Iowa winters can be grueling. The weather isn’t always full of snow and ice, but by the time February rolls around, you assume it’s almost spring. Then nature reminds you it definitely is not. Like so many Midwesterners, until the days are noticeably longer, I like to hibernate.
The perfect hibernation food – or really, food in general – is soup. For some, soup is the lesser food, something you dump together when you’re in a hurry. To me, soup is layers of flavor that can be slowly cooked or thrown together after work, yet still provide a nourishing, wholesome, and hearty meal.
What makes a soup good enough for a meal?
- Layered flavors: As opposed to throwing everything in a slow cooker, the ingredients should be added one at a time, “creating layers.”
- Aromatics: Herbs and spices help to elevate and round out the layered flavors.
- Hearty additions: Beans, potatoes, and meat help make a soup a meal.
- Sturdy greens: Kale added towards the end wilts and truly finishes a soup.
Some soups are more of a side or yearn for a dish to complement them. Think tomato soup paired with grilled cheese. Tomato soup by itself isn’t often very filling. That’s not the case with this soup!
The best part of this soup may be the homemade chicken meatballs. This extra step seems like something that you won’t want to do on a weekend. But instead, the sausage goes together quickly with a perfect spice blend. Scooped onto a baking sheet and roasted in the oven, in just a matter of minutes, you’ll have homemade meatballs with more flavor than you’ll expect.
To start the soup, onion, celery and garlic are sauteéd until translucent. Even though we read this step in a plethora of recipes, it’s truly important in this soup. This softens the vegetables and takes the hard, fresh flavor away to bring out the sweeter flavors underneath.
During the winter, I don’t have the luxury of pulling fresh herbs from the garden. So for ease, I use dried herbs. Dried are economical and packed with flavor.
Carrot, potato, and white beans are added with the stock to simmer. This is the best part: it only needs to be simmered until the potatoes and carrots are tender, but can be simmered longer if you want a slow, winter soup kind of day.
At the end, some pureed beans are added for their ability to thicken. This dish can really be ready in about one hour if needed. The soup hits all my needs: hearty, full of flavor, filling, and nourishing.
Watch how to make this sausage meatball kale soup:
Sausage Meatball Kale Soup
For the chicken meatballs
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp herbs de Provence
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp black pepper
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tbsp pureed white beans (reserved from below)
For the soup
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ cups diced onion
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ cup diced celery
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 ½ cups roughly chopped carrot
- 1 6-8 oz potato
- 2 cans white beans
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 1 bunch kale (approx. 10 oz), ribs removed and chopped
For the meatballs
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Using an immersion blender or food processor, pureé one can of white beans. Reserve 2 tbsp for the meatballs and set the rest aside for the soup.
- In a bowl, combine the ground chicken, fennel seed, allspice, smoked paprika, herbs de Provence, salt, black pepper, garlic, and bean puree. Stir to combine spice and meat evenly.
- Using a #100 (2 tsp) cookie scoop, make meatballs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. This should make approximately 35 meatballs. Bake in the preheated oven until browned and an internal temperature of 165°F is reached. While baking, prepare the soup.
For the soup
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a 6-quart stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onion, celery, and salt. Slowly sauté until the onion and celery are translucent and soft, 4-6 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper, oregano, and basil. Stir and heat until garlic is fragrant, 1 minute.
- Add carrot, potato, one can of whole white beans with the liquid, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the carrot and potato are cooked, 25-35 minutes.
- Once the potatoes and carrots are cooked, add the reserved pureéd beans to the soup. Continue to cook to remove the raw flavor, 15 minutes. Add the kale and baked meatballs to the soup. Allow the kale to wilt and the meatballs to warm through, 6 minutes.