Nik Sharma’s Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

A few days ago I woke up with a splitting headache and an achy kind of nausea. I say “woke up” loosely, because I laid in bed for several hours just trying to figure out what’s what. Even though it is July in the South, and plenty hot, and plenty humid, I knew what I needed. The answer? Hot, nourishing soup with plenty of collard greens, which happen to be the state vegetable of South Carolina.

You may be thinking, “You crazy woman. It’s 1000 degrees outside where you live and 900% humidity. A walk halfway ’round the block is enough to get you sweating. Why are you making hot soup?”

And reader, I must say: valid point…

However, the body needs what the body needs, and sometimes silver-green bunches of bitter collards and turmeric-coated chickpeas can work some of the profoundest miracles.

I leafed my way through the picture-rich Flavor Equation gluttonously, lingering over pages that contained ingredients I’d never heard of. If you need some magic injected into your culinary life, consider this beautiful book by Nik Sharma. He breaks down some of the science of what makes ingredients big players in the kitchen and throws in some really interesting recipes for adventurous eaters intent on culinary play.

I saw the picture of this chili-spiced soup and just knew it would cure me.

What’s not to love about stewed greens in bright tomato and tamarind, with spiced chili, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper seasoning two kinds of legumes?

I ate not one, but two bowls of this for early dinner and was back on track by 8.

Health Benefits of Collard Greens

These broad, leafy greens have more to offer than meets the eye. Here are some of the top nutritional benefits to eating collard greens regularly:

  1. Liver Detox: Collard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which cleanse cells of toxins and gradually purify the body over time.
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: Rich in vitamins A, C, K, and B-6 as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium, collard greens offer your body the building blocks to do everything from producing hemoglobin in your red blood cells, to boosting the immune system, to improving skin health.
  3. Fiber: High in both water content and fiber, collard greens are very beneficial to your gut in “keeping regular.” Fiber not only cleans out your lower intestine but also slows down your liver’s processing of sugars, lowering the chance that sugar will be converted to fat. Fiber also lowers cholesterol levels and may even have associations with bolstering mental health.

In South Carolina, it’s standard to purchase collard greens in giant bunches, too large to fit in the average grocery bag. Most folks cut the tough rib out of the center of the leaf, chop the greens into forkable chunks and stew them in a deliciously seasoned liquid. Here is a recipe for classic Southern Collard Greens from Grandbaby Cakes.

The Recipe

Collards aren’t all this dish has to offer. From the healing punch of warming spices to the healthy protein contributed by the chickpeas and lentils, this soup will have you going back for another bowl.

First, I prepped all of the ingredients. I thawed my homemade stock…diced the onion…soaked the red lentils…peeled and chopped the ginger and garlic…washed and cut the collards….etc. It was my day off and I had all day to make magical soup, as far as I was concerned. A mini “vacation,” if you will.

(If you are looking for other ways to use up your gorgeous red lentils, check out this recipe for dal from one of my previous posts!)

Once the ingredients were prepped, it became a matter of bringing out the best in all of them. Sauteeing the onions until translucent, just cooking through the ginger and garlic, caramelizing the tomato paste and blooming the spices, stewing the tomato and collards…then adding the beans and stock to simmer until everything married together.

Serve yourself a bowl, add a healthy amount of fresh herbs on top, and you’ve got yourself a wellness boost:

Bet you can’t eat just one bowl.

Nik Sharma's Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

Nik Sharma
This collard-packed soup is doubled down on legume-y goodness with both red lentils and chickpeas. With warming spices and brightness from fresh tomato and tamarind, this vegetable stew will leave you both refreshed and comforted!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course dinner, Main Course, vegan, Vegetarian
Cuisine Comfort Food, Intuitive
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 7 oz collard greens, rinsed, midribs removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock, or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs tamarind paste
  • salt, to taste
  • chopped parsley, to taste
  • chopped cilantro, to taste

Instructions
 

  • First, rinse your lentils in a fine mesh colander and pick out any impurities. Cover lentils in a bowl with 1 cup of water and let soak for 30 minutes.
  • While the lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato and set aside. Remove the midribs from the rinsed collards and roughly chop.
  • Heat oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add cinnamon stick, pepper, chili, and turmeric followed by the tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Drop in the diced tomato and collard greens and stir until the leaves are bright green and begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Drain the soaked lentils and add to the pot along with chickpeas and stock.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still retain their shape. Season to taste with salt.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve immediately.
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Spicy Sesame Chard with Salty Tempeh Bites

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really crave tempeh.

I am a sane enough person to realize that that can seem like an absurd statement, but hear me out.

Have you ever tried a plant-based diet? (Cool, thanks for trying! If not, why not? Would it kill you to try? 😉 ) Have you ever had baked tofu cubes with edges so crisp and caramelized and perfectly seasoned, you’d even prefer them to meat? If that doesn’t sound absurd to you (and maybe especially if it does), read on, bold omnivore!

