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Joni Woolf: Recipes are an evolving art — and that’s their charm

Recently my friend Raye Holt invited me for lunch at her home, following a morning of working as volunteers at our church’s Mustard Seed House — a thrift shop run totally by volunteers. We were tired, and she had a crock pot steaming away with a recipe of White Bean, Kale and Kielbasa Soup. Well, that’s what the recipe said. A fine reward for a morning’s hard work, the soup hit the spot with delightful flavor and great eye appeal. I asked for the recipe — of course.
“Well, I changed a few things,” she said. Instead of using kale or collards, she preferred turnips. Instead of leeks, she used onions. Instead of one can of white beans (cannellini), she used two. And instead of chicken broth, she used beef stock. That was all. Oh, yes, she added basil, oregano, garlic powder, and a can of diced tomatoes.
I bought ingredients to make the soup, but I decided to make it my own. I would use mustard greens instead of kale; I would stick with leeks, then follow her lead on the beef broth. The recipe called for 8 ounces Kielbasa (or fresh Italian sausage); I used the entire pound. As I put it all together, I pondered over how recipes change from cook to cook, as we opt for ingredients we like best. The original recipe follows, with notes about changes, as needed. However you decide to make it, it is a hearty, robust, but not heavy, soup for a winter’s day.

White Bean, Kale and Kielbasa Soup
1 bunch kale or collard greens (Raye used turnips; I used mustard)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. kielbasa or fresh Italian sausage, thinly sliced, crosswise (I used 16 oz.)
1 large leek or 1 bunch green onions, sliced (Raye used onions)
1 15-oz. can white beans, such as cannellini or navy beans, rinsed (we used 2 cans)
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (Raye and I used beef broth; I used the
entire 4-cup box, then added 2 cups chicken broth)
(1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes; we added this to recipe)
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese
(Small amounts of basil, oregano, garlic powder; we added to recipe)
Wash kale (or whatever greens you decide to use), shake dry and cut out and discard tough center stems. Roll leaves lengthwise into a tight tube and cut crosswise into ½ inch strips. Set aside. Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add kielbasa and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add leeks (or onions) and cook over medium heat about 3 minutes. Add greens and cook over medium heat about 3 minutes, until wilted. Stir in beans and chicken broth (and here I add tomatoes). Bring to a boil, and cook until greens are tender, 10 to 15 minutes (or longer, if necessary). Add salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and grate cheese on top.

A vegetarian version of this could be achieved by omitting the kielbasa, and substituting vegetable broth for the beef or chicken stock/broth. This is one of the joys of cooking (with apologies to the author of the cookbook by the same name): that you can take another’s recipe and make it your own by adding, subtracting, substituting. And perhaps that is why it is somethings called “the art of cooking.” Ordinary folks, like me, like many of us, can add our personal touches and the recipe becomes ours. Pure cooking pleasure.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net