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Chill out with summery cold soups

August 8, 2016

Chilled Waternelon-Basil Gazpacho.

Hot soup is the quintessential comfort food, but there’s nothing more welcoming than a bowl of chilled soup during scorching summer days.

Cold soups combine a wealth of fresh, seasonal ingredients and flavors in a quick, no-fuss, simple meal.

"Soup is a four-season food that isn’t meant just for the cold days when you want to be cozy but also for the summer when you want something refreshing and easy and don’t want to turn on the stove," says Julie Peacock, co-author of "The Soup Club Cookbook." It’s a good genre of food — it’s an easy meal and way of combining lots of flavors in a bowl, she adds.

When we think of chilled soups the first thing that usually comes to mind is the renowned Spanish gazpacho — the uncooked tomato-based soup with raw cucumbers, peppers and onion. Despite the extra chopping involved, Ms. Peacock favors the concoction because the end result packs a bold, chunky bite of savory summer flavors.

Trendier variations have expanded the cold soup menu in recent times. There are savory purees including the classic vichyssoise crafted by Chef Louis Diat at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York in the early 20th century. Sassy, textured raw vegetable creations are on the list, while cooked then chilled soups are always a convenient option. And then there are the semi-sweet fruit purees and raw fruit-based soups served as desserts.

Cold soups are supposed to excite your appetite, not satiate your hunger, and therefore are served primarily as starters or accompaniments. Occasionally they can be the main attraction of the meal. "They are also a nice finisher and palate cleanser and can act as a digestif at the end of a meal," Peacock says.

You can make a plethora of things with chilled soups, yet, to a novice it can still be a surprising sensation when tasting a cold soup, especially given the texture and fresh, uncooked ingredients, says Mikhail Istomin, marketing director at the Uzbek restaurant Kavsar in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington.

The rule of thumb for cold soups is fresh ingredients, he says. Fresh kefir (liquid) and yogurt also are important when making milk-based broths, he says. Peacock stresses the importance of seasonal and high-quality ingredients when whipping up chilled soups. Moreover, it’s key to use citrus to bring that next level of zing, and be liberal with fresh herbs for that extra brightness. Add plenty of seasoning and don’t forget to factor in the time to chill the soup and allow the flavors to mingle, she says.

When it comes to combinations, there’s a world of possibilities. Peacock opts to combine vegetables and herbs such as cucumber and yogurt, tomato, basil and parsley; avocado, arugula and cilantro; or melon and mint. You can always turn your salad into soup with a mix of lettuces and herbs, thicken the puree with yogurt and top it with a colorful salsa. Combine sweet melons with vegetables and brighten the flavor with splashes of lime or lemon juice. Spike peaches with prosecco and cool mint or drown crimson berries in a pool of red wine. For a vegan approach, try a blend of bread, almonds, garlic, vinegar, water and olive oil.

Countries around the world embrace the cold soup tradition. Ukraine is proud of its sorrel soup, Russia is famous for its beet borsch, while Uzbekistan revels in its okroshka, a traditional mixture of raw vegetables served in a milk-based, tangy cold broth. It can be vegetarian or speckled with chunks of beef for a meaty version. In Pittsburgh, chef Tahmina Umaralieva of Kavsar serves an authentic family recipe of okroshka.

But regardless of country, technique or type of soup, plenty of seasoning is vital as cold soups tend to showcase a dull edge with flavors lessening in the cold, Peacock says. Amp up the taste of soups with a wide array of garnishes; top them with tangy vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, dollops of sour cream and seafood. Sprinkle purees with herbs such as mint, basil or dill, add a dash of citrus and toss in some toasted nuts. For a brave punch, finish the dish with a pinch of red pepper flakes.

You might want to avoid loads of animal fat or butter in cold soups as they tend to envelop your mouth in an unpleasant way.

Don’t be intimidated to make cold soups. "If you can make a margarita you can make a cold soup," Peacock says. At the very least, get out of your comfort zone and try chilled soups. It will be a challenge, but you will be pleasantly surprised, Istomin adds.

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LETTUCE SOUP WITH RADISH SALSA

PG tested

This soup is literally a summer salad turned into soup. The intensely green soup comes together in a blender, which means there is no cooking involved. Feel free to adjust the amount of onions to your personal taste.

For soup

4 cups torn butterhead lettuce leaves

2 cups (about 2 ounces) stemmed baby spinach

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs

1/3 cup coarsely chopped shallot

3/4 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For salsa

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup red radish matchsticks

1/4 cup seeded-cucumber matchsticks

Puree all soup ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a blender until smooth. Season to taste.

Refrigerate in a covered container until chilled, at least 3 hours, before serving. Taste and adjust seasoning.

For salsa: Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir in radish and cucumber strips. Cover and refrigerate.

Serve soup in shallow bowls with a mound of salsa spooned atop each serving.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup: The Best Vegetarian Recipes" by Paulette Mitchell (Chronicle Books; 2004)

CHILLED WATERMELON-BASIL GAZPACHO

PG tested

I love watermelon so having the watery fruit be the star of this soup was right up my alley. Although it’s called a gazpacho, the tomato shines faintly in the background leaving center stage for the watermelon.

1 (5-pound) seedless watermelon, rind removed and flesh chopped (6 cups)

1 medium heirloom tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 limes

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a blender or food processor, combine watermelon, tomato and olive oil. Zest one lime and squeeze juice; add zest and juice to the blender and puree until mixture is smooth. Pour soup into a large bowl and stir in the basil, mint, salt and pepper. Chill soup for at least 3 hours before serving.

To serve, pour soup into chilled bowls. Cut remaining lime into wedges and use to garnish the bowls.

