kale and white bean soup

kale & white bean soup

The other day I got a call from a headhunter. She was checking-in to see what I was doing with myself, and if I was looking for work. I explained her that no, I wasn’t, and instead I was trying to make a leap to the world of food writing, recipe development, and more blogging. There was a notable and uncomfortable pause before she stiffly wished me luck. Another step away from my old life.

These days, I get a lot of questions what it’s like to be a freelancer, to take a leap from a desk job, away from something steady and predictable into the unknown, where you are the one responsible for setting your schedule and your income isn’t set in stone. Is it hard? Yes. Is it emotionally challenging? Definitely. Do I get anxious? All the time. Have I regretted making the switch? Not even for an instant.

stick a clove in it

One thing I noticed since my “new life” so to speak is how weekdays and weekends are no longer clearly defined. I don’t think of Saturdays and Sunday as days off. In fact, these are, quite often, my most intense days, full of recipe testing, writing, running around the neighborhood procuring ingredients, cleaning and organizing. When you become your own boss, in essence, when you feel like you are working towards something, and it is something you love, your mind is going, going, going. It starts going from the moment you wake up and goes well into the evening. You will be falling asleep with thoughts full of ideas for recipes, grocery shopping lists, and to-do items.

In the two months I’ve been away from an “office” I’ve not looked back once.

soaked and ready to go celery, carrots hiding underneath

Look, it’s been interesting times, I won’t lie. There are a lot of emotional ups and downs. There are myriad questions, mounting anxieties, periodic feelings of inadequacy. All the things that, I’m told by many who have been at this lifestyle for awhile, are perfectly natural. And I’m human just like everybody else – and probably more neurotic to boot – so my concerns and worries come in furiously, like a flurry of tiny little birds descending seemingly all at once. I’m a real joy then. Andrew picks up the pieces. He believes in me. He tells me to breathe.

removing ribs

The last couple of days have been trying. I am told (and I know this) a lot of what I do here is measured by numbers. I hear a lot of blog lingo thrown around and while we all look at our stats and numbers, we are, I hope, are guided by far more than just the arithmetic of traffic. Those of use who’ve been around awhile, those of us who have been cooking and writing a long time, who feel like we have a mission that goes far beyond math, far beyond the “easy” and the “convenient” – we would be doing this here still. If all the book deals and whatnot were to disappear, this little corner here would still be the place where I hang my hat, or toque (to extend the metaphor). And while I make plenty of simple, easy meals that can be done by a busy cook on a weeknight, my mission is not to provide a three-ingredient, no-cook, ten-minute dinner. My mission is to offer you delicious food – that you will love eating. Some of it will take ten minutes to pull together. Some of it will take all day.

I am at my happiest when I’m in the kitchen. I find that the time I spend there is somehow restorative. Even if a recipe fails me, and a momentary panic sets in, leaving a bruised ego to nurse. But then I just usually eat a few pieces of my mistake, and start over. And when I finally do get it right, I want to leap across the kitchen island in slow motion, with confetti falling all around the room. It’s a real “Glee” moment in the kitchen here when something works exactly the way you imagined it to.

And other times I’ll totally fail in the kitchen. I’ll overbeat the whites, I’ll underfold the cake batter and the whole thing looks like Godzilla threw up in my baking pan. It happens, I tell myself.

a big pile of kale

But, failures and successes aside, it feels good doing this now. Really good. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It is hard, back-breaking, exhausting work, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s always interesting, deeply engaging, and thoroughly fulfilling. When I worked in finance, it never quite felt “right”. It was never something I was passionate about – and deep inside I knew it was only a matter of time before I made the transition.

Nowadays I’m spending a lot of time working with this amazing lady who’s already taught me a great deal and I’m really so so honored to be helping out. In the last few months, I’ve already learned so much, I’m not sure I can put it into words. Some things are the little “aha” moments – like dissolving salt for your salad dressing (genius, right?). Some things are more involved – how does testing a single recipe nine times sound – where you learn the kind of things that only repetition and trial and error provide? That moment when you get the recipe just right, when you figure out exactly how to make it work your way – it is a priceless, gratifying, fireworks-worthy moment. It makes you want to do a dance around your kitchen island. It makes all those hours of failed previous versions worth it.

