It’s easy to return home from the market with more greens than you know what to do with, and serving them all at once as a green soup is a fine way to celebrate them—but you have to make it a certain way so it doesn't taste like a warm green smoothie (or grass). When done right, green soup can cleansing and light and hearty.
Here’s how to make a balanced green soup, no matter what leaves you have on hand:
Prep Your Greens
It's nice to always incorporate something spicy and peppery (radish, turnip, mustard, arugula) and something bitter (like escarole) as a complement to a sweeter, earthier foundation of spinach, kale, beet greens, or nettles. Very bitter greens like dandelion can be used in small amounts, but blanch them separately and discard the cooking liquid so that you don’t end up with an overpoweringly bitter broth.
I like to use the following, in any combination:
- beet greens
- turnip greens
- radish greens
- mustard greens
Bring a large pot of water to the boil (about 6 cups per pound of greens), and strip the leaves from any tough stalks (if you're using nettles, snip the leaves from the coarse stems). Once the water's boiling, blanch the greens for a few minutes each. Remove to a bowl with a spider or large slotted spoon and allow to cool in ice water. Reserve the cooking liquid—this is very important!
Add Aromatics and Herbs
This is the place to use early spring alliums—green garlic, spring onions, baby leeks. Count on one small bunch, or half of a larger bunch, alone or in combination, per batch of soup. In their place, you can use a bunch of scallions, one or two larger leeks, a yellow onion, or a couple of cloves of regular bulb garlic. If you’d like to use fresh ginger, turmeric or dried chiles, finely chop/crush or crumble them and group them here.
Thinly slice your alliums and set them aside, then prep your herbs—some combination of parsley, cilantro, or sorrel, leaves separated from the stems, and stems finely chopped. You can use up to a bunch, or just half. Set them aside in another bowl beside the alliums.
You could use one or two small potatoes, cut into a small dice, or a couple of tablespoons of uncooked white rice. Set this aside with the other ingredients.
Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (or coconut oil or ghee). Then add the alliums, a pinch of salt, and a flick of water, and sauté for a few minutes, until they're good and wilted. While they're softening, coarsely chop the blanched greens.
Once the alliums have cooked for a few minutes, add the herbs, stir until just wilted, then add the potatoes or rice. Add another pinch of salt, then add the chopped greens to the pot, along with about two-thirds of the reserved cooking liquid (you can add more later to thin the soup). Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes or rice are cooked through. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
You can purée all of the soup, or leave a little unpuréed for a bit of extra texture, adding more of the reserved cooking liquid to thin to your desired consistency. If you want a more refined result, you can pass the soup through a food mill.
At this point, depending on the combination of greens and herbs you chose, your soup may be pretty mild mannered. You can leave it that way, or add any number of embellishments.
These options really are endless. To start, add a a few teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar (Champagne, white or red wine) to sharpen the flavors, then add spices. Toast a teaspoon or so (a few minutes in a dry skillet over medium heat should do it), then grind them in a mortar and pestle and stir them in, or warm whole or crushed spices in a little oil before stirring them in.
Serving, you have a few more chances at nuance:
- Dollop a spoonful of crème fraîche, ricotta, or yogurt
- Drizzle with more olive oil or ghee
- Scatter herbs—lemon thyme leaves, mint, tarragon, chives
- Scoop in white rice or quinoa, cooked white beans or lentils
- Sprinkle homemade croutons
Stored in the refrigerator, your lively soup will keep covered for two to three days.
Need a little inspiration to get you started? Here are a few combinations to try:
- Chard, escarole, spring onions, cilantro, crushed coriander, ground cumin, nigella seeds, red pepper flakes, ghee
- Nettles, radish greens, leeks, parsley, caraway, creme fraiche, lemon thyme
- Beet greens, turnip greens, arugula, green garlic, spring onions, parsley, white pepper, yogurt, tarragon
How do you make use of an abundance of greens? Let us know in the comments!
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