As temperatures soar along with cases of covid in U.S. hot spots, we craved something cold, something that would help us chill, so to speak. Our thoughts went straight to icy cold soups.
Cold comfort soups epitomize the yearnings of summer. They’re light, soothing, cool and easy to make. Preparing them keeps the heat out of the kitchen. In addition, they are a colorful savory or sweet bowlful of everything good that summer produce has to offer.
We are both reluctant to go to the grocery store, so we asked ourselves, where is the safest, best place during this pandemic to find the freshest ingredients that are the basis of most cold soups? If you don’t grow your own fruits and veggies as many of us do now, then head to your outdoor local farmer’s market. Don your mask, stay away from other shoppers, bring your own shopping tote and indulge. Think avocados, potatoes, corn, carrots, onions, asparagus, cucumbers, stone fruits, melons, beets, berries and on and on. With a few simple tricks, you can turn almost any fruit or veggie into the coolest soup such as Margaret and Barbara’s favorite, cold cucumber soup.
Tomato-based gazpacho, a piquant mix of flavors, tomatoes, onions, green papers, chilis, garlic—and variations such as using kale, peas, cucumber, grapes, watermelon, hazelnuts and grilled veggies, is among the most well-known of the cold soups. The possibilities of embellishing on the basic gazpacho recipe is almost endless. Vichyssoise, cold potato soup that is flavored with leeks and thickened with potatoes and heavy cream with a garnish of chopped chives, is another cold favorite as is borscht, cold beet soup laced with spices and typically topped with a dollop of sour cream. Think Dr. Zhivago and other Russian tales if you want some exotic soupy magic. In any of the dairy-based soups, yogurt or buttermilk may be used in lieu of heavy cream. For a dairy-free soup that is light, healthy and vegan, try chilled puree of carrot or mint pea soup or others that are diluted with water, wine or broth, and flavored with any herbs.
Then, there are the fruit soups such as rhubarb, strawberry, peach, watermelon or cantaloupe made with fruit, a little sugar, cinnamon, some white wine and other flavorings perhaps lemon, orange or lime juice. These are so refreshing. It’s akin to having dessert first, which Margaret admittedly loves. One way to prepare these, such as peach soup, would be to take peaches spiced with lemon juice, puree and lace with thick crème fraiche—or not—if you’re lactose intolerant or watching your calories.
Cold soup can be made ahead of time and gets better with time. All require minimal effort other than a little chopping, mixing with whatever ingredients you choose such as garlic, onion or other spices including fresh dill, tarragon, cilantro or thyme, blending with an immersion blender—a tool we greatly recommend--or food processing. You can decide on the texture: for smooth, thick soup, just turn on the blender or food processor and run with it. If you prefer chunks, put on pulse—this works best with a food processor—or do a hybrid, puree about half of the ingredients, chop the rest by hand and then combine. When served, the soup should be icy cold. However, bitter cold tends to mute the flavors. Easy fix, you can always adjust with more salt, fresh pepper, vinegar, lemon or other herbs. And for serving, consider traditional bowls or even shooters, if you just want to offer a little taste, which Barbara does around Thanksgiving with squash soup.
As we said, Margaret and Barbara’s favorite cold soup is tangy cold cucumber made with English cucumbers, the long ones that come wrapped in plastic and have no seeds. They’re also more expensive but not by that much. Take the ingredients, throw them in a blender and presto. It’s a blank canvas in the bowl just waiting to be topped with whatever accents you choose.
Like a house, a dish is only as sturdy as its foundation. So, here’s the basic cucumber soup recipe that we culled from Food & Wine magazine with four riffs of the original from Margaret and two of her St. Louis friends. Barbara weighed in with advice from her prior love of the soup, which she adored at a New York restaurant when younger and then at the now shuttered Balaban’s in St. Louis, a recipe which Margaret also adored. Finally, what’s key: Are you ready to chill?
Cold Cucumber Soup with Yogurt and Dill (from Food & Wine)
Serves : Makes 5 cups
By Andrew Zimmern
2 large European cucumbers (2 1/4 pounds), halved and seeded—1/2 cup finely diced, the rest coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup loosely packed dill
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons loosely packed tarragon leaves
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Fresh ground white pepper
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
How to Make It
In a blender, combine the chopped cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, dill, parsley, tarragon and the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Season the soup again just before serving. Pour the soup into bowls. Garnish with the finely diced cucumber, red onion and a drizzle of olive oil and serve.
Riff #1: Andi took the basic recipe but got creative with the garnish adding chives, diced cucumber, onion and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Riff #2: Margaret altered the recipe. Instead of 1 ½ cups of Greek yogurt, she did one cup of the yogurt and a ½ cup of crème fraiche to make it richer and added about 3/4ths of a cup of sliced blanched almonds (hazelnuts would be good too but she didn’t have any on hand) to give the soup a crunchy texture and nutty flavor.
Riff #3: Rena felt the basic recipe needed some hidden punch, so she added a dash of old bay seasoning. It was cold and yummy, perfect for dinner on a sizzling hot summer evening in St. Louis.
Rift #4: Barbara is not a yogurt fan, so she makes hers with buttermilk or heavy cream instead, depending on her guests’ diet preferences. She always garnishes with a bit more chopped dill and chopped chives.