Ahhh, how about a nice big bowl of soothing cantaloupe soup? Or chilling, literally, with a cup of spicy gazpacho, one of the finest legacies from Andalusian Spain?
For most Canadians, chilled soup is an oxymoron that sounds, well, moronic. Maybe something you'd try on holidays at some exotic resort, but nothing you'd whip up at home.
So let's change all that, my friends. Given the glorious, local fresh produce hitting our farmers' markets and grocery stores, and with global warming feeling more like global scorching lately, you can make a full-on summer supper with cold soups for the main course and dessert without touching a stove or bar-b.
Cold soups are cool. In fact, as "outsider-ish" as they are, they can be game changers. Celebrity chef/bad boy Anthony Bourdain pegs the start of his career on one sublime moment: eating vichyssoise. In his tell-them-all-off book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, he describes how it was vichyssoise served to his preciously dressed fourth-grade self on the Queen Mary that launched his interest in the wider possibilities of food.
Bourdain can still recall the crunch of the chopped chive garnish and the rich, creamy taste of potato and leek. But it was the "pleasurable shock" of its coldness that impacted him most.
Not that it changed me into a celebrity chef, but I would similarly cast my first taste of vichyssoise four decades ago as the outstanding pleasure of a magnificent lunch at the venerable Top of the Mark on San Francisco's Nob Hill. This prairie girl from Edmonton had never been so engaged by a bowl of soup.
My first taste of gazpacho was also a stunner. It happened at the little restaurant next to the Frontón Jai Alai Palace in Tijuana, Mexico, not far from where the Caesar salad was born. Another delight on all levels — taste, sensation, satisfaction.
If I've piqued your interest in the pleasures of chilled soups, here are some friendly introductions. Vary textures by adding a crisp salad and some snappy flatbreads or crackers, and enjoy Campbell's soup's cool counterpoint without breaking a sweat.
Spicy and chill, Mexican style
There are about as many ways of making gazpacho as there are kitchens, but my first experience, as mentioned above, was a full-on Mexican one. Gazpacho originated in Andalusia as a white-coloured soup made from stale bread with nary a whiff of tomatoes to be found. This recipe below is from Olga, my wonderful Mexican ex-neighbour in San Diego. Easy to make. Best served next day.
3 lb. (6 c.) fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
1/2 c. green pepper chunks
1/2 c. cucumber chunks
2 cups tomato juice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. good olive oil
1/4 c. white wine vinegar
To peel the tomatoes, blanche them by pouring boiling water over them. Let them stand a minute, then cool with cold water and the skins will easily peel away. In a blender or food processor, combine the first four ingredients until they are smooth, then transfer to a large bowl. Add juice, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Cover and chill well, overnight if possible. Before serving, stir in olive oil and vinegar. Serve cold, with 1/2 c. finely chopped green onion, 1/2 c. finely chopped green pepper and 1/2 c. croutons, preferably homemade, as garnishes. Serves 8.
A cool classic
The origins of vichyssoise aren't quite as clear as gazpacho's. Some people question whether it's French or the creation of New York chef, Louis Diat, who served it up at the Ritz-Carlton in 1917, naming it after his hometown of Vichy. Again, there about as many recipes for vichyssoise as there are cooks. We've made this classic from Gourmet and love it.
Crème vichyssoise glacée
Slice very finely 1 medium onion and the white parts of 4 leeks. Sauté the vegetables in 2 tbsp. of butter until they just begin to turn brown. Add 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced, 1 quart of chicken broth or water (or both) and 1 tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 35-40 minutes. Rub the mixture through a fine sieve and return to the heat, adding 2 cups milk and 2 cups light cream. Season to taste and bring the soup to a boil. Cool it and rub it through a very fine sieve, or a regular sieve will do. When it's cold, add 1 cup of heavy (whipping) cream. Serve in cups with those finely chopped chives Bourdain still remembers. Serves 8.
My husband grew up on fruit soups his mom learned to make from her mom in Poland. The rest of the Canadian-Polish community in 1960s Vancouver loved fruit soups, too — tart surprises based on fresh blueberries, blackberries, raspberries or apples, whatever was in season, with a splash of cream as counterpoint. This easy variation from Carol Gelles' 1000 Vegetarian Recipes makes a memorable start or end to a summer meal.
4 c. cut-up cantaloupe
1 c. orange juice
1 tbsp. fresh minced ginger or 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
In a 2-quart saucepan bring the cantaloupe, juice and ginger to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Process in a blender or food processor until smooth. Chill. Serves 4. Try adding 1-2 tbsp. of good rum.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist whose cattle dog loved cold soup.