Dark Days: Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

January 11, 2010(updated on October 3, 2018)

soup with kale

I’m coming to realize that during the winter months, Sunday is nearly synonymous with soup in my brain. Here in Philly, it barely got above 30 degrees today, making soup doubly necessary. Luckily, I had everything I needed in my pantry and freezer to make a big pot of sausage, kale and white bean soup.

navy beans

First step was to break out the pressure cooker and cook off two and a half cups of navy beans. I bought these lovely little white beans at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market last fall and have had them tucked into a jar since then. To be perfectly honest though, I don’t know for sure whether they’re locally grown. The woman who operates this particular stall isn’t the most friendly and so I rarely try to engage her in conversation. I realize, though, that it’s poor locavore behavior on my part.

Side note about navy beans. I spent years thinking that since they had the word navy in their name, that meant that they were navy in color (somehow I never connected those small, creamy beans my mom put into soup with the name “navy”). It wasn’t until I was far past voting age that I learned that they were actually essentially white beans and were called that because they were commonly served to sailors. Live and learn.

Anyway, 2 1/2 cups of navy beans, cooked with 6 1/2 cups of water in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes will give you six cups of tender beans, which just happens to be an ideal amount for this soup.

two quarts of ham stock

For the liquid component, I used two quarts of the ham stock I pressure canned last July. Lately, I’ve been really working on using the foods I’ve preserved (I get so excited about stocking my pantry that I sometimes forget that preserved food needs to be in near constant rotation) and so having an opportunity to use some of my canned stock was an added boon when making this soup. It’s also great because I know that the ham hocks I used to make that stock were local and humanely raised.

carrots celery onion garlic sausage

The soup started in the same way that many of my soups start. One minced onion, three fat carrots (diced) and four celery ribs (that darn celery is the only non-local component in this soup. I wasn’t thinking when I added it.) diced and sauteed in some fat/oil. I used some of my local lard (when my porcine-free mother reads this post, I am certain she will cringe at the number of pork products that went into this meal) but you could use also happily use olive oil. As the veggies browned and softened, I crushed and minced four big garlic cloves and the leaves from one sprig of rosemary and added them to the pot.

Once the veggies had some color, I created a well in the center and added two pounds of fennel sausage (set free from its casing) from the Meadow Run Farm buying club. I am addicted to this sausage. It has great flavor, is relatively lean and comes from those same happy, local pigs that provided the hocks that made the ham stock. Two pounds of sausage makes this a very meaty soup. Next time I make it, I will probably cut the meat by half. However, right at the moment, my husband is doing phase one of the South Beach Diet, and so I went a little heavier than normal on the protein for him.

After the meat was cooked and stirred into the veggies, I added the ham stock and beans, but the lid on and allowed the soup a bit of simmer time.

washed kale

I recently joined Winter Harvest, which is a wintertime buying club here in the Philly-area, run by Farm to City. It is a terrific way to get reasonably priced local produce, meat and dairy when most of the area farmers markets are shuttered for the season. In my first order, I got red and yellow onions, some sweet little beets, vividly orange-yolked eggs, a gallon of raw milk and the bundle of kale you see above.

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables, particularly because it can be prepared raw or cooked. It plays really well in soup and was a shining star in this particular batch. Stripped from the stem, I washed the leaves well (nothing makes a dish sadder than sandy grit from poorly washed greens) and chopped them to bits (first, fine ribbons. Then, rotate the board 90 degrees for bittage). I stirred the chopped greens into the soup during the last fifteen minutes of cooking.

kale stems

Had I planned better, I would have stripped the stems from the kale sooner, cut them into small bits and sauteed them with the onions, carrots and celery (probably would have been a good substitute for the non-local celery, too). Sadly, I didn’t think that far in advance and so ended up pitching the stems. However, they are quite edible (my mom likes to eat them raw with a bit of hummus).

When the soup was finished, it was deliciously warm, filling and happily, almost entirely local (particularly if you skip over the celery and don’t look too closely at my beans). If you’re not a pork person, you could easily substitute turkey sausage and some homemade chicken stock. It wouldn’t have that smoky flavor that the ham stock lends, but would still be quite delicious (although, now I’m wondering about making stock with smoked turkey wings. Could be delicious and just the thing for the pork avoiders in the crowd).

