From Scratch: Chilled Soups

July 26, 2012

nicole franzen
Photo by Nicole Franzen

Adhering to a vigorous salad regimen usually does the trick for a weekday lunch or post-beach day supper, but chilled soups allow us to hit our produce consumption goals for the week while keeping meal assembly to a minimum. (We’ll admit to carrying cold soups in our travel coffee mugs for a no-fuss lunch on the go.) Blended versions are also a great way to use those bruised-but-no-less-tasty fruits and vegetables that get passed over in favor of their more pristine companions come salad-making time. And chilled soup typically improves with a little refrigerator-induced rest, so it's the perfect do-ahead dish. But enough flattery -- here's how to make great tasting sweet and savory versions.

General Advice

  • If starting from a cooked base (as is the case with many chilled vegetable soups) be sure to give the soup at least a few hours to chill in the refrigerator before serving. Room temperature soup isn't quite as appealing; chilled soup should feel intentionally cold.
  • Immersion and upright blenders make whipping up cold soups a snap. Food processors are fine to use for prepping vegetables, but don't turn to them when you need to bring the soup together -- they're not meant for thin liquids, which can seep out the bottom and create a mess.
  • For an even, silky texture, strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve.
  • Chilled soups may need more seasoning than hot soups as the cold numbs our taste buds. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and/or acid (like vinegar or citrus juice) just before serving.
  • Pour chilled soups into teacups or shot glasses for an impressive party appetizer.

Savory Soups

  • Tomato gazpacho is one of the most famous chilled soups and leans heavily on summer produce. Add ripe melon (like watermelon or honeydew) or berries (strawberries are ideal) to the classic gazpacho base of stale bread, garlic, bell pepper, and cucumber to play up the tomato’s sweet nature.
  • Green gazpacho is typically made with assorted lettuces, along with cucumber, green bell pepper, and fresh herbs like cilantro.
  • White gazpacho, though it shares the moniker of the classic tomato version, is in a category all its own. Relying on blanched almonds and stale bread for body, white gazpacho is as at home with spheres of fresh cantaloupe as it is with poached shrimp.
  • The cold version of the Eastern European staple, borscht, combines cooked and raw elements: boiled beets, eggs, and potatoes join diced raw cucumbers, minced fresh dill, and thinly sliced radishes in a broth that can be either creamy (often thanks to sour cream) or clear.
  • Potato-based vichyssoise is another stalwart of the chilled soup realm, and one of the heartier options. Fresh chives add freshness to the mild potato-leek base. 
  • To add creaminess without using dairy products, skip the nut milk and use the "milk" that can be scraped from corn cobs instead. For thicker soups, use ripe avocado in the place of cream or yogurt.

seeding tomato finely minced garlic
De-seeding tomatoes before puréeing keeps the bitter seeds out of the soup; for cold, raw soups mince garlic as small as possible (photos by Sarah Shatz)

Sweet Soups

  • Stone fruits (like peaches, cherries, and plums), berries, and figs lend themselves particularly well to sweet preparations whether used raw or stewed with aromatics (cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, lemongrass).
  • Melon, with its high water content and honeyed aroma is a natural in this form. Just zap the cubed fruit in a blender and add citrus or other fruit juice to loosen it -- unlike berries and stone fruits, melon should be used raw.
  • Mango handles heat well -- try adding a pinch of minced serrano or other hot pepper, along with coconut milk and lime juice for a Southeast Asian vibe.
  • Liquid sweeteners like honey and agave incorporate easily, but refrain from adding sweeteners until you've tasted the soup base -- sweet soups relying on fruit will need little to no additional sugar.
  • For a natural source of concentrated sweetness in whole-food form, use pitted dates instead of traditional sweeteners.
  • Add fresh herbs (basil is a favorite pairing) to fruit soups to add complexity without pushing the dessert into savory territory.

Garnishes

  • Silky-smooth strained soups benefit from minimal garnish -- a swirl of olive oil or a pinch of finely minced fresh herbs will add flavor without distracting from the delicate texture.
  • Crumbled feta, grilled corn kernels, or a few slivers of roasted sweet bell pepper add complexity to -- and soften the edges of -- raw soups.
  • Top creamy soups with bite-sized crunchy elements like baked croutons, crumbled bacon, or fried shallots to avoid palate fatigue.
  • Garnish sweet soups with toasted or candied nuts or a splash of sparkling wine. Stir in a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt to offset their sweetness with a bit of tang.

White Gazpacho with Cantaloupe Lithuanian Summer Borscht
Photos by James Ransom (left) and Joseph De Leo

Recipes

Watermelon Gazpacho with Cucumber Mint Confetti
Corn and Peach Soup
Cucumber Mint Soup

Lithuanian Summer Borscht [FOOD52] (pictured above, right)
A Bowl of Mango Sunshine [FOOD52] (pictured at top)
White Gazpacho with Cantaloupe [FOOD52] (pictured above, left)
Cold Corn Soup with Basil-Chili Oil [FOOD52]

What chilled soups are you making these days? Share your cooking tips and recipes in the comments section below.

Like this post? Check out last week's From Scratch topic: Popsicle Basics.

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