It adds a bit of protein & works as the starch thickener. Doesn't affect the flavor since it's not a large amount. I love this soup!
Ellen S. October 16, 2014
Good idea!
Julia D. October 16, 2014
I'm new to this but LOVE these recipes - inspirational every day!! Only problem is that they are making me hungry!
Colleen S. October 16, 2014
I've been eating Anna's green soups for decades, starting when our kids were growing up in Ojai, and never had a variation that wasn't just delicious.
Susan W. October 16, 2014
I made this tonight too. I had frozen kake (frozen by me in a Ziploc just raw) and rainbow chard. I used basmati rice in place of the potato. Such a great soup.
tota October 15, 2014
So....made it with escarole and kale, arborio rice in place of potato and it was....scrumptious! A definite keeper, and so healthy. Thanks for tips, love Food52, and love having all the feedback here.
tota October 15, 2014
Thanks all, will use the arborio rice, think the squash may be unappealing color as Susan
pointed out below!
Laura S. October 15, 2014
Just made this--I did add sorrel and some summer squash and skipped the potato. Very delish!
Katherine October 15, 2014
Anna Thomas suggests using 3 Tbs of Arborio rice instead of potato. Add it in when you start cooking the greens. Butternut squash might be good but it would be a whole different soup in terms of flavor.
tota October 15, 2014
Did I see someone mention that you can substitute butternut squash for the potato? I have all on hand except that one thing, and want to make tonight!
Susan W. October 15, 2014
Tota, someone suggested white rice which is what I am going to use. Butternut squash sounds tasty. I wonder how it will affect the color. Green plus orangey yellow=??
Burf October 15, 2014
I'll be using this recipe all winter. I substituted cauliflower for the potato, and it was great. My stock was pretty dark. The result was a delicious soup, but more of a muddy green (but in the best possible way).
Susan W. October 15, 2014
Such a good idea. I wonder why it was muddy? Just not vibrant green? Love your avatar.
Donecia October 15, 2014
Ellen S. October 15, 2014
I'm part of the cult that developed after the Green Soup article appeared in the L.A. Times. I adore this soup and have made it so many times, I feel free to tweak it however I want. I especially like to spoon it over fish and bits of sliced yams and beets in a bowl. It tastes so fresh. My thanks to Anna Thomas!