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37 thoughts on "Dark Days: Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup"

  • Celery is the difficult one isn’t it. I’ve never grown it successfully and seldom, if ever, see local grown in our farmer markets either. Last year a friend turned me on to cutting celery (Apium gravelens). It’s an easy to grow leafy herb-like annual that likes partial/full sun and grows well in containers. Already got the seeds and plan to start some in containers next spring to bring inside for winter use. Could be the answer to the winter celery dilemma!

  • I’m so bad about not using the stems of the kale (unless I’m juicing it). Great idea to sautee them with the other veggies. I must do this. I have a very similar version of this recipe – a favorite of my husband. Sometimes I use venison sausage in it. Very tasty!

  • Rebecca, I can only get local celery in the fall, from a couple of farmers market vendors. It’s a losing battle around here any other time of year. I’m curious about your cutting celery though. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

    Yep Emmaleigh, that’s why!

    Oh Amy, I bet venison sausage is wonderful in this type of soup!

  • Oh Deena, that kale salad sounds amazing. Typically I do one with grated carrots and a olive oil/apple cider vinegar dress (and I discovered recently that it’s amazing with cold, leftover pinto beans). I will have to try it! Thanks!

  • That looks delicious. And your pressure cooker is so shiny! And yes, I think I know that bean lady…she’s not exactly approachable. I *think* her stuff may be local, though.

  • I bought something a couple years ago – an herb that *I think* was called Celery Leaf. Maybe it’s the same as Rebecca’s Cutting Celery? Mine seems to be perennial though – it’s even been transplanted once. It looks just like celery leaves, and gives a nice celery flavor. I use it fresh all summer. In the fall, I cut it all back and dry the leaves in my food dehydrator and use the dried leaves all winter long. I especially like it since I *hate* the mouth feel of cooked celery.

    1. I think the herb you are thinking about is called Lovage, my Mom calls it “The Soup Plant”. It is a perennial and is hardy in my zone 3, the Great Lakes area, I have also potted up off shoots and brought them in the house for winter use, or you can roll a bunch of leaves together freeze and slice off what you need. A little goes along way. I have seen it in some seed catalogs, but can’t think of the name of one right now.

  • My family regularly makes soup with a smoked turkey breast – adds an excellent smoky flavour. I think I’ll suggest that we experiment with something other than black beans and give your soup a try!

  • sounds sooooo good. I’m afraid the kale is going out where I live, but oddly, I can still get local celery. I didn’t realize that was the exception, so I’m going to ask my farmer about it tomorrow when I go to market. And I have also heard of cutting celery too – saw it at my farmer’s market the first time this summer. But I rarely want/use celery in the summer.

    Also, loved the tip for dipping kale stems in hummus. I must try that! I usually just compost them.

  • What, you threw them out?! Ohhhh, they’ll keep wrapped up in a paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge for weeks! Just dry them well to prevent them from getting flabby or gross.

  • Daisy Mae, this link ( http://www.sandmountainherbs.com/celery_leaf.html )says cutting celery, also known as celery leaf, is a biennial which means it has a 2 year life cycle like parsley. So what it’s doing is reseeding itself. Very convenient! We’re also planting celeriac this year as a sub for celery. I really like the crunch and flavor of celery in potato, egg, and tuna salads and I’m hoping the celeriac will provide this.
    Marisa, we love greens of all kinds in our soups and a particular favorite is a white bean chicken chili using chunks of chicken instead of ground, whatever greens are current from the winter garden and a nice combo of warm southwestern spices. I put up quarts of the soup without the greens and then after heating stir in the greens at the last minute so they just wilt but retain the gorgeous color.

  • Too perfect! My dinner on Sunday night was wilted kale with herbs, red wine, white beans, and bleu cheese! I was thinking afterward that sausage would have been a perfect addition. Soup would make it even better!

