Last time I tried to make a recipe I saw in Martha Stewart, for a pasta pie, it took hours and many pots and I wanted to hurt myself by the time it was done. It turned out delicious, but was so labor intensive and confusing that it has been almost three years since I attempted to do it again. This month, though, I was reading it and saw a soup recipe that sounded kind of interesting:
The spiced chickpea and tomato soup looked like it would be a nice change from split pea or green apple and blue cheese, the other two soups that I make most often when I make soup from scratch. It also looked a lot easier than that apple cheese soup, which takes about an hour and a half, and than the typical Martha Stewart recipe, in that most of this one comes from cans and jars. I can handle cans and jars.
Or thought I could, until I got to the grocery store.
Tomatoes, it seems, are much more complicated than I gave them credit for. Either that, or Food City is a lot less logical. The recipe asks for crushed canned tomatoes, so I went to the canned vegetable aisle. There I found peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, finely diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, Southwestern style finely diced tomatoes, and Italian style finely diced tomatoes. No crushed tomatoes. Unable to locate an employee (not surprising; they find me when I don’t need help, but when I actually do need something they’re probably all in the security room laughing as I drift up and down the camera screens holding a scrap of paper and staring helplessly at the aisles as if what I want might materialize if I look hard enough), I picked up two cans of finely diced tomatoes and hoped Martha Stewart wouldn’t snap awake somewhere in Connecticut and know someone was defiling one of her recipes.
Fortunately, I found crushed canned tomatoes in the “Italian” section later, after I had searched half the store for jarred roasted red peppers. For inexplicable reasons, Food City has no peppers of any kind in the canned vegetable section, but you can find them in “Spanish”, “Italian”, and “Natural Foods”, because, of course, everyone knows that plain old white people who aren’t tree-hugging hippies would never eat such a thing. I was so happy to find the tomatoes, and the peppers, that I stuck my two cans of finely diced tomatoes on the shelf right there, rather than putting them back where I got them. I know it was wrong, but one of the employees watching on the camera can put them away if they’re not going to help me.
Back at home this afternoon, I got everything ready to go:
I bought too many cans of chicken stock because I can’t ever remember how many ounces are in a cup and lack the spatial awareness to look at a can and think, “That’s about a cup and a half”. That I ever passed a math class at all is a minor miracle.
The first part of the recipe, and really the only part that involved more than dumping something into something else, called for me to grind about half the ingredients into a paste with a mortar and pestle. This also involved buying a mortar and pestle, which involved me harassing a “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” employee with questions about whether or not marble was dishwasher safe or if it would erode on the top rack like a sixteenth century tombstone in acid rain.
“I… don’t really know what that means.”
“It means I don’t want this melting in my dishwasher. Is it going to damage it, or can I throw it in there and not have to hand wash it?”
“It won’t melt. It’s marble.”
Don’t look at me like that. I might be crap at math, but I got an A in Earth Science.
Anyway, I finished my paste to my satisfaction.
The magazine didn’t have any pictures of preparation, but that looked like paste. The mortar and pestle also felt vaguely medieval, as if I might finish dinner and start practicing alchemy. After I made the paste (after I pasted?) I was supposed to simmer it in oil and then add all the other ingredients.
Everything seemed to be going well. Things were simmering, I was stirring, and I’d only used one pot, unlike the last Martha Stewart recipe that involved three different ones on the tiny, doll sized oven in my old apartment that also didn’t have any counters. After everything simmered, I was supposed to remove the pot from the heat and transfer the contents to a blender for pureeing.
That photo is my kitchen, about ten seconds from disaster. Martha Stewart didn’t include a warning in the recipe about hot soup in a closed blender, but she probably never imagined that the average cook would need one. I, on the other hand, despite my high score in Earth Science, didn’t really stop to think the mechanics of steam in an enclosed space all the way through, and promptly slapped on the lid and hit “puree”.
It’s hard to tell from that picture, because my counters are black, but there is soup on the blender, the counter, the wall, the floor, in the sink, and a little bit on the underside of the cabinet. Fortunately there is also soup left in the blender, and after figuring out how to vent the lid and cleaning the kitchen, I pureed it up and served myself a bowl with a dollop of sour cream, as suggested in the recipe.
It was good. It tastes a little like tomatoes, but also has a little bit of spicy heat, so that your mouth is still warm after you eat it but not burning like you swallowed a hot pepper. It tastes vaguely Indian, and I would definitely make it again.
I’ll let it cool a little more before blending, though.