I could see it, and it was inspired.
Rosemary Red Soup. Delicious. Creamy. Vegetarian. And, like the name suggests, a deep, ruby red.
It would look fantastic in my Heath bowls. Never mind that I didn't have enough for all the guests. Such details were not bothering me at the time. I could only see the visuals.
Details often come back to bite me in the butt, however. Indeed, it's a wonder I have any backside at all these days.
A friend of mine, a fabulous woman with a PhD in Moroccan Jewry and enviable hostessing skills gave me this recipe, promising that it was so simple even I could make it. The secret, she told me, was in the beets and the miso. Red beets give this vegetarian soup its shocking color, while the miso gave it a sort of salty kick from deep within. I made it only once, probably five years ago. But as I recall, it turned out, and impressed everybody so much that nobody minded that it also terminally stained clothes.
As with so many dishes I ruin, this one started out with my focus on entirely the wrong element: I was concentrating on the reaction it would surely win, instead of focusing on the constructive details.
First I bought the wrong kind of beets. We got two kinds at the Farmer's market, neither of them the right ones. We needed red beets. The kind that are red throughout, not the ones that are just red on the outside. The orange beets weren't going to work, either, although yes, they were very pretty and exciting.
The proper beets seem to be an essential element in creating soup of this color. Most cooks would understand this fact. But not me. I have said this all my life, but clearly it remains true: The obvious never occurs to me.
Second problem: We started late in the day, when the Tagine was a bubblin' and Julia was assembling the bitter herb salad and attending to a trillion other details. This would have been fine, had the soup turned out.
Bad enough the soup wasn't the color I'd expected. But it wasn't any acceptable color, unless you like your diarrhea color on the mustard-yellow side of the spectrum. For some reason the puree wasn't as smooth as it needed to be either. Maybe I hadn't cooked the lentils long enough? Hadn't chopped the vegetables enough? Hadn't minced the rosemary right? Realizing you've botched a recipe at the very first, most basic step is pretty demoralizing. But if your dish tastes OK, it's possible to redeem yourself.
Alas. Even Julia, a hardy optimist, was underwhelmed with my Rosemary Red Soup That Was Diarrhea Colored. For a soup with several vegetables, salty miso and an herb widely understood to be taste-enhancing, this was remarkably taste-free. I held out the wooden spoon for her, accepting my fate.
"I don't think it's any good," I said.
She tasted. She didn't grimace, which gave me hope for a small second.
"No. It's not good."
That's when I panicked. It was 6 p.m. People were going to start arriving any minute, and we didn't even have the soup course done.
"We can't serve this! We can't serve this! What are we gonna do?!"
Now I was openly cursing myself. For not paying attention to the ingredient details. For telling Tony NOT to bring Matzo-ball soup as originally planned, because I was going to make my own soup. What the hell was wrong with me? WHY was I even trying to pull off a Seder when obviously it was horribly beyond my abilities, even with more experienced backup? You've heard of fight or flight?
"I'm going to Trader Joe's!" I yelled, running for my keys. "I'm just gonna buy some soup!"
"Wait!" Julia held up her hand. "I have an idea." Obviously she intended to fight.
Her idea involved orange juice. Audacious, I thought. And if it weren't Zero Hour I would have embraced her creativity. But I was already flying. "Ginger carrot soup! I'll just get four boxes of it, we'll heat it up, and nobody will know the difference!"
"Quiet. Taste this now. What do you think?" She'd poured probably 3/4 cup of orange juice directly into the soup and turned up the heat.
I swallowed my heart and tasted.
It had *some* taste. As opposed to the no-taste it had just moments before.
Maybe it would work.
And in fact, in the end, people ate their soup. Some confessed to enjoying it. The two vegetarians at the table wanted more. Wanted the recipe, even. "...this isn't really the soup I'd intended to serve," I stammered.
Rosemary Red Soup
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 beets (RED!!!) chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (fresh)
1 tablespoon chopped oregano (fresh or dry)
1 cup red lentils (washed and picked over)
2 bay leaves
6 cups water or vegetable stock
2-3 tablespoons light miso
Saute onions in oil, add carrots and beats. Saute as long as you feel prudent. Add herbs, lentils, bay leaves and stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and puree soup in blender. Dissolve miso in 1/2 cup water and add to soup. Reheat and serve.
Writing it down now, transcribing from a stained and well-thumbed notepad from another life, I note that I didn't follow any of these simple directions. Saute first?
That'll teach me to cook under pressure. Probably should have made this the night before, with a glass of wine in my system and no time constraints. But that's just one of the many lessons learned this Passover holiday. Stay tuned....