  • I’m glad to see that someone else has an urge to hoard home-canned goods. I get so that I want to “save” my local foods, for those times when I want/need to make a 100% local meal.. and then green beans grow frostbitten and cans linger on the shelf. I’m trying to be better about it this year.

    And yes, celery can be tough; I’m lucky enough to find it now and then at a couple of markets in my area, even over the summer – but I usually stock up if I see it, as it disappears for months at a time.

  • Rebecca – thanks for the link. I didn’t realize it was biennial. Good info to have. Personally I think this is one of the greatest things I have in my garden. That and chives.

  • My mother would swoon for this recipe. She loves anything pork and navy beans. Lovely presentation of photo and thought. I especially found the idea of navy beans being navy in color quite endearing.

  • This looks amazing! I’m a huge fan of kale (all greens, really) and I’ve recently come to appreciate their true beauty in soups!

  • So I asked my market farmer why he has celery now. He said he has it in trenches with several special protective layers on top – I’m not sure if that means it’s growing or just being stored there. He also said that bigger farmers wouldn’t fiddle with something like this. I’m so glad HE’S doing it!

  • As you know, the title had me, but this post has set the hook! The post also reminds me I need to buy a pressure cooker too! In honor of Scott, I will keep the “proper” amount of sausage and wow, compared to my feeble efforts, you are the champion of clean kale stems! I leave to much waste.

  • Margo:Read recently of a storage method where a trench is dug behind the rooted plant(this was for a fig in a cold climate), the plant is gently bent down, still rooted, into the trench, and then heavily mulched for protection from the cold. This could be what your farmer is doing. Very labor intensive. Buy his celery! Keep him encouraged!

  • All I can say is that I think everyone should get a pressure cooker. They are miraculous things (and far cheaper than much cookware).

    Elle, Dark Days is a challenge that is put on and hosted by Laura of (Not So) Urban Hennery. The goal is to create at least one completely local meal during the winter months (aka the “dark days”), to show that it is possible to source food locally, even when the farmers markets are bursting with tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers.

  • You should try kale the Dutch way – in a ‘stamppot’ (literally ‘mashed pot’). Peel and cut up about 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes in a normal amount of salted water, with a pound of chopped kale on top, for 25-30 minutes (the kale shouldn’t be immersed, it will sort of steam on top of the potatoes, but make sure the potatoes don’t dry out). The kale will be tender and have lost a lot of its fluffiness. Drain very well and mash them together; add any cream, milk, butter, and salt you want, and stir in half a pound of chopped cooked bacon. You can serve it with smoked sausage if you like, but it makes a hearty meal on its own as well. It’s one of the best winter dishes.

  • I made the same soup, well a little different! But it was excellent. I also didn’t chop the fresh kale into small enough pieces…I also like your addition of carrots. Looks yummy.

  • I made this today and it is AWESOME!! I’ve never had kale before and now I love it! And it was the first time I ever used a pressure cooker. Lots of firsts for me today. Thanks for this recipe. I even shared half my batch with a friend so the recipe definitely stretches!

  • I know this comment is very late (I just found you blog). I try to eat out of my garden and I don’t grow celery. I substitute swiss chard stems in both cooked and raw recipes. Chard stems add great color to raw dishes although the color fades when cooked. I grows year round in my garden and I think grows in winter even in colder areas.

  • I have something called “Lovage” in my garden, is in the same family (Apiaceae) as celery leaf but is a perennial. It has a fresh celery-ness to it and I use it in soups.

  • I loved this recipe! I tried it out (with a few modifications) and it was delicious! You can check out the final product on my blog if you like. Thank you for sharing.

  • I know this is an old post, but I really like recipes like this. They’re quick, healthy, and tasty! Just the right combination for my boys. Pressure cooking the beans really cuts down on the prep time (my pressure cooker rescued me on more than one occasion). Saving this for later. Shared on pinterest!

  • Try this soup! I pressure canned this recipe last fall and it is now one of our family favorites. I stopped by so I could look at the post again since I’m putting up another batch tomorrow . I wanted to say thanks Marisa for this post, your books, and all the recipes you share. You’ve helped make my canning journey so much broader and more tasty than I thought it could be.