Seasons by the Sea: Chill Out!
What kind of meals do we like to prepare this time of year? The kind that are easy, the kind that don’t heat up the kitchen, the kind that are fast. What does that mean? Three things: barbecuing outdoors, salads, and cold soups.
The cold soups we are probably most familiar with are vichyssoise, gazpacho, and borschts. Vichyssoise and borscht can be served both hot and cold. But there are so many more cold soups from around the world, and, surprisingly, as many from cold countries as there are from hot. Scandinavians love their cold fruit soups as an appetizer or dessert. From Lithuania there is saltibarsciai, a refreshing buttermilk, beet, and herb concoction.
If you have a blender, Vitamix, or food processor, you can make cold soups instantly with minimal prep. Do you like them smooth and creamy or thick and chunky? Blend accordingly. I like smooth, silky soups, and I like to top them with crunchy, chunky bits like homemade croutons, frizzled pancetta or prosciutto, and cubes of the vegetables contained in the soup. A lot of recipes call for straining the soups after blending, but I like to keep the fiber and texture and vitamins of the whole vegetables.
When making a cold soup, it is important to remember that it should be served ice cold, which can dull the flavors somewhat. Therefore you should be generous with the salt, add some acid in the form of mild vinegar or citrus, and perhaps add some additional sweetness, such as halved grapes as a garnish for gazpacho. Also keep in mind compatible flavors. For instance, for a cold corn soup, make a quick chive or basil oil for drizzling on top. Or just buy pesto and add a tablespoon of that to each bowl. For fresh green pea soup, add some spearmint. Also, there is no shame in using frozen peas! Carrots and butternut squash soups are divine with fresh ginger. Your soup can be rich and creamy, topped with sour cream or yogurt, or pure and light and vegan.
In Jose Andres’s book “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America,” Mr. Andres shares his wife, Tichi’s, recipe for gazpacho. The soup is strained after being pureed, the condiments of halved cherry tomatoes, petals of pearl onions, croutons, and cucumber cubes are put into a shallow, chilled bowl, and the soup is poured over. It is then drizzled with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and sprinkled with chives. There is also a recipe in the book for almond, garlic, and grape gazpacho that is a bit more labor-intensive, but is one of the best cold soups I’ve ever tried. This ajo bianco is the grandfather of red gazpacho. The bread, water, and garlic combination was served to the people working in the fields in the hot sun of southern Spain. When the Moors introduced almonds, this added extra nutrition and flavor to the soup.
Vichyssoise was supposedly introduced by the chef Louis Diat of the Ritz Hotel in New York in 1942. It was originally called “creme vichyssoise glacée” (frozen vichyssoise cream), inspired by his home region.
For added nutrition, you can add raw cashews or nut milk to cold corn soup or find some fresh local buttermilk for a cucumber soup. Zucchini and other overflowing bounty from your garden and farmsteads can be turned into a chilled refreshing soup. Top any of these with some jumbo lump crabmeat for a grand starter.
The possibilities truly are endless. Sprinkle a cold squash soup with zatar. The local organic olive oil company, Arlotta (available at all of the farmer’s markets, some I.G.A.s and gourmet stores) makes flavored oils like garlic, blood orange, lemon, basil, and hot chili. I have all of them. Try the hot chili oil on avocado soup or gazpacho, the lemon or blood orange on pea or melon soups.
You almost don’t need recipes, just adjust the seasonings, richness, and flavors to your liking.
Now let’s not get cooking!