Chilled soup kind of seems like an oxymoron. A wintry, warming bowl of soup has fragrant steam wafting up, heightening your anticipation as you crumble a few crackers and pick up a spoon, right? It’s also pretty unappealing on a hot sticky day. So, if you have always thought of soups as cold weather fare, you are missing out on a fabulous summer meal. Many of your favorite vegetables and fruits are at their best right now, and will shine in a simple, light cold soup.
Cold soups are served all over the world, with delightfully exotic names like vichyssoise (potato and leek soup), Gazpacho (traditionally made with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers), Bisque (a thick cream soup, hot or cold), and Sopa de Aguacate (Mexican avocado soup.) Cold soups can be divided into two major types: the creamy and the not creamy. They are simple enough to make and are highly adaptable, so it's easy to take advantage of what's in season now or what you happen to have in your refrigerator.
Creamy soups include the classic French vichyssoise, which in its original rendition was made with heavy cream, but doesn’t have to be. Since it doesn’t have to be heated, yogurt or buttermilk can stand-in and lighten the soup considerably.
Creamy chilled soups are smooth and savory or sweet. Starting with a vegetable that can be pureed will give you a natural thickener, as with the potatoes in vichyssoise. But be sure to explore beyond the potato; everything from zucchini to carrots can be cooked and pureed. What makes it a savory soup is the addition of sautéed onions, spices, stock, or other deeper flavors. Leeks, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, peas, beets, and just about anything you have can be cooked until soft and pureed for a cool soup. For a little more body, potatoes or sweet potatoes, cooked beans, or creamy cheeses can meld with your other ingredients, and make the soup more of a meal. Some uncooked savory soups can be concocted from items like avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach or soft leafy herbs like watercress or basil. Just puree and add cream, milk, buttermilk or yogurt to make it as creamy as you would like.
You can also explore fruit soups, which can be sweet or savory. I know that when those precious strawberries, cherries, peaches and melons are at their peak, you probably just eat them unadorned, but soup is a delicious option for summer's bounty. Instead of blueberry buttermilk cake, a beautiful blueberry buttermilk soup can show off that sweet-tart flavor in spoonable form, and you don’t have to turn on the oven! A lush puree of brilliant fruit is perfectly complemented by the creamy tartness of buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream or other fermented dairy. A zing of citrus zest also adds a nice complement to the sweet fruit. Just about any fruit will be delicious with fresh mint, but don’t stop there. Go tropical with mango, cilantro and lime, which would be tasty with avocado and even a spark of chile to really bring out the flavors. A splash of wine or fruity liquor gives a soup a decidedly grown-up twist.
If you'd prefer to go dairy-free, there are lots of great options, as well. All your non-dairy milk favorites can be whipped into a cold soup. Puree some blanched almonds or raw cashews until very smooth, or add almond or soy milk. Coconut milk is a decadent and delicious creamy soup base, and perfect with tropical or Asian flavors. Carrots pureed with ginger and coconut milk can be a simple soup, or you can take it further by adding curry and dramatic citrus flavors. A block of silken tofu can puree to sumptuous smoothness, and when it's combined with an equal or larger amount of veggies or fruit, those who are tofu averse are unlikely to notice its presence. Avocados also add a plant-based creaminess to any pureed soup, just be sure to add some lemon or lime to keep it from browning.
If you are not in the mood for creaminess, there are all kinds of great veggie-centric cold soups. Just the variations on gazpacho alone can keep you busy (typically it has lots of diced cucumber, peppers and tomatoes floating in a slightly tart tomato and bread puree, but there are many variations). Roasted red or yellow peppers and a few cooked white beans, pureed and thinned with stock, can be seasoned with Italian herbs like basil and oregano, or take a turn for the Southwest with cumin and chiles. Just aim for a flavorful liquid instead of cream, and puree some of the veggies or fruit for a thicker texture.
All chilled soups call out for garnishes, which can be used to make them into more of a meal. Floating some cooked shrimp, cooked shredded chicken, or crumbled soft cheese on a bowl of cold soup gives it the protein heft that you might crave. Toasted nuts or croutons can add some crunchy texture and make a light soup more filling. It’s classic to swirl some yogurt or sour cream into many cold soups, making your colors pop and giving you a decadent contrast or complement. Of course, fresh herbs are always appropriate, whether a sprig of mint in a watermelon soup, or a pile of shredded basil on a cold tomato bisque.
Summer's bounty of colorful fresh and flavorful ingredients will make your cold soups as pretty as they are delicious.