Chilling Out — With Soup

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Cold carrot soup garnished with cilantro.

Photo credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Down in Andalucia, in the steamy south of Spain, no family refrigerator worth its size is without a tall glass pitcher of gazpacho, the ubiquitous tomato-based cold soup that defines the summer season. But with the wretched tomato crop we’re experiencing in the Northeast (rainy, foggy, chilly until just a few days ago –guaranteed not to put the bloom of ripe flavor on those hard, pale tennis balls), I’ve had to turn elsewhere for inspirational cold soups.

Fortunately, my daughter the chef has come up with a couple of dazzlers at her New York hole-in-the-wall mini-restaurant Porchetta. When the sidewalks of New York are hot enough to fry eggs, Sara serves chilled soup–sweet, tart, piquant, depending on the main ingredient–along with the roasted-pork sandwiches that have brought such fame to her joint.

Note that with cold soups, as with any cold food, the flavor depends on freshness. The carrot soup, for instance, is terrific with fresh, sweet carrots from the farmers market (or your own garden), lightly garnished with cilantro and lime; if you make this with supermarket carrots, built to withstand transcontinental shipment, the flavor needs a big boost from the other ingredients–more ginger, more lime, more cilantro.

Some people like a really creamy soup, a velouté; others prefer soups with a bit of texture. A blender works best for the creamiest although you have to work in batches. For extra elegance, restaurant chefs then pass the soup through a chinois, a conical fine-mesh sieve available in good kitchen supply shops and online. (They cost $15.95 to $90 but the latter includes a handy stand and a pestle for pushing the stuff through). A chinois is not at all necessary for us mortals, however.

These soups are terrific as first courses, but they’re also great to keep in the fridge, like that Andalucian gazpacho, for a quick, healthful snack in the middle of a hot summer afternoon.

I’m experimenting with a different way of writing recipes these days, one I hope that is a bit more user-friendly than the dry, formulaic method I learned years ago at The New York Times. I write these with the assumption that anyone who cooks will have on hand salt, pepper, good extra-virgin olive oil, butter, etc., so I don’t even bother listing those ingredients.

 

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Photo credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

 

Cold Carrot Soup with Cilantro and Lime

You will need a couple of leeks or fresh spring onions, a pound or more of carrots, fresh ginger, a lime or two to juice and a handful of minced cilantro.

Trim the tough green parts away from the leeks and slice the tender white stalks. (In the absence of leeks, substitute fresh onions, the kind that have not yet been dried, without the papery outer layer of skin.) Rinse thoroughly to get rid of any sand, then throw them in a soup kettle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (extra-virgin, naturally) and a pinch of salt, and set over low heat.

Sweat out the leeks—meaning stir them occasionally over low heat until they have melted into a soft mass, but don’t let them get brown. (You can add a little hot water to the leeks, if necessary, to keep them from browning.)

While the leeks are cooking, scrape and cut about a pound of carrots into chunks. Toss the carrots in with the softened leeks, along with boiling water to cover (no chicken stock because you really want the sweetness of the carrots to dominate).

After 20 to 30 minutes, when the carrots should be tender enough to crush with a fork, turn the whole thing into a blender or food processor, along with an inch or so of fresh ginger that you’ve peeled and chopped fine.

Purée until it’s as smooth as you like, adding the juice of a lime, then set in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. When you’re ready to serve the soup, taste it and add more lime juice if you wish. Stir in the minced cilantro, reserving a little to sprinkle over the top.

This should make 6 servings.

 

Cold Corn Soup with Green Chile

This soup really should be puréed in a blender. It will never be perfectly smooth because of the tough outer husks of each little kernel. But if you strain it through a wire-mesh sieve, the kind we all have tucked away somewhere in a kitchen cabinet, it will be smooth enough for most purposes and you won’t need to invest in an expensive chinois.

You will need a half dozen ears of corn, a couple of green chile peppers (jalapeño or serrano is a good choice), a half-cup of cream if you wish, a cup or more of plain, whole-milk yogurt (or low-fat if you prefer) and some fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, chives, basil, thyme, lovage are all good choices) for a garnish.

Scrape the kernels off of about six ears of fresh corn, using a spoon or a table knife to get all the milky bits out. This should give you between 4 and 5 cups of corn. Set that aside and sweat out a couple of fat leeks or fresh onion in oil or butter, or a combination of the two — stirring them occasionally over low heat until they have melted into a soft mass, but don’t let them get brown.

Once the leeks are thoroughly softened, stir in the corn kernels and one of the chiles, trimmed and chopped. Add some salt and boiling water to cover and let the corn cook until it is done. How long is that? Not more than 20 minutes but you can tell by tasting–if the kernels still have a little crunch and a raw, green flavor, then it hasn’t cooked enough.

Take the soup off the heat and let it cool a bit, then purée it in a blender (you’ll have to do this in batches). As you purée the soup, add the cream if you wish and then some of the yogurt, tasting as you go along. When it’s done, strain the purée through a wire-mesh sieve into a bowl, then set the bowl in the refrigerator.

Taste the soup again when you’re ready to serve. It may need more salt or more yogurt. Serve the soup with the minced fresh herbs on top.

For a more substantial garnish, saute a couple of ounces of prosciutto or serrano ham, cut into half-inch-wide slivers, until it’s as crisp as bacon, then break the strips up and scatter on top of each bowl.

This should make enough for 8 servings.

 

Cantaloupe-Melon Gazpacho

This is another of Sara’s cold soups, from “Olives & Oranges,” by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Based on the Italian idea of prosciutto and melon, this one carries the added hot-weather pleasure of requiring no cooking at al–at last, something to serve to friends who’ve become raw food addicts.

You’ll need about 3 pounds of fresh ripe cantaloupe—one big one or several smaller ones — a cucumber, a couple of shallots, a little aged sherry vinegar, a cup of plain yogurt (low-fat if you wish),  some dried chiles to crush, or ground red chili powder, and some slivered matchsticks of prosciutto or serrano ham for a garnish.

Peel and seed the cantaloupe and the cucumber and cut them into chunks. Finely mince the shallots. Add all of this to the jar of a blender, with a couple of tablespoons of vinegar and a pinch of salt. Purée until it’s very smooth.

You should have about 4 cups in the blender jar. That’s too much to work with comfortably so tip half of that into a bowl that will go in the refrigerator. Add the yogurt to what remains in the blender jar and purée again. As you do so, slowly but steadily add 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a thin stream. (If this seems like a lot of olive oil, as it did to me the first time I made this, be of good cheer—it really does work together.) In the end you should have a creamy, unctuous liquid that you will now combine in the bowl with the part you set aside earlier. Refrigerate until the soup is well chilled, then taste and add more salt or another spoonful of vinegar.

If you have a few whole dried red chiles–Spanish ones called ñoras are good for this, but ancho chiles will do as well–toast the peppers in a dry frying pan until they’re crisp, then break them open, shake the seeds out and chop or crush the peppers in a spice grinder. Serve the soup in bowls, each one garnished with the crushed peppers (or ground red chili powder) and the matchsticks of ham.

Makes 6 servings.

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