Leafy Green

Turn Any Bunches of Greens Into a Lively Soup

April 11, 2016

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.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

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.

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I like to use the following, in any combination:

  • spinach
  • chard
  • kale
  • nettles
  • beet greens
  • turnip greens
  • radish greens
  • mustard greens
  • arugula
  • escarole
Greens! Photo by Bobbi Lin

Blanch 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.

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Top Comment:
“Green soups are the best, I don't blanch, just prep greens saute in a little oil with garlic, add water to let them wilt enough to puree easily, add chicken stock and seasoning, maybe even a starch to achieve a nice soup consistency, drizzle white truffle oil over it. Don't forget nice buttery croutons.”
— Karin B.

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.

Add Starch

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.

The key to green soup: using blanching water as the liquid. Photo by Bobbi Lin


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.

Pre-puréeing makes a mighty soup, too. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Now Blend

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.

Photo by Bobbi Lin


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.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kim Quinn
    Kim Quinn
  • M.L.
  • Jonilawrence
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    Karin Byars
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    Shelley Martin
Emily Horton is a Seattle-based freelance writer.


Kim Q. November 20, 2022
5 questions for readers and not 1 reply. Says a lot, right there.
As far as the Blanch first, perhaps it is because the greens a quick cooked in the blanch and then if run under cold water quickly to stop cooking at that point, they retain a lot of their green color. Then added at end and finished off. Whereas if you just simmered the entire time you were prepping other veg, they would lose a lot of their greeness.
M.L. April 26, 2016
can you use carrot top greens too?
Jonilawrence April 20, 2016
With all that cooking, does it retain its bright green color like in the photos? I'm a bit dubious....
Karin B. April 17, 2016
Green soups are the best, I don't blanch, just prep greens saute in a little oil with garlic, add water to let them wilt enough to puree easily, add chicken stock and seasoning, maybe even a starch to achieve a nice soup consistency, drizzle white truffle oil over it. Don't forget nice buttery croutons.
Shelley M. April 17, 2016
I make pesto!
jan April 13, 2016
I don't understand the need for blanching. Why not just put the greens into the liquid and make the soup straightaway?