2017 has already been a year of firsts for me. I’ve ventured outside my comfort zone in an effort to be more open minded about things I’d written off. Like kale and pressure cookers. And a redoux of the chicken soup I’ve been making for years to turn into a chicken meatball+kale soup. What is even happening in here?
As a college student, I imagined adults in the real world to do things like change out of their pajamas before noon and eat weird looking vegetables like kale. I, on the other hand, was perfectly content with eating things like noodles in a cup, while in my pajamas at 2 PM and writing papers. Noodles in a cup > kale. Until now. After this chicken meatball and kale soup, I’m finally winning this adulting thing. Finally, redemption from the years of showing up at my kids’ school carpool lane with mysterious stains on my shirt and disheveled everything- I’ve turned into a fully fledged adult who eats kale. I’ve even redeemed myself from my irrational phobia of pressure cookers.
When I first got married, we got a pressure cooker as a wedding gift. Within two months, and the first time using it- because why should you ACTUALLY know how to properly operate said gadget?- I tried to open the pressure cooker without releasing the pressure, tugged at the handles and the pressure release valve, and then watched in horror as the pressure came full force and painted a giant yellow circle on my kitchen ceiling. I looked at that yellow stain every single day while The Mister and I lived in that apartment and swore off pressure cookers. Pressure cooking? errrrmmmm, no thanks to that yellow stain redoux. I got by with a little help from the stove, slow cooker, and oven.
P.S. We didn’t get our deposit back for that apartment.
Fast forward to a decade later where I’ve watched the Instant Pot grow in popularity for the last few years and I finally caved and got one on sale a couple of months ago. And then I stared at the box and gave myself a pep talk- I may have had repressed fear and anxiety from the yellow stain incident. Out came the pressure cooker and as my inaugural dish, I made gumbo with 15 minutes of hands-on time. This pressure cooker’s game is strong. I have learned a few things over the two months that I’ve been using the Instant Pot:
- The cooking time listed in recipes is how long it takes for the food to cook AFTER coming to pressure. The pressure cooker may take anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes before actually coming to pressure. All of this depends on the amount of liquid in the cooker and how long it takes to heat up. I like to either add hot liquid to speed up the process or keep the pot on the sautee program so the liquid heats up faster and the contents come to pressure faster.
- If I’m cooking vegetables, I prefer to do a quick release to stop the vegetables from overcooking. I use this rule for soups or stews with meat and vegetables as well. There should be enough liquid in the soup to keep the meat moist after a quick release.
- The Instant Pot, while convenient, is not a replacement for the stove, slow cooker, or oven. I still prefer my roasts slow cooked, like corned beef. They retain so much more flavor from breaking the connective tissue slowly. There are others who swear by it and abandon all their other appliances.
- Liquid doesn’t evaporate in the Instant Pot the way it does in a slow cooker or on the stove so if you add 5 cups of broth, you’ll end up with 5 cups of broth at the end. You’ll probably have to add 1-2 cups additional liquid if you follow the recipe stovetop/slow cooker.
If I were to use one word to describe this soup, I would say TENDER.
KALE: Fibrous kale becomes meltingly tender- I’ve decided that this is my favorite way to cook kale. The trick is to remove all stems and chop the kale leaves into bite size pieces so that when the soup cooks, all the fibers break down and the bitterness mellows out too. I used tuscan//lacinato//dinosaur kale for its mellow flavor compared to its counterpart, curly kale because 50 cents a bunch is too good of a deal to say no. You can still use curly kale with the same results. If you like your kale to have a hardier and stronger flavor, you can add it in after the soup cooks too.
CHICKEN MEATBALLS: Let me tell you again, TENDER. TENDER. TENDER. These have to be some of the most tender meatballs I’ve ever had. Can you say TENDER? I used a slight modification of my italian chicken sausage recipe to make the meatballs whole30 compliant. You can also use pre-made italian sausage with the casings removed and rolled into meatballs for a shortcut because life happens and sometimes you have to roll with it. Use a tablespoon and roll the sausage mixture into balls and drop into the broth. I got 32 meatballs.
