A few weeks ago, a funny thing happened: my wallet was stolen. It didn’t feel quite so funny at the time as calling and canceling your credit cards is a painstakingly long process, but in looking back, this incident wasn’t without a silver lining: it prompted me to make this tomato soup.
I could have made this soup any day, week or month. Nothing was preventing me from making it as soon as I dog-eared the recipe in my October Gourmet. But I’m often easily distracted and October was giving us such gloriously sunny days I dared not think soup. And in the following weeks, I kind of forgot about it. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my apartment, sans cash, credit cards or even a metro card to my name, and quite hungry, that I remembered this soup and, more importantly, realized I had all the ingredients on hand!
This whole stolen-wallet-and-no-cash-at-home incident is one big cautionary tale. Don’t be like me and have an emergency cash and credit card stashed somewhere. Keep both of these on hand and you won’t find yourself under involuntary “house arrest”. The loss of my wallet not only rendered me cashless and credit-card less, but also landlocked in Brooklyn, unable to even take the subway into the city, since my metro card also lived in my wallet. Thank goodness it was Sunday and I didn’t have to go in to work. And thanks to lovely Jane who saved the day by showing up with cash and a metro card in tow. With such lovely friends, I’m one lucky girl.
However, there are silver linings when you have nary a nickle to your name. There are fewer decisions to make and that can feel liberating. You can take yourself on a walk, accompanied by coffee you made at home. You can take your camera and your keys (no wallet since it’s gone!) and just wander around snapping pictures without a care in the world. No temptation to buy anything because can’t even have that budgetary dialogue in your head! And after the walk, you come home and rummage around in your pantry, find your needed ingredients and get to work.
Somehow, being in a sort of a lock-down mode makes life seem a bit simpler and the simple act of chopping an onion in your kitchen becomes more comforting than rudimentary. You become aware of every cut, every little morsel that falls onto the cutting board as I diced away. You then slowly sauté your onion until pale and translucent before adding cumin and curry paste. All this stirring and sautéing creates a lovely paste of softened onions and spices that smell, well, sublime. And when you add the remaining ingredients and let the whole thing cook for 15 minutes or so. In that time you are free to go about as you like. In my case, it was calling various credit card companies and asking for replacements, but I can think of time better spent like reading a book perhaps, or watching the news. Either of these things is exponentially more exciting than calling credit card companies. But such is life and sometimes we do what we must and not what we’d prefer.
But mere 15 minutes later, after a quick whir of your immersion blender and a drizzle of fresh lime juice, you have your soup ready for you. And while your wallet is still at large and your friend is en route with some cash to carry you over, somehow this is a soup that makes you feel better. You taste it and think, it is all going to be okay. The power of one’s pantry can be measured in these moments – when you can rummage around, find a few ingredients and whip up not just any meal, but one that is truly outstanding. You not only have a winning recipe on your hands; you’ve just demonstrated to yourself that you can be resourceful with the ingredients you have on hand. Somehow resourcefulness in the face of desperation is more appreciated. When you have no other choice, but to cook only with what you have at home, this accomplishment seems so much grander.
And so in looking back, I’m glad I hadn’t made the soup the second I saw it in the magazine; I don’t don’t think I would have appreciated it, or my well-stocked pantry, even half as much were I not hungry and without any cash to my name. The ingredients, coupled with the time it takes to make this soup, make for a simple and comforting weeknight meal, an impromptu lunch friends, or a soothing supper if you’re stuck at home with a cold. And while the amount of effort it takes to make this soup is minimal, the results are anything but. I would even dare say – they are glamorous. Plus, and this is a bonus, the ingredients can be easily found hanging out in your pantry. Which is perfect for those days when your wallet goes missing and you haven’t got a penny to your name and, inevitably, hunger strikes. And what’s a girl to do?
Thai-Spiced Tomato Soup
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Thai Kitchen red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 (14-oz) cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water (I skipped this)
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
juice of 1/2 lime
a handful of cilantro leaves
1. Cook onion in oil in a 4- to 5-qt heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add curry paste and cumin and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
2. Add broth, tomatoes, water, brown sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt and simmer 15 minutes.
3. Purée soup in batches in a blender or using an immersion blender (be careful when blending hot liquids). Return soup to pot and reheat if necessary. Otherwise stir in lime juice and serve immediately. Sprinkle a few cilantro leaves and enjoy.