I got home from my shift at the bakery the other morning fretting about my garden. The last of my tired chard plants have been dutifully toiling to produce several, perfect, tender leaves in their final push of the season. This is not to say they have not had a long and prolific career. My chard, gifted to me in the form of seeds by a lovely friend, has provided me with many, many leaves. We’ve had a good run this year, chard and I.

The first time I ate chard, I distinctly remembered thinking that it tasted even dirt-ier than dirt itself. I chewed without pleasure, thinking “Who would voluntarily eat this?”

Obviously many lifetimes have eclipsed since then, and I have to attribute any advancements in my palette to my foresighted mother. (Thanks, Mom.)

The point is, I’ve really come a long way with this vegetable. From obligation to enjoyment, there are many miles to span and many bridges to cross. I’ve given this leafy green a chance many times when I didn’t feel up to the challenge, and over time I found merit and reward in the trying. By now, I even crave the vegetable from time to time and its robust, earthy flavor.

So I knew this final harvest deserved a little special something. A final bow, if you will, before winter digs in and this fruitful little plant dies away. She deserved to be the star of the show, and I figured her cast ought to be entirely made up with vegetables.

First, I harvested and washed the tender baby chard.

Then, I gathered the necessary ingredients, chopped my tempeh and chard and sorted the chard pieces into piles of “mostly stems” and “mostly leaf,” assembled my marinade, and zipped the cut tempeh in a bag to rest for 30 minutes.

I roasted the tempeh with half of the marinade until the edges turned crispy in the pan, then sautéed the chard, stems first, in sesame oil and chili flakes. Simple and flavorful, this recipe could easily be adapted to serve two, with another handful of chard. If you are looking to flesh out the meal, consider serving your favorite grain or rice noodles alongside.

garnished with fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and a dollop of coconut cream–do not miss out on the coconut cream!!!

Spicy Sesame Chard with Salty Tempeh Bites

Serves 2

The Sauce

  • 3 Tbs light sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs sweet chili sauce or sriracha
  • 1 Tbs sesame oil
  • ½ tsp honey
  • ¼ lime, juiced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, pressed, minced, or grated with a microplane zester
  • 0.5 oz ginger (about 1” long), peeled with a spoon and minced or grated with a microplane zester

The Plate

  • 1 8oz package tempeh, cut into ½”-1” chunks
  • 10 oz rainbow chard, washed
  • 2 Tbs sesame oil
  • 1-2 Thai chilis, chopped, or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 Tbs water
  • 1 3-fingered pinch of salt
  • ¼ c fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 Tbs coconut cream (garnish, 1 Tbs per dish)
  • Sesame seeds (garnish)
  • Squeeze of fresh lime (about 1/8th of a lime)

Cut tempeh into ½”-1” chunks. Using a small saucepan, steam for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, assemble the sauce. Mix all ingredients in a jar or liquid measuring cup, tasting for seasoning. Set aside.

Drain tempeh and let cool a few minutes. Place tempeh in a quart-sized zip top bag with sauce, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, flipping the bag over after 15 minutes have passed. When you flip the bag for the second 15 minutes, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Wash chard and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1” long) and separate the stems from the leafy cuts. Set aside.

Assemble tempeh in an oven-safe baking dish, making sure none of the pieces are touching. Pour half of the marinade over the tempeh. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add second measurement of sesame oil to a large skillet, set over high heat. Sprinkle in chopped Thai chili or red pepper flakes and “bloom” in the hot oil, about one minute. Add chard, stems first, lowering to the temperature to medium-low. Stir until the stems are coated in oil (about 30 seconds) then add 3 Tbs water and immediately cover. Steam undisturbed for 3 minutes, or until the stems begin to change color and turn tender. Add chopped leaves and toss with tongs until they are coated with the spiced oil, seasoning with salt as you do so. Cover again and steam for one minute. Remove lid and stir. Steam until the water has cooked out, and the leaves have reached desired “doneness.” Remove from heat and cover with a lid to keep warm.

After 10 minutes of baking, pull tempeh and flip the pieces over using tongs or a spatula. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes. You are looking for caramelization on the edges and acquisition of color on each tempeh cube. 

When tempeh has finished baking, pull from the oven and add the remaining marinade to the hot dish. You may have darkened bits of cooked sauce around the tempeh. Stir the tempeh around to coat with fresh marinade and let rest while you plate the chard.

Using tongs, pull chard from skillet, allowing any excess water or oil to wick off. Place onto two plates, adding tempeh chunks and any desired residual marinade. Plate with 1 Tbs coconut cream on each dish, fresh cilantro, sesame seeds, and a squeeze of lime.