Saturday was probably my favorite date of the year. Not day, necessarily; there was nothing particularly eventful, and it wasn’t full of great friends, great food, or everything going exactly as planned. (Yes, that would be a requirement of my Type-A personality “Perfect Day.” Pathetic.) But more a perfect date, being one of the elusive longest days of the year. It was sunny and warm and slightly humid but not oppressive. The farmer’s market finally exploded with leafy greens and herbs, radishes and green garlic and pea shoots. I made progress on goals and crossed things off lists, one by one, satisfying that Type-A personality. A friend brought over a hand-picked peony bouquet. We dug a hole and planted a tree in our front yard and wiped the sweat from our brows, warmed from the sun, sticky and dirty but satisfied.
Funny that just a few weeks before was almost exactly the opposite. A light drizzle had been falling for four days straight, and the damp and chill had permeated. Cooped up in the house alone, I listened to melancholy songs on repeat and devoured a lovely book, story by short story, each one highlighting the inevitable disappointments of meaningful relationships. The weekend required a long solo hike, a strong bourbon drink, and a bowl of steaming soup. I granted it all three.
One bright spot was finding the first bit of leafy green at the farmer’s market, tucked away in a far corner. A small Hmong woman was selling bunches of petite kale, freshly picked, roots and all. The morning was gusty and cold, spitting rain and angry gray, and I was one of the few straggling around. Not many seemed to make it back to the kale corner. I considered myself lucky and in the solitary walk back home, decided I would consult my not-so-new but new-to-me favorite vegetable book for inspiration.
As soon as I saw the recipe, I recognized it from a handful of food blogs, and my mind was made up. There were green onions, mint, and the kale from that morning’s market; pork and chicken stock in the freezer. No fresh chiles this time of year, so dried would have to do. One soggy hike later and I was prepping meatball soup for supper. The recipe came almost straight from the book, with the addition of a few potatoes cubed over the pot, thrown in to appease my deep-seeded and ever-present longing for carbs in all forms. It was filling, but not in a extra-couple-of-pounds-in-winter kind of way. After a bowl of soup and a whisky smash, the gloomy spring weekend didn’t seem so bad after all.
Nigel Slater’s Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale from Tender (aka meatball and kale soup)
Even though it’s summer, I’ve made this twice since, once with fresh spinach in place of the kale, thrown straight into the soup pot (skip the blanching). I highly recommend either variation.
1 pound ground pork (I used half pork and half beef)
3 green onions
a small handful each of fresh mint and fresh parsley
2-3 green garlic, or 2 garlic cloves
2 tsp. red pepper flakes (original calls for 2-3 thai or similar chiles)
2 tablespoons oil
4 cups chicken or veggie stock
2 small-medium potatoes, scrubbed
1 bunch kale, rinsed and coarsely chopped (approximately 3-4 cups)
Place the meat in a medium bowl. Slice or chop the onions, fresh herbs, and mince the garlic or slice the green garlic. Throw all of it, along with the red pepper flakes or diced chiles, into the bowl with the meat. Mix well with your hands.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saute pan. Form the meat mixture into small balls, no more than 2 inches diameter, and place in the pan. Brown well, in batches if needed- don’t crowd the meatballs or they’ll steam each other. Once well browned, set aside on a plate.
Put the stock in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cut the potatoes over the pot into bite-sized pieces (not on a cutting board- a lot of the starch is left on the board, and I like it in the soup to thicken things a bit) and carefully place in the hot stock. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, then add in the meatballs and the drippings from the meatball plate. Season with salt and pepper, and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch kale leaves for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how thick or tough they are. (More delicate kale may only take 2 minutes, so be flexible and watch the pot.) Depending on the size of the pot, you may want to blanch in multiple batches. As the kale is blanched, lift from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and drop directly into the soup pot. Once all the kale is in the soup, bring to a brief simmer, stir, salt to taste, and serve.