Editor’s note: On Mondays, Kristen Swensson Sturt of Cheap, Healthy, Good swings by these parts to share healthy and delicious recipes with us. Take it away, Kristen!

[Photograph: Kristen Swensson Sturt]

There’s a misconception among healthy eaters that beef is a bad thing. While that assumption is startlingly true for those who overdo it, it has the unfortunate side effect of scaring otherwise cautious people away from the occasional burger. Don’t be fooled: beef can be part of a wholesome diet if eaten in moderation and as an element of a dish, rather than the main focus.

Cases in point: Joy Manning’s entire Meat Lite series on Serious Eats, and Italian Wedding Soup from Catherine Walther’s Soups + Sides. Each serving contains 2 to 3 ounces of ground beef, just enough to flavor the dish, but never so much as to give you indigestion.

While those mini-meatballs are undoubtedly the high point, the generous helping of vegetables—onions, celery, kale, and escarole—really beef the soup up (so to speak), and make it thoroughly nutritious. A little Parmesan added at the end is a nice touch, as well, providing both a little bit of salt and a tiny bit of creamy goodness.

  • Yield:Serves 4 to 6
  • Active time:
    30 minutes
  • Total time:45 minutes
  • Rated:



  • 12 ounces ground beef
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a few grinds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced lengthwise and cut thinly crosswise
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups kale, stems removed and leaves sliced thin
  • 2 cups escarole, core removed and leaves sliced thin


  1. 1.

    In a mixing bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, 1/3 cup Parmesan, water, 1 clove garlic, oregano, parsley, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Form into 1-inch meatballs, place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate. (Should make 25-35 balls.)

  2. 2.

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

  3. 3.

    In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for 10 minutes. Add celery and saute 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 more minute. Add stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Turn heat to high. Once boiling, add kale and escarole. Turn heat back down to medium-low, cover Dutch oven, and simmer 15 minutes.

  4. 4.

    In the meantime, place meatballs in oven and bake 12 minutes. When finished, add meatballs to soup and cook an additional 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled on top.

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