And some things are just magical – who knew that if you add a generous helping of olive oil to a bean soup, it’ll go from just a bowl of plain old bean soup to an ambrosial, celestial, deeply satisfying dinner? Let’s just say I can’t imagine ever cooking my beans without a generous helping of olive oil.

Soups are the sorts of things that, I think, have transformative powers. You let the pot simmer over low heat for about an hour, and then you get this thing of beauty in your bowl that you can’t stop eating. A soup that is particularly restorative when fickle March, in its final days, throws you February weather – like what we’ve got right now.

Kale and White Bean Soup

1 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, or navy
1 onion, halved (with a clove stuck into 1 half)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (25 turns on your pepper grinder)
1 bay leaf
2 rosemary sprigs
3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb lacinato kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
Fine extra virgin olive oil for serving


1. Soak beans in water overnight. To soak, place the beans in the pot and cover with water so that water is about 2 inches above the beans. In the morning, drain the beans, rinse, and set aside until ready to cook.

2. Sear the cut onion halves in a Dutch oven or a soup pot for a minute until fragrant. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic and cook for 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Add the beans, the rest of the olive oil, the stock, 2 cups water, the cheese rind, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Cover the pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

3. Add the carrots and the celery and the tomato paste. Stir, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

4. Stir in kale and another cup of water (if the soup is looking too thick, which is never a problem for me), and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender 12-15 minutes. Season soup with more salt and pepper, if needed and sprinkle each bowl with a tablespoon of grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 6.


  • deborah

    Hi. I just need to say how much I loved this post, and needed it today. Not only does it get to the heart of the matter (of how it feels to make that break from the typical workaday world), it’s so beautifully written that it goes straight to the reader’s heart as well. Thank you.

  • Molly

    I have so much admiration for what you’re doing. I think so many of us have these fantasies about leaving our day job to work on food, blogging and food writing full time, and I think it’s just the greatest thing that you’re actually doing it. And successfully! This soup sounds wonderful. I love kale and I love soup, so we’ll be enjoying this recipe by Wednesday, I suspect.

  • Fresh and Foodie

    Wonderful post. I love your blog and wish you all the best.

    I get paid to write and I also have a freelance job. However, I still blog because it lets me write about the things I want to write about rather than the things I’m paid to write about. I’d love to make the same transition you’re making someday, but I’m definitely not there yet. I’m envious of people who are brave enough to make the jump. I have no doubt that you’ll be successful.

    Oh, delicious recipe, too. I love kale.

  • Sarah

    As someone who loves to cook, but is constantly making mistakes and having to “fix” things, I appreciate this post. Take, for instance, the bread pudding I made last night. I used over a loaf of whole wheat batter bread that was just not as good as I wanted (not to mention I had forgotten to grease the pans before baking), and my recipe only called for 6 cups of bread chunks. I probably had more like 12, but I didn’t measure and just did 1.5 times the recipe and boy was it dry and not sweet at all! So I beat more eggs and sugar together and mixed it all up and baked it again. And this time it worked. Yay having the know-how to fix my mistakes. :)

  • Robin

    Your writing is a glimpse of your personal journey and it feels like you are writing a letter to a friend. This makes your cooking and intent so genuine and authentic. Parsed with lovely images and a big punch of a killer recipe at the end. This soups so earthy and wonderful. Keep it up!

  • Mary

    WE ARE ALL THERE FOR YOU. Remember, your “mistakes” in the kitchen make it possible for your readers to be able to go into the kitchen and just “do it”. I’ve never had the slightest interest in white bean and kale soup. But today’s post has made me want to jump off my desk chair and go into the kitchen and start cooking. Well, maybe I should go to the supermarket and buy some beans and kale first. Hang in there, Sassy. Now, that I have discovered you, I can’t imagine life without you. You have totally changed the way I cook. I used to cook with enjoyment. Now, I cook with joy.

