by Margaret Mendel
Mid summer, when heat feels the most unforgiving and cooking is the last thing on my mind, I fall back on cold soups.
Soups have always been special to me, whether hot or cold. They seem a bit like alchemy. The mere boiling of bones in water produces a rich flavorful broth. Long simmered legumes result in a hearty, starchy meal that could be enjoyed in a common everyday household or a dish elegant enough for a princess. Cooking vegetables with meat in a cauldron of water has long been a mainstay in cookery.
There are even fables revolving around soup. One of my favorite tales is called Stone Soup. The story starts with a hungry stranger arriving in a village who convinces the villagers that he can make a soup out of nothing but a stone. He throws the stone into a pot of simmering water. After a short while he tastes the stone and water concoction and says, “Hmm, it needs something. Perhaps a couple of carrots would improve the flavor.”
One of the villagers, curious to see what a stone soup would taste like, goes to his house and returns with a handful of carrots. “See if this helps,” the villager says.
Other villagers fascinated by the possibility of making soup from only a stone, also contribute something to the simmering concoction. The consequence of all this involvement is a very tasty meal that everyone can enjoy.
The moral of this story, and after all what is a fable without a moral, is the value of sharing. Stories such as this one can be found throughout many cultures. Japan, Indonesia, Greece and Armenia all have similar stories. Some tales call it wood soup, axe soup, or nail soup, but they all have the same moral focus with soup teaching the value of sharing.
Earlier this spring I began researching soups seeking as wide a variety of cold soups as I could find. Every year the summers seem to be getting hotter and I wanted to be ready for those long steamy days, but I got a little lost in my research, as often happens when reading through my recipe books and I found something called pocket soup. This was an early version of dehydrated food and was considered a portable soup. It had been a long-time staple for seamen and explorers. Lewis and Clark carried a couple hundred pounds of pocket soup as they trekked through the wilderness. Basically, it was meat with bones, including cow feet, that had been cooked until it became a thick and glutinous consistency. The fat was rendered to keep the mixture from going rancid. The end product was further processed until it became a dry mass that could be cut into cubes that were perfect to carry on long journeys.No matter how many varieties of soup I discover, either hot or cold, Gazpacho is probably my favorite soup. It can be made as a mild, cooling midday meal or the flavor of the soup can be ramped up by adding a few more veggies and chili peppers, and, voila it is turned into a hearty, spicy dinner. There is even a National Gazpacho Day, December 6. Don’t ask me why such a hearty cold soup would have a National celebration in the middle of winter, but at least it has a day of recognition. It is believed that Columbus secured many barrels of this soup on his exploratory voyages.
Gazpacho is fundamentally a rustic tomato-based soup containing diced and thinly sliced vegetables. There are no rules in making this soup and it is frequently referred to as a liquid salad. Any vegetable is fair game to enhance the flavor of this soup. Cucumbers, carrots, peas and even cabbage can easily transform this dish into an extra ordinary meal. Garnishes for the soup can also vary. Bacon, hardboiled eggs, chopped pieces of ham or a dollop of sour cream can all be used as toppings. It all comes down to what you have available in the kitchen. The only limit to this soup is your imagination.
Another one of my favorite cold soups is a Chilled Mushroom and Lemon Soup. It is a light creamy soup with thinly sliced mushrooms that are marinated in the rind and juice of lemons, along with crushed garlic and fresh herbs. The interesting thing about cooking with mushrooms is that they can both impart a strong flavor of their own while at the same time, these delicious fungi can take on the essence of other ingredients.
Even fruit can be made into a cold soup and either be eaten as an appetizer, served at lunch or consumed at the end of a meal with perhaps a crisp cookie and maybe a glass of sherry. My preferred fruit soup on a hot and steamy evening is Watermelon Soup. It is refreshing even before it is turned into a light fare, so it becomes even more delightful when mixed with a bit of lemon, fresh mint and a slight addition of your sweetener of choice.
3 garlic cloves
1 Red Bell pepper
1 Yellow Bell pepper
1 can peeled tomatoes (800 grams)
a pinch of Cumin
5 or 6 basil leaves
1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
4 Tablespoons Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Parsley leaves for garnish
Slices of avocado for garnish
Peel the garlic and onion, chop coarsely. Finely dice one half of the cucumber and chop the rest coarsely. Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. Chop half of peppers finely and chop the rest coarsely.
Puree all the coarsely chopped vegetables, onion, garlic, peeled tomatoes, cumin, basil and vinegar in a blender and process. Then when the mixture looks to be nearly the desired consistency, turn the blender to slow and drizzle in the Olive oil. When the Olive oil is incorporated, turn off the blender and pour mixture into a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Add the remaining finely diced vegetables and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, if not longer.
Serve with a few parsley leaves and slices of avocado. A dollop of sour cream atop the bright red bowl of soup can also be a nice addition.
COLD MUSHROOM AND LEMON SOUP
1 lb. Mushrooms, wiped clean
2 Lemons, grated rind and juice
1 clove garlic skinned and crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme
4 cups Chicken or vegetable stock
2/3 cup heavy cream (or vegan substitute)
a few sprigs of parsley for garnish
Reserve 2 mushrooms for garnish and roughly chop the remainder. Put mushrooms in a bowl and marinate with lemon rind and juice, garlic, seasoning and herbs for at least 3 hours, stirring the mixture occasionally.
When marinating time is complete, pour mushrooms, marinade and stock into a blender, process to a semi smooth consistency. Stir in heavy cream (or vegan substitute) and adjust the seasoning.
Chill the soup well before serving. Garnish with remaining mushrooms that have been thinly sliced and a sprinkle of parsley leaves.
4 cups cubed seeded watermelon
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 Tablespoon sweetener of choice
Blend watermelon, lemon juice, mint, and sweetener (if needed) in a blender until smooth.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
If this soup is served as a light midday meal, a small bit of crumbled feta or goat cheese will add a slight, but delightful, heartiness to the meal.
On the other hand, when serving as a dessert, the addition of a tablespoon of Rum or Tequila will bring a charming end to the evening’s meal.