MIREPOIX: Can we say veggies galore? The combination of chopped onion, celery and carrots is enough to bulk up any soup. Since this soup is a light broth-based soup, I love the addition of extra vegetables. I always have these three ingredients stocked because you can use in so many soups and fillings, like pot pie. You can get these veggies pre-chopped too, if you’re looking to cut down on prep time.
I like to use low-sodium vegetable stock as my soup base because it tends to have sweet undertones which highlights the sweetness of the carrots and meatballs. Chicken stock will have more savory undertones but will work just as well.
I like the addition of a beaten egg at the end, while the soup is simmering on sautee for 2 minutes. It reminds me of egg drop soup and it adds texture and more protein to the soup. You can easily skip this step if eggs aren’t your thang but they’re very much in my top 5 faves like breakfast enchiladas. Feel free to sprinkle grated parm at the end for extra flavor- my kids love it this way!
For the meatballs:
- 1 ½ lbs. ground chicken breast
- 2 tbsp. arrowroot powder or ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- ½ tbsp. dried oregano
- ½ tbsp. basil
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast or grated Parmesan cheese
- 6 cups low sodium vegetable stock
- 4 celery stalks, diced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 bunch kale, coarsely chopped
- 2 tsp. thyme
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 eggs, beaten (optional)
INSTANT POT DIRECTIONS
- MAKE THE SOUP BASE: On the HIGH SAUTEE setting, add olive oil and heat for 1 minute. Add celery, onions, and carrots. Saute for 3 minutes, until vegetables start to become soft. Add garlic, salt, thyme, and red pepper. Add in kale and stir to combine. Add vegetable stock and continue to cook.
- MAKE THE MEATBALLS: combine all ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix well. Use a tablespoon to measure out meatballs. Wet hands to help create smooth balls and roll chicken mixture into meatballs. Continue to wet hands, if you feel the chicken sticking to your hands. Add chicken to the soup by gently dropping into the cooking soup. Do not stir or the meatballs will break apart.
- SET THE INSTANT TO HIGH PRESSURE: Cancel the sautee setting using the cancel/keep warm button. Set the Instant Pot to MANUAL PRESSURE and adjust pressure to HIGH. Secure lid on the pot and set to pressure for 15 minutes. Let the pot come to pressure. Once the cooker is finished, do a quick release and return the soup to the saute setting.
- ADD EGGS: Slowly drizzle in beaten eggs in a circular motion throughout the pot and cook for 2 minutes or until eggs are set. Turn Instant Pot off. Serve with grated parmesan if desired.
- MAKE THE SOUP BASE: Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat Add celery, onions, and carrots. Saute for 5 minutes, until vegetables start to become soft. Add garlic, salt, thyme, and red pepper. Add in kale and stir to combine. Lower heat to low. Add vegetable stock and simmer covered for 15 minutes.
- MAKE THE MEATBALLS: combine all ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix well. Use a tablespoon to measure out meatballs. Wet hands to help create smooth balls and roll chicken mixture into meatballs. Continue to wet hands, if you feel the chicken sticking to your hands. Add chicken to the soup by gently dropping into the cooking soup. Do not stir or the meatballs will break apart. Cover and simmer for 20 more minutes.
- ADD EGGS: Remove lid and slowly drizzle in beaten eggs in a circular motion throughout the pot and cook for 2 minutes or until eggs are set. Remove from heat. Serve with grated parmesan if desired.
SLOW COOKER DIRECTIONS
- MAKE THE MEATBALLS: combine all ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix well. Use a tablespoon to measure out meatballs. Wet hands to help create smooth balls and roll chicken mixture into meatballs. Continue to wet hands, if you feel the chicken sticking to your hands.
- ADD TO SLOW COOKER: Add olive oil, celery, onions, carrots,kale, ,and all the spices into the slow cooker. Cover with vegetable stock. Add in shaped meatballs.
- COOK ON HIGH FOR 4 HOURS OR LOW FOR 6 HOURS.
- ADD EGGS: Remove lid and slowly drizzle in beaten eggs in a circular motion throughout the pot cover and cook for 30 minutes on high or until eggs are set. Turn off slow cooker.. Serve with grated parmesan if desired.