  • Spicy Bohemian

    As someone who dreams of leaving her desk job to spend her time in the kitchen and the writing studio cooking up and writing about all the recipes she spends her days (and nights) dreaming about, you are a beackon of hope for me. Proof that it can be done…with hard work and lots of passion. Thank you.

    Also, I woke up to rain and sleet this morning – this kale bean soup is exactly what I need right now!

  • Dina Avila

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post! I too am working in freelance, but still have my part-time job, that I hate, of course, on the side. I’m working towards my very unnerving goal of sustaining myself as a full-time freelancer by the end of the year. It’s post like these that helps me to keep my goal in focus.

  • Susana

    congrats on your life-changing decision! as someone who is also a food blogger and has a full time job in finance, I really appreciate your situation. good things ahead!
    btw, I posted a white bean and kale soup a few weeks back, it’s a more simple recipe, but really good. The kale is a different variety (the only one I could find down in the Dominican Republic), but the result was great. It’s in spanish, but do check it out http://cocinotas.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/sopa-esperanzadora-de-acelgas-y-cannellini/
    best of luck!!!

  • Katie

    You are doing what so many of us (me, anyway) dream of doing but have not found the courage to take that leap. Consider yourself brave and an inspiration!

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    A simple, rustic… and flavorful soup for these last days of cold weather. Please let these days end when we need such dishes… but if it’s going to be this cold, I’d like to have such comfort food to take us to the end.

  • Katie@Cozydelicious

    I love hearing about your new life! I wish I had your courage, but it is so inspriing to know that you’re out there making a go if what you love – away from the office. You’ll be wonderful – you are wonderful! And your soup looks fantastic. Olive oil most certainly makes all the difference!

  • justcooknyc

    so you’re working with Melissa Clark? if so, that’s really exciting. she and i worked together years ago on some projects. seems like ancient history to me now though.

  • Radish

    Justin – I am! Which books were those? I have a whole bunch and love them. If someone told me years ago that I’d be working with one of my favorite food writers, I would have never believed them! I’ve been reading and cooking from her column for years.

  • Christine

    I love hearing that you’re well despite the ups and downs of working at home. Your soup looks lovely as well. Greens and beans are about my favorite thing ever; so it’s a given.

  • Janice Harper

    I came to this post looking for something new to do with kale, and came away feeling just a little bit stronger. So many of us are in that transitional phase careening between careers, and it can be scary and thrilling and uncertain and certain all at the same time. Keep at it, you write beautifully and honestly and your recipes are enticing.

  • anne

    I’m new to your website and adore your honest writing. This post was a wonderful pick-me-up and reminded me to not be so hard on myself. Thank you for that.

    And thank you for creating heaven in a bowl! I made the soup last night for a friend’s dinner party and it was, indeed, magical – such deep and smoothly blended flavors. Perfect for a group of friends getting together on a cool fall evening.

    I did have a little confusion with the recipe. First, the grocery store I visited didn’t have a Parmigiano-Reggiano rind and I was unsure what the exact purpose of it was so I didn’t know what to substitute. I read elsewhere online that any hard cheese can be substituted. So I used a chunk of Parmesan and then it got gooey.

    I had also never heard of putting a clove in an onion (I had printed the recipe and was missing the photo). I initially thought you meant a garlic clove (since “clove” wasn’t listed as its own ingredient). I also didn’t know if I was supposed to remove both the onion and clove after cooking or just the clove.

    Maybe these are basics that most of your readers know (or maybe things covered in previous posts?), but I’m relatively new to fancy cooking and think others like me might benefit from some clarification too.

  • Radish

    Anne – thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry you found the recipe a bit confusing (I’ll make more clear amendments – good point). I’m so glad you liked the soup overall. Glad to have you stop by!! :)

  • olga

    pat – you use the onion to flavor the soup but they aren’t chopped, just cooked in the broth with a clove stuck in it. let me know if this helps.

  • Rachel

    This was absolutely fantastic – we all loved it, and the different layers of flavor that were built up were definitely worth the extra steps involved. Thank you!

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