Summer soup - how cool

Posted: August 04, 2005

Summer and soup?

Once the mercury rises, the very thought of sipping a bowl of hearty potage is enough to give a person the vapors.

Unless, of course, the soup is refreshingly chilled.

Cold soups showing up on area menus are moving beyond traditional fare like cucumber and vichyssoise, with innovative and exotic flavor pairings that tease and refresh the palate.

Combinations like red wine and grapefruit, blueberry ginger and coconut plantain are just a few of the cool soups being served this summer.

"There's an appeal to ordering something in a restaurant that you might not typically make at home," says Greg Salisbury, owner of Rx in University City. Blueberry ginger soup, made from local berries, grated fresh ginger, sugar and mint, garnished with whole-milk yogurt, is one of the current favorites at Rx.

"In the summertime, when we put cold soups on the menu, they are automatically our best seller," Salisbury says.

Cold soups also offer another bonus: In most cases, they are made with ingredients that are good for you.

A welcome alternative to the ever-present summer salad, cold soups bring a rainbow of nutritious antioxidants and vitamins to the plate.

Chilled vegetable soups, usually low in calories, are also deeply flavored, easy to make, