Chilled Soups—Summer Relief

June 9, 2009

Cold soup is a very tricky thing, and it is the rare hostess who can carry it off. More often than not, the dinner guest is left with the impression that had he only come a little earlier he could have gotten it while it was still hot.
~Fran Lebowitz

Oddly, I chose this cool, rainy, ruminative day to write about cold fare. But, our sultry and sometimes sweltering summer will soon swoop down, so now is the time to dust off and unveil some cold soups—and I do mean well chilled, not room temp.

The English cucumber makes a much superior choice of these green vegetal cylinders. After all, it handles the rigors of shipping well, appears in decent quantities and has such sweetly flavored flesh and skin that you can eat the entire vegetable. The flesh is smooth and refreshingly moist.

It is generally sold wrapped in plastic to reduce water loss, and so is usually not waxed as are other varieties. Contrary to popular belief, English cucumbers are not enitrely seedless, but the seeds are much smaller and less prominent. Cucumbers contain surprisingly high amounts of protein and vitamin B1 as well as an enzyme called erepsin, which aids in digesting protein.

Here is a trio of fresh and crisp chilled soups that soothe on those torrid days…

CHILLED ENGLISH CUCUMBER SOUP WITH DILL

1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onions
4 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/2″ slices
1 russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3 1/2 C chicken broth
4 large fresh dill fronds
6 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 t salt

1 cup crème fraîche
Thin smoked salmon slices, about 3″ long

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until slightly softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add cucumbers and potato; stir 1 minute. Add broth, dill fronds, and salt. Increase heat and bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until cucumbers and potato are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard dill fronds.

Working in batches, purée soup in processor until smooth. Return to pot and cool 30 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup crème fraîche and 4 tablespoons minced dill. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. Taste soup, adding more salt if desired.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls. Spoon a dollop of crème fraîche in the center of each bowl, and artfully arrange smoked salmon slices over the dollop. Lightly sprinkle with the remaining minced dill.

CHILLED ASPARAGUS SOUP

8 T unsalted butter
3 lbs fresh asparagus, bases snapped off and spears sliced in 1″ lengths
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 small spring onions or cippolinis, white part only, peeled and finely chopped

2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
1 qt chicken stock
1 qt vegetable stock

1 C tarragon leaves, stems removed and discarded
1 1/2 C spinanch, blanched, ice bathed and drained on paper towels
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 T Champagne vinegar

Crème fraîche
Caviar or salmon roe (optional)

Over medium heat, add butter to 1 large, heavy saucepan. Just when the butter has become foamy, add onion, spring onions and garlic. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Sweat mixture until soft and translucent, but not browned.

Add both stocks and potato to pan. Lightly season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until potatoes are tender. Once potatoes are tender, bring to a rolling boil and add the asparagus. Once the soup returns to a boil, reduce and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a large bowl and chill soup immediately in an ice bath.

In a food processor or blender, add tarragon and spinach to soup mixture and purée well in batches until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and champagne vinegar. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish each with a dollop of crème fraîche and a teaspoon of caviar or roe.

Pourboire: in lieu of crème fraîche and fish eggs, you may consider crumbling some fine goat cheese over the soup. More rustic, but no less flavorful.

CHILLED AVOCADO SOUP

4 ripe medium avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 C buttermilk
1 C plain organic yogurt
3 T fresh lime juice
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and diced
2 T chopped seeded jalepeño chili
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 C chicken broth

White pepper
Sea salt

Sour cream
Lime zest
Red chili pepper, finely minced

Place avocados into processor and add buttermilk and yogurt; purée until smooth. Mix in lime juice, red oninon, jalepeño and cayenne pepper and purée further. With machine running, blend in 1/2 cup chicken broth. Season with salt and white pepper. Chill soup until cold, about 4 hours.

Ladel soup into shallow bowls. Serve each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of lime zest and minced red chili pepper.

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