Heat Wave
Reality Check

Barbara Kafka's Moroccan Tomato Soup


Quick, quick! There's a break in sight. The temperature's 10 degrees cooler than it was yesterday. Now's your chance. Swing on your bike, get to the market. Buy a couple of pounds of tomatoes, the redder the better. Do you have parsley or cilantro? Good. Fennel or celery? Only if it's lying around in your crisper, don't bother buying more. Ooh, there's the Turkish bakery stand selling small loaves of its soft, chewy pide bread, the black nigella seeds on top the best part. Sure, get a round of that, too.

Bike home again, bag swinging against your legs. A cool breeze might even form. Soak it all in, tomorrow you'll be hiding indoors again.

At home, pull out your mother's food mill that you believe is older than you. Try to mill the first chopped tomatoes, turn the handle jankily, feel your temperature rise, give up. Your fuse is too short these days, forgive yourself. So the recipe says to peel and seed the tomatoes. Doesn't Barbara Kafka know that tomato seeds are sometimes the best part? Go about chopping the tomatoes by hand. Peel a few with a y-peeler, then stand around chewing on tomato peels for a bit. Lose interest in the peeling. That's alright. Some days, a recipe is just there for inspiration.


Put a bunch of spices to warm in a pan. Oh! There's that little frying pan you thought you'd lost in the move! Sitting right there...in the frying pan drawer. Oh well, sometimes you look for milk in the fridge for half an hour before realizing it's right in front of you. You're supposed to add garlic, but for some reason there's none in the house. This must be the heat, you figure, addling your mind. Who doesn't always have a few cloves of garlic lying around? Okay, so you use a shallot finely diced instead. This turns out to be more than fine, delicious even.

Paprika, cayenne, cumin - hot colors fusing together into a muddled brown, the kitchen filling with fragrance. Even though the recipe says an immersion blender is too much, you use an immersion blender, just a few pulses, to chop the tomatoes a little more. You leave it chunky, though, just as Barbara says to, and stir in the spiced shallot. Forget about the celery, or the fennel, which was your inspired idea for a celery substitution. Who wants to chop anything more than a few tomatoes? Not you.

In goes a little vinegar, a squeeze or two of lemon, chopped parsley because cilantro is too hard to find and did you already mention your short fuse? Be kind to yourself today. A few stirs with the spoon and soon you're sitting at the table, slurping spoonfuls of cold soup, dunking Turkish bread into the bowl. Who cares that you gave up with the tomatoes after about five and that the spice mixture is meant for over two pounds? This means the soup is humming, the spices vibrant in your mouth and throat. Maybe it's a little too strong, but it doesn't really matter. You eat in big spoonfuls anyway, grateful for the kick of flavor, the faint numbing of your lips. You feel your inner temperature, the knot of frustration and the sweat at your temples subside.

Tomorrow will be hot again, there might only be salads and cold yogurt and more complaining on the horizon. But today you have cold Moroccan tomato soup, a faint breeze and that will have to do.

Moroccan Tomato Soup
Serves 1
Note: The original recipe is here and is probably far more balanced and mild than what I ended up with. I practically licked my plate, though. Below will serve one person in need of something cool, spicy and calming for lunch in an irritatingly hot clime.

1 shallot, minced fine
2 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil
1.5 pounds tomatoes, cored, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro or parsley leaves
1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. In a small saucepan, stir together the shallot, paprika, cumin, cayenne and olive oil. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Put the chopped tomatoes with their juice in a large bowl. Pass an immersion blender through once or twice, leaving most of the tomatoes still chunky. Stir in the cooked spice mixture, the cilantro, vinegar, and lemon juice. Taste for salt. Eat immediately.