The Accidental Soup


As a trained chef, it’s easy to forget how intimidating cooking can be to the novice. Teaching cooking classes reminds me, however, just how uncomfortable many people feel in the kitchen. Trying new recipes is a chief source of discomfort for many of my cooking students. To ease their anxiety, I often start beginners out making soup.

Soups are generally easy to make. Moreover, most soup recipes are pretty forgiving and yield tasty results even if the final dish does not turn out exactly as planned. Also, once you know how to make a particular soup, making variations is easy, giving you a variety of possibilities to draw from.

When I started making this soup, for example, I had in mind a wintry stew based on versions I’d eaten in the Abruzzo region in central Italy. While the soup I set out to make called for beans, chestnuts, bitter greens and pumpkin, since it was a raw day and I did not want to venture outside, I worked with what was in the house. After searching the kitchen, I had collected my ingredients: chickpeas, leftover cooked collard greens, a handful of leeks and a wedge of calabaza, the pumpkin-like squash often used in Hispanic cooking.

This “accidental” soup started out, like most, with a base of sautéed onions. But because meatless soups tend to need an extra boost of flavor, I added a leek to the base as well; you could easily substitute garlic. I chose the smoky flavor of chipotle chile as a stand in for the chopped prosciutto that Italian cooks sometimes use to deepen the flavor of bean soups. A quick taste of the soup-in-progress told me it needed a hint of acidity, so in went another unplanned ingredient – canned tomatoes. I added chestnuts to the original version, but they made the soup too sweet, so I removed them.

In the end, after a bit of ingenuity and some good old fashioned trial and error, I was left with a delicious – and unexpected – meatless winter vegetable stew.

Chickpea, Pumpkin and Collard Stew – Makes 10 servings

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. cheese pumpkin (or butternut squash), peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
4 cups fat-free reduced sodium chicken broth
3 cups cooked collard greens (*see note) or 1 frozen package (10 oz), defrosted
6-inch sprig fresh rosemary, crushed (or 2 tsp. dried)
6-8 fresh thyme sprigs (or 2 tsp. dried)
1/8 tsp. ground chipotle chile
One can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
One can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the leek and onions and sauté until translucent, 4 minutes. Add the squash. Cover tightly, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 5 minutes.

Add the broth, collard greens, rosemary, thyme, and ground chile. Increase the heat until the liquid boils, cover, and reduce heat to simmer stew for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin and collard greens are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Per serving: 130 calories, 4 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 20 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein,
4 g dietary fiber, 420 mg sodium.

*Note: For cooked collard greens, cut tough stem and veins from fresh collard greens. Cook the leaves in a generous amount of boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cold water until greens are cool enough to handle. Drain, and stack 2- 3 leaves on top of one another. Roll stacked leaves to make a long cigar, and cut crosswise into strips. Or, defrost a 10-ounce package of frozen collards.

The Author:

“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers a Nutrition Hotline online at or via phone 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, MondayFriday, at 1-800-843-8114. This free service allows you to ask questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. A registered dietitian will respond to your email or call, usually within 3 business days. AICR is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on how the risk of cancer is reduced by healthy food and nutrition, physical activity and weight management. The Institute’s education programs help millions of Americans lower their cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. Over $82 million in funding has been provided. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.


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