Is it possible that this week some of us might feel something like relief? I’m writing this before any of us know. What I do know for certain is that we will all have some psychic wounds to lick, irrespective of the outcome. There is no adequate way to address an election cycle this fraught and destructive. There is no adequate way to address the incomprehensible pain that over a quarter of a million families have felt in this single year. There is no adequate way to address the momentum of the swelling civil rights revolution. It feels like we require many more moments of silence than we will be capable of honoring.
Whatever your relation to the events of this year, I suspect that your nerves have been frazzled, your patience tested, your imagination strained.
We all need to be soothed in some way, but what could possibly soothe us at a moment like this?
Sometimes, the answers to the big questions come at you sideways, while you are staring out the window, or into the fridge, trying to keep yourself calm, or grounded, or, at the very least, fed. For me, the answer has most predictably been soup. Especially this particular soup.
I know how trivial that sounds. I promise you, this is neither flippancy nor immaturity. It’s just that, for now, this is the only answer I have for us.
I remembered this soup as the one I ordered at Spicy Village in Manhattan’s Chinatown — a fluorescent Henan noodle temple the size of a closet. It was a brutally cold night. I was with my husband, a dear friend from high school, and his (now) husband — we had all moved to New York, and this was our kind of dining out. The soup came in a plastic quart container just barely maintaining its integrity against the heat of the curative liquid inside it.
Later, I realized my version actually conflates two dishes we ate that night. It is nowhere near as complex as the Tomato Egg Noodles and Sour Dumpling Soup that inspired it. Nostalgia has warped this recipe into something accessible far away from the big city, its Chinese markets, abundant ingredients, and delivery options.
If you are the kind of zealot who makes soup stock to relax, use that. If you are a regular person, boxed stock or a bouillon cube will do just fine, either chicken or vegetable.
What you’ll get is protein, a green vegetable, some vitamin C, and some fortifying inner warmth with minimal exertion, for the times when you can barely keep it together. I make this in a batch to soothe a family of four, but it keeps beautifully in the fridge for a few days for one or two to sip as a shield against these dark days.
Spicy Village-Style Tomato, Egg, and Spinach Soup
Enough for 4
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 tomatoes, Roma or others
A knob of ginger
A few cloves of garlic
Rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Peel the ginger and cut it into a few pieces. Crush the unpeeled garlic cloves with a knife. Drop the ginger and garlic into the stock and bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Quarter the tomatoes and add them to the stock.
Heat 1-2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat and crack your eggs into it. Cook, undisturbed, until the whites begin to set, then scramble lackadaisically with chopsticks, just enough to break the yolks and move things around. In the regular world, I despise brown bits on eggs, but for some reason they make sense to me here. Cook the eggs to your liking, breaking them into pieces with your chopsticks, and then swoop them directly into the simmering soup.
Add the spinach, a dash of soy sauce, and a dash of vinegar. Taste, and continue seasoning until it’s salty, a bit sour, and tastes like ginger. Fish out the ginger and garlic if you like, or leave them in, like soup roulette.
Last, mix the cornstarch with a splash of cold water and stir until smooth. Slowly stir this into your soup, and let it come back to a simmer once more. This is just enough cornstarch to make the broth feel like a blanket.
Once this soup is in your bowl, you get to decide whether you want heat — sambal oelek, sriracha, a few fresh chile peppers. If I have sesame seeds, sometimes I’ll sprinkle in a few. The point is that you want it to taste like your version of comfort food, and to be soothed, indeed.