Serves 6.

— From "Happy Cooking: Make Every Meal Count…Without Stressing Out" by Giada De Laurentiis (Clarkson Potter; 2015)

ALMOND GAZPACHO WITH GRAPES

PG tested

Bread replaces the tomatoes found in a traditional gazpacho. I loved how the almonds in this soup gave it a creamy nuttiness.

3-inch white baguette, crust removed

1/2 cup slivered almonds, plus more for topping

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup ice water

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups seedless green grapes, halved

1 cup finely diced cucumbers

In a food processor, combine baguette, almonds, vinegar, garlic and salt. Process, adding ice water gradually to make a smooth puree.

With machine running, drizzle in oil. Transfer puree to a medium bowl or tureen, then stir in grapes and cucumber. Refrigerate for up to 3 days until serving. Before serving, top the soup with a few slivered almonds for an additional crunch.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from "Big Vegan: More than 350 Recipes No Meat / No Dairy All Delicious" by Robin Asbell (Chronicle Books; 2011)

CHILLED MINTED PEACH AND PROSECCO SOUP

PG tested

Pleasantly fruity and sweet with a boozy punch of prosecco, this dessert is a palate cleanser. I loved every spoonful.

2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and pitted

1 1/2 cups dry prosecco

1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped

1/2 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons agave syrup, plus extra if needed

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus extra if needed

4 sprigs mint

Chop peaches and put them in a 4-quart saucepan with prosecco. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until peaches are breaking down, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in mint and let cool.

In a blender or food processor, puree peaches with milk, agave syrup and lemon juice.

Refrigerate soup up to 4 days. Taste and adjust lemon juice or agave. Serve in bowls with mint sprigs.

Serves 4.

— From "Big Vegan: More than 350 Recipes No Meat / No Dairy All Delicious" by Robin Asbell (Chronicle Books; 2011)

UKRAINIAN SORREL SOUP (SCHAV)

PG tested

This recipe calls for sorrel, an herb that looks like arugula but has a somewhat sour taste. As I could not find it, I used baby spinach and added a few extra tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Although it’s called Ukranian Sorrel Soup, this soup is actually very popular in my native Romania, too. It can be served cold but it tastes just as delicious when hot.

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 pound fresh sorrel leaves, stemmed

1 bunch scallions, white parts and 4 inches of green tops, sliced

6 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock, or purchased stock

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 large egg yolks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 to 4 diced hard-cooked eggs, for garnish

1/2 cup sour cream, for garnish

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, for garnish

Heat butter in a 4-quart soup pot over medium heat. Add sorrel and scallions and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the sorrel wilts. Add stock and tarragon and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir sugar and lemon juice into the soup.

Beat egg yolks in a mixing bowl with a whisk until thick and light yellow in color. Slowly beat about 1 cup of the hot soup into the egg yolks so they are gradually warmed up, and then return the egg and soup mixture to the pot. Place pot over medium-low heat, and stir constantly, reaching all parts of the bottom of the pot, until mixture reaches about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. At this point it will begin to steam and thicken slightly. Do not allow mixture to boil or the eggs will scramble. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate soup until cold, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Adjust seasoning if necessary. To serve, ladle into bowls, topping each serving with diced eggs, sour cream and dill.

Serves 6 to 8.

Note: The soup can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered. Stir well before serving.

— From "Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious & Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants" by Ellen Brown (Running Press; 2014)

CUCUMBER-YOGURT SOUP

"When I think of the heat in Los Angeles Valley in August, I want to make this soup… even if it’s a snowy day in January on the East Coast. Unlike the seasonally available ingredients in many chilled soups, cucumbers are available year-round. So go ahead and indulge when the urge arises," co-author Tina Carr says.

5 medium cucumbers (about 2.5 pounds), divided

1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped, divided

2 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt, divided

1 scallion, green and white parts, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/4 bunch dill, plus 1/4 cup minced

Grated zest of half a lemon plus 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup ice-cold water, or cold vegetable broth, plus more as needed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Splash of hot sauce

Peel, seed, and roughly chop 4 cucumbers. Peel remaining cucumber. Cut it lengthwise, then seed and slice it into half-moons and set aside for garnish.

Add 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped cucumbers, 2 cups yogurt, scallion, garlic, mint, parsley, dill, lemon zest and juice, and water or broth in a stockpot. Using an immersion blender, blend until very smooth. Add additional chilled water as needed to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, or until thoroughly chilled.

To serve: Stir 1/2 cup of walnuts into the soup. Top with dill, a dollop of yogurt, finely sliced cucumber and 1/2 cup walnuts. Add a splash of hot sauce.

Makes 2 quarts.

— Adapted from "The Soup Club Cookbook" by Courtney Allison, Tina Carr, Caroline Laskow and Julie Peacock (Clarkson Potter; 2015)

OKROSHKA

You could serve 1 cup of chilled cooked beef along with the vegetables if you want to please meat-lovers.

4 hard-cooked eggs

2 medium boiled potatoes

2 medium cucumbers

4 small radishes

2 cups chopped mixed greens such as dill, parsley, green onion and fresh green garlic

6 cups chilled kefir (Kavsar uses its own traditional milk-based drink Airan)

Chilled water if you prefer a thinner soup

Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Finely dice eggs, potatoes, cucumbers and radishes. Chop greens. Mix everything in a bowl and pour chilled kefir over mixture. Add water to adjust consistency. Season with pepper and salt.

Serve immediately to preserve freshness of the ingredients.

Serves 4.

— From Kavsar Restaurant, Mount Washington

 

 


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