Back when we started the Teahouse Kuan Yin, I objected to soup. My partner in the business was a strong believer in the power of soup. He wanted soup on the menu.

My objection was that soup is hot liquid and therefore redundant with tea, which is also hot liquid. My business partner had owned a successful soup & salad cafe, so perhaps it was inevitable that he would want to offer soup.

A Simple Business Model

We had many other food items to go with tea — scones and cookies, cakes, humbao, potstickers, lasagna (not the white mushroom one from this post, though), focaccia sandwiches, Chinese noodles, spanokopita…I can’t even remember all the international, eclectic small plate foodstuffs our changing menu has included. Almost all of it catered in. All we had to do was heat, plate and serve. That was the business concept.

Early on, it was just we two staffing 15 hours of the business, 6 days a week, and doing everything — for almost no money. We were 50/50 partners. Brand new business.

What 50/50 Means

Vegetables in a pot cookingOne afternoon, I walked in to start my shift, and there was soup on the menu, and stacks of bowls awaiting their task. I was stunned and disappointed. My shoulders slumped. I said sadly, “Frank, you leave me no choice.” I turned around and walked out.

A few hours later, he called me and said, “OK, you win. Obviously, I can’t do this alone.”

I said, “We are 50/50 partners. We both have to agree when we make decisions. Nobody gets to make unilateral decisions.”

Push Will Come to Shove

What we both learned from that was, not only do neither of you get to make unilateral decisions, but that 50/50 partnerships are terrible. Because later on when hard choices have to be made, when new directions have to be taken, 50/50 means nobody is the leader. You can have gridlock of Congressional proportions, when you need to be bold or nimble.

In a company, you have to have someone who is the leader. Somebody has to have 51%, to be the tiebreaker. You have to trust in your business concept and partnership to give one of you that 1%. If you don’t trust the other person enough to give them that override power or they don’t trust you enough to give it to you, you probably should find another partner. Or be a sole proprietor. It’s not that one party is wrong or right — everybody has strengths and weaknesses. And there are many ways to earn a nickel. But push will come to shove.

The Origins of This Soup Recipe

The whole teahouse premise was not to open a restaurant. A restaurant is fraught with risk, and food loss & supply logistics. And mess. We had installed the smallest possible apartment-size stove, just for making Kashmiri chai. That’s it. Because we didn’t want to open a restaurant.

people cooking soup over a fire
Our set up wasn’t quite this rustic, but…

But many years later, after I bought Frank out and he was on to his own new business, I was trying to incorporate my employees’ ideas and suggestions. Trying to be a good, inclusive boss, appreciative of employee initiative. Being nimble. A couple of them had been hankering to have soup on the menu for a long while. They promised to do all the cooking — yes, on that same toy-size stove. I wouldn’t have to do any of it. I said, “Okay. Give it a try.”

They made good on their word. For the first 6 months anyway. Then one quit & moved on, and the other went traveling to various “-istans”. So it fell on me to maintain this soup program I never really wanted.

Soup sold. I’m not saying it didn’t. We did have good recipes, and it wasn’t really that hard to keep on with it. But I resented having been saddled with the chore, and I was mad at myself for having gotten into that predicament.

And to this day, I just don’t think it goes with tea.

Get Over It Already! Where’s the Recipe??

It’s here. This is a soup I developed from scratch, nobody else’s recipe. It is easy, cheap, nutritious, gluten-free and vegan. 20 years ahead of its time. (This is 1/3 the volume of the original recipe.)

Carrot-Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1lb grated carrots
  • 1c red lentils, picked over for stones and washed
  • 2t marjoram
    soup main ingredients
    Main ingredients [click to enlarge]
  • 2t freshly ground fennel seed
  • 1/2t paprika
  • 1/2t nutmeg
  • 1.5T veggie stock powder
  • a splash of vinegar
  • 1/2t ground black pepper
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Sauté the onions in olive oil in your soup pot till softened, while you grate your carrots.
  2. Add the carrots and sauté a bit.
  3. Now add the red lentils along with 3 quarts or liters of water and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the marjoram, ground fennel seed, paprika, nutmeg and veggie stock powder.
  5. Cook till obliterated, stirring frequently. Add more water if necessary.
  6. Add the black pepper, vinegar and adjust the salt.

If you don’t have veggie stock powder or don’t want to use it, you could improvise with some Marmite, if you have any. (Did you know Marmite is vegan? It is.) Or if you aren’t vegetarian, you could use chicken or beef stock.  Just something to add some umami and a little more depth.

carrot-red lentil soup and slice of bread
Carrot-Red Lentil Soup

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