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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 07:10 am

Chilled melon tomato soup

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I’ve been making this cold soup every summer for more than 25 years. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also incredibly easy and quick to make. There’s no cooking involved. Just cut up the ingredients, and purée in a blender or food processor. The original recipe came from the Elsah Landing Restaurant cookbook. In the 1980s and 90s, the little café, located in the tiny, picturesque Mississippi River town of Elsah, was hugely popular with visitors from the Greater St. Louis area as well as Edwardsville and surrounds. On weekends folks would stand in line for hours to enjoy their famous breads, soups and pies. The restaurant is no more, but its out-of-print cookbook has become a collector’s item: new copies are available through Amazon for over $72 (used copies are far less expensive).

I’ve made a few changes to the recipe over the years. The original calls for sour cream. I’ve substituted yoghurt, which makes the soup lighter and more refreshing, which is especially welcome in the warm weather in which this soup is most appropriate. While I often still use the original garnish of crisply fried bacon bits, I’ve found that the basic recipe lends itself to all sorts of improvised, mostly ethnic, delectable variations.

Note: Since tomatoes and melons are simultaneously at their peak, it might seem that it would be better to substitute fresh, pureed tomatoes for the canned juice. But my experience has shown that only canned tomato juice provides the right consistency.

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe
  • 1T. lemon juice, or to taste
  • 1/4 c. minced sweet onion
  • Heaping 1/2 c. peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, preferably white, or to taste
  • 1 c. plain yoghurt
  • 4 1/2 c. canned tomato juice
Scoop out enough cantaloupe to measure 2 c., pressing the flesh down in the measuring cup so that it’s packed solidly. Do this over a large bowl to catch the juices.

Put the cantaloupe and its juice in the container of an electric blender or food processor. Add the lemon juice, onion, cucumber, pepper and yoghurt and purée until completely smooth. Pour into a large container and whisk in the tomato juice. Check the seasoning and add a little more lemon juice, salt, pepper or other seasoning if desired. Chill thoroughly. (If all of the ingredients are chilled ahead of time, this can be served immediately.)

Serve in chilled bowls or glasses. Martini or margarita glasses are especially attractive. Sprinkle with whatever garnishes you choose – no more than a tablespoon or two –just before serving. Makes about 8 cups.

Variations

Note: All fresh herbs and other raw garnishes should be finely minced, diced, or thinly sliced.

American: Garnish with crisply fried bacon bits and scallions

Mexican: Substitute lime juice for lemon. Garnishes: toasted pepitas, chili powder, cilantro

Scandinavian: Garnishes: fresh dill, scallions, peeled, seeded and finely diced cucumber

Japanese: Add 1 T. soy sauce and 1 tsp. minced ginger to the soup base. Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil and one or more of the following: minced pickled ginger, toasted sesame seeds, and thin shreds of nori

Southeast Asian (Thai/Vietnamese) Use lime instead of lemon juice. Add 1 T. red, green or yellow Thai/Vietnamese curry paste or to taste, and fish sauce to taste to the soup base. Garnish with Thai or holy basil, mint, and cilantro.

Italian: Add 1 tsp. minced garlic and substitute balsamic vinegar for the lemon juice in the soup base. Garnish with basil.

Greek: Add 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. cinnamon to the soup base. Garnish with fresh mint, oregano, and/or marjoram

Spanish: Substitute sherry vinegar for lemon juice; garnish with a sprinkle of smoked Spanish paprika and a skewer of green olives.
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