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Thursday, June 28, 2018 12:01 am

Hot summer, cold soups

Cold borscht
Photo by Ashley Meyer


As I write this, I’ve just come in from the garden, and it’s so hot outside that by 10 a.m. the morning sun was beating down, and even in the shade, sweat was freely running into my eyes. I’d started garden chores early in the day, knowing that by lunchtime I wanted to be inside and away from the blazing early summer heat. My morning had been spent weeding, pulling out the bolted lettuces and snap pea vines that had expired in the heat and wrangling a tomato forest that threatened to exceed the limits of the raised bed it was planted in.

My energy is pretty much spent for the day, and I’m enjoying the quiet of my cool dark house, still silent because the rest of the family is outside, not yet driven in by the heat. I’m also looking forward to lunch. I discovered a while back that the key to simultaneously productive and relaxing weekends (and let’s face it, life) is planning. Summer days are long but fleeting and, as much as I love to cook, I don’t want to spend my afternoons pottering about making supper. I want time to play with my family, work in the garden and enjoy all the deliciousness that it provides while lounging on my patio with minimal expenditure of effort.

The day before, I’d gone out to the garden to dump some compost and pull a couple of green onions and, true to form, I returned dirty and sweaty an hour later with a giant basket of beets. The green onions I was after had been planted alongside a patch of beets that was ready to come out, and before I knew it I was pulling away. Once inside with the beets I decided there was no time like the present to wrap them in foil and roast them all. Most would be pickled and canned, but a few went into a batch of cold borscht that would be today’s lunch.

Cold soups are as much a joy on a hot summer night as a bowl of hearty stew is on a snowy winter one. Nourishing, hydrating and refreshing, they range from delicate and creamy types like classic French vichyssoise (cold potato leek soup), rich minted pea soup, buttermilk soup and elegant cauliflower soup with brown butter to lively and bright soups like classic Spanish gazpacho, made with garden cucumbers and tomatoes, thickened with rustic bread and sharpened by sherry vinegar and garlic. 

These soups perk up wilted diners like a blast of air conditioning and make smart use of bountiful summer produce. Because they require some chilling time to be truly refreshing and cold, they compel cooks to prepare ahead, making them perfect supper fare for both busy and lazy afternoons.

Pair these soups with avocado toast or some grilled bruschetta for a solid meal.  Many are delicious topped with proteins like shrimp or smoked salmon, or chickpeas.  Most of these soups will freeze beautifully, the exception being potato based soups, which can take on a mealy texture after freezing.

Classic gazpacho

• 2 cups day-old rustic bread cubes
• 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
• 2-3 cloves garlic
• 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks
• ½ green bell pepper, cut into chunks  
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
• 1 cup cold water
• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
• salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
• additional cucumber cut into small dice and chopped parsley for garnish

Combine the first eight ingredients in the jar of a blender (you may need to do this in batches) and process until smooth. With the blender running, drizzle in the olive oil slowly to emulsify it into the soup. Depending on your blender, you may want to pour the finished soup through a fine-meshed sieve to achieve a perfectly smooth texture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. You may want to add a pinch of sugar or an additional touch of vinegar to balance the flavors. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours, then serve topped with diced cucumber, chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cold borscht
• 2 pounds beets, scrubbed (reserve tops for another use)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic
• 6 cups water
• juice of 2 lemons
• salt and pepper to taste
• minced scallions and dill for garnish
• sour cream or Greek yogurt, for serving
• 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into small dice for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets on a large piece of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Fold the foil over the beets and crimp the edges to make a sealed pillow. Place on a tray and roast in the oven for about an hour, until beets are tender. When beets are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins (reserve the deep purple liquid that will have accumulated in the foil pouch). Cut half of the beets into small dice and reserve, and place the other half in the bowl of a blender. Add the reserved beet cooking liquid, garlic cloves, water and lemon juice to the blender and process until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the diced beets to the pureed beet mixture and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve in bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and a sprinkle of the diced cucumber and chopped herbs.

Chilled buttermilk soup with shrimp
• 4 cups chilled buttermilk or kefir
• 1 tablespoon dry mustard
• salt and pepper to taste  
• ½ cup minced herbs, such as parsley, chives, mint or dill
• 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into small dice
• 1 pound cooked shrimp

Combine the buttermilk, mustard and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the diced cucumber and shrimp.

Contact Ashley Meyer at ashley@realcuisine.net.


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