With the mercury soaring, the heavy, rich stews and soups of winter are a distant memory. But don’t cross soups off your summertime meal planning altogether.
Chilled soups can be a healthy, refreshing change of pace to back yard barbecues and are perfect for those days when it’s too hot to eat much of anything.
They are a great way to use summer’s bounty of garden fresh produce. Vine-ripened tomatoes, prolific zucchini, colorful peppers and fresh herbs all lend themselves to beautiful soups. How about a refreshing cucumber gazpacho after a hot day in the garden?
Jeremy Hansen, owner of Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie, regularly includes one or two cold soups on his menu.
“I love them because they’re just refreshing, especially when it’s 95 degrees. It just makes sense,” he said.
Recently, his menu included a chilled Crenshaw melon soup with rhubarb sauce.
“Customers love it,” Hansen said. “They just gobble it up.”
Fresh and healthy
Sylvia Wilson, owner of Feast Catering and former owner of Mizuna, likes cold soups because they are a great way to use fresh garden produce.
“They are so easy to make and really fresh. I feel healthy when I eat them,” she said.
Many of the soups can be prepared without cooking, which Wilson believes is more nutritious. They can also be made nonfat without sacrificing flavor.
“Use what you have in your garden,” Wilson advises. “I’m inspired by colors when I look at gardens.”
For a bright color and flavor combination, use yellow tomatoes and roasted yellow bell peppers, she suggests.
“Most people who have a garden have everything they need,” says Wilson. “The fun part is experimenting – having a basic idea and playing with it.”
Santé’s Hansen agrees that fresh produce is the key. “Look around, talk to farmers, see what’s out there,” he said.
When selecting melons for a summer soup, make sure they are ripe and free from blemishes.
Hansen adds a little salt to his fruit soups: “Not a lot, it’s not salty – just to bring the flavors out.”
Tips on texture
Both Hansen and Wilson agree that texture is a key element to making a memorable chilled soup.
Hansen includes champagne or sparkling water in some of his soups to give them a little more depth. He garnishes all of his cold soups with crème fraîche, an aged, thickened cream.
“It always works, it smoothes out the texture and brings it all together,” he said. Make sure to stir the soup before serving, as sometimes the ingredients separate.
Wilson often uses her food processor to make chilled soups.
“I use the pulse button to control the texture,” she said, as many of her soups are meant to be chunky.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can puree half of the ingredients in the blender and dice some by hand to achieve the desired consistency.
Wilson also recommends adding silken tofu (the vacuum-packed kind, not fresh) to blended soups. It can be used in place of cream, and gives soups a creamy richness without a lot of added fat.
Top it off right
Hansen likes to garnish his soups with one or two different sauces, which add to the visual appeal and make the soups more complex.
Sometimes he also includes an internal garnish. For example, a pureed fruit soup might include whole blueberries for texture. Or a crispy topping might be added to a savory soup.
Wilson likes to use edible flowers such as pansies, nasturtiums and chive blossoms as garnish. Often, she’ll use fresh herbs.
“Make sure to match the garnish to the soup,” she advises. If the soup includes dill, she’ll garnish it with a fresh sprig of dill on top.
Here are some chilled soup recipes to try at home.
Chilled Melon Soup with Rhubarb Gastrique
Courtesy of Jeremy Hansen, Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie, who recommends using local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
1 ½ pounds seeded and peeled melon of choice (Crenshaw, honeydew, cantaloupe)
1 cup ice
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne (optional, to taste)
Rhubarb Gastrique (recipe follows)
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Blend the ingredients in a blender, starting with a small amount and adding the rest in increments. Blend well for 5 minutes. Chill in refrigerator for 4 hours.
Yield: 4 servings
This thick fruit reduction is served on top of the melon soup as a garnish. In place of rhubarb, you can use peaches, plums, nectarines, pomegranate, cucumber, carrots or anything you think will go with your melon of choice.
4 rhubarb stems, chopped
2 cups sugar
4 cups water
½ cup apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all ingredients together. Place in sauce pot and bring to a light simmer. Simmer on low for 45 minutes (do not stir; this might cause the sauce to crystallize on the side of the pan).
Strain and discard pulp. Cool 1 hour in refrigerator.
If gastrique is too thin, slowly cook out more of the water on a slow simmer. Wet the sides of the sauce pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to dissolve the sugar crystals and keep the sauce smooth.
If it is too thick, add water a teaspoon at a time while syrup is hot.
Yield: About ¾ cup
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho with Fennel and Tarragon
Courtesy of Sylvia Wilson, Feast Catering
1 garlic clove, finely diced
1 fennel bulb, finely diced
3 cups diced heirloom tomatoes (any colors)
1 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced cucumber
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (plus more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1 package tarragon (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup your choice of: dill, basil, mint or parsley (optional)
1/4 cup oil
1 cup tomato juice
If you have a food processor, process the garlic, fennel, tomatoes, onion and cucumber by pulsing to reach a fine dice. Reserve 1/3 of the diced mixture and add the rest of the ingredients; pulse some more. Pour into a container and add the reserved diced mixture for a little texture. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
If you are using a blender, dice the first 5 ingredients by hand. Blend the rest of the ingredients in the blender. Add 1/2 of the diced mixture and lightly blend, then add the remaining diced mixture and chill.
Tip: Adding a dash of vinegar to soups (chilled or warm) brings a little brightness to the flavor. It also helps preserve the soup a little longer if you want to keep it a few days in the fridge.
Yield: 6 (1-cup) servings.
Courtesy of Sylvia Wilson, who says: “Cucumbers possess a natural cooling effect. Their high water content is a nice way to stay hydrated during hot summer months.” Keep this soup in the fridge for up to three days.
1 English cucumber (skin on), cut into medium chunks
1 package fresh dill (3/4 ounce or about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup fresh mint
3 (6-ounce) containers plain yogurt (low-fat, nonfat Greek style or soy)
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-cracked pepper
1/2 cup water
Dash of rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Optional: To give the soup a little more richness, add 1/2 cup sour cream.
Place cucumber, herbs and scallions in food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients. Process until smooth, or leave a little chunky if you prefer. Chill at least 1 hour and keep in fridge until ready to serve.
If you don’t have a food processor, finely dice cucumber, herbs and scallions and set aside. Place the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add herbs, scallions and half of diced cucumber, blend lightly. Pour into large bowl and add rest of cucumber, mix and chill.
Yield: 6 (1-cup) servings.
Grilled Zucchini Arugula Soup
Courtesy of Sylvia Wilson
1 pound zucchini (about 3 medium-size)
1 sweet onion (about 1 cup cooked)
1 cup packed fresh arugula
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup water
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup plain yogurt (optional)
Slice zucchini in half lengthwise, cut off ends, brush with olive oil and grill over medium heat until tender. Slice onion to 1/2 inch-thickness, brush with olive oil and grill until tender. Chill in refrigerator about 20 minutes.
Blend zucchini and onion with the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Zucchini and onion can also be roasted in the oven or sautéed, but grilling them gives a nice, smoky flavor.
Yield: 6 (1-cup) servings.