Trekquinox Episode 03: Asparagus soup, or “Plomeek Soup”

Ah, the soup course! Easiest of all, as it happens. In the original Star Trek series, they only mentioned one alien food by name, and that was the Vulcan dish “plomeek soup”. Not even given a goofy space name, like Rigellian bloodworm soup, just an alien name of a vegetable. Also, that sort of gives one carte blanche. It could be anything. It ended up being asparagus.

Menu Item #3 "Plomeek Soup", or Asparagus Soup
Menu Item #3 “Plomeek Soup”, or Asparagus Soup

In this shot of the menu you can see the soup splattered all over the left-hand wall, thrown by an enraged Mr. Spock, who was going through some personal issues in this episode. It starts with the angry soup-throwing, and ends with berserker rage and murder. It’s difficult to see clearly, but there was a close-up of the tray earlier, and it’s actually purple in colour. However it turns up in later series as just about any colour – green is certainly one of them – and all we can say for sure is that it’s a kind of vegetable, since Vulcans are vegetarian. There’s actually no cream in this recipe, and more stuff, but I was doing this one from memory. Still it captures the essence; it’s a simple simple recipe.

Audrey with plomeek soup
Audrey with plomeek soup

Anyway, I had this good recipe for asparagus soup kicking around and decided that would do the trick. It would also end up being pretty much the only green vegetable in the whole scenario, so probably good for our vitamin balance. In an eleven course meal it was important to just have a taster of the soup, because there was a lot of food on offer. Fortunately I’d already bought a set of tasting bowls for just such an occasion! As you can see in this scale shot, it’s not too much to handle.

One of the great advantages of this soup, from my point of view for this night, was that you could cook it the day before and then just reheat it when the time came. You are even supposed to use the same pot you were sautéing in, so it was one less dish used. Okay, there’s no pleasure in life but that one must purchase it with an equal moment of pain – I was running out of room in the fridge. But still, prêt-à-manger was clearly a big win for me!

I confess that it was a little disappointing for me; I had remembered trying it for the first time and thinking it was fabulous, but clearly that had reset my expectations and this time it didn’t live up to the promise for me. I mean, it was fine, but not as good as I remember. Fortunately no one else had tasted it before, and so all the guests thought it was great! It represented a trip down memory lane for Ellen, as this was one of the dishes we were taught to cook at an Intuit team-building day in Leduc. It also happened to be Ellen’s… third day at work? It happened on her first week. So not even there a full week and we took off for the day to drink and cook and eat. Not a bad place to be! Probably the first time she and I really met, also. So I have fond memories of eating, drinking, and meeting my future girlfriend, all while getting paid for it!

So, trivia… This episode is called “Amok Time”. We typically use the word amok (or amuk, or amuck) to mean hyperactive, as in “my kids were running amok at Chucky Cheese”. But the word is actually Malaysian, and it literally means “mad with uncontrollable rage”. People who run amok (mengamuk, “a furious and desperate charge”) typically grab a weapon (commonly a sword or dagger) and kill as many people as they can. It’s recognized as a true mental disorder in the DSM-IV TR, a culturally-dependent one. They theorize that in a culture where honour and physical prowess are still prized, and suicide is forbidden, that it represents an opportunity for dishonoured individuals to commit “suicide by cop” (or crowd) while regaining a small amount of respect as an individual to be feared and respected. At any rate, since the plot of this episode of Star Trek involves exactly this berserk killing rage, the title is far more accurate than most people suspect. Hardly surprising; this episode was penned by Theodore Sturgeon, one of the more thoughtful and erudite of the science fiction authors of the day.

There’s another science fiction connection here, a more modern one. While the term is in fact used by Indonesians, they actually have shifted towards using amuk to describe the behaviour of violent mobs. Their more recent term for the individual berserker rage is gelap mata (literally, “darkened eyes”), due to the fact that people in the sway of a true psychotic break tend to have massively dilated pupils, which makes them appear black. In the science fiction novel “Aristoi” by Walter Jon Williams, he supposes a future in which nanotechnology is prevalent. These are tiny molecular-sized machines which can assemble (or disassemble) anything at a molecular level. As early as the 1980s Eric Drexler suggested that this is a power with a terrible capacity to go wrong, since if these self-replicating machines lose track of their programmed limits on when they should stop disassembling matter and replicating themselves, they would represent an unstoppable plague which would digest all matter it encountered until the whole planet was remade. In Walter Jon’s universe, this is how the Earth was destroyed, from runaway nano from an Indonesian research lab. In his future, this runaway engine of destruction (nicknamed “grey goo” by Eric Drexler) is in fact called “mataglap nano”. A mad destructive rampage, characterized by a dark cloud of nanobots – gelap mata indeed! A good bit of business there, since he never deigns to explain any of this, and it’s left as an exercise for the reader to try and figure out his Indonesian neologism, and thanks to his modified word order and spelling it’s not as simple as Googling it.

Let us hope your mata are gelap only by hunger for this soup!

Asparagus Soup

(from “Simple, Fresh, Delicious” by Lovoni Walker)

1   leek, white and tender bits only, sliced
6   shallots, large, chopped
1 tbsp   oil
1 tbsp   butter
2 tbsp   flour
1 cup   dry white wine
2 cups   milk
2 cups   chicken broth (oops, guess it wasn’t really that vegetarian!)
2 lbs   asparagus, trimmed of woody ends, cut into 1″ lengths
salt and fresh ground pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leek and shallots and cook for about 10 minutes or until softened.
  2. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Gradually stir in the wine, milk, and broth. Bring to a boil and add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the asparagus is softened.
  3. Put the asparagus mixture in a blender in batches and blend until smooth and frothy. Return the mixture to the same pan.
  4. Stir over medium heat until hot. Serve hot.

This soup is best made on the day of serving. Serves 4 to 6.

Upon re-reading this, I bet it would taste better if still frothy – but sacrifices had to be made in the name of expediency; it was adequate when refrigerated after Step 3 and heated the next day. And Saturday was already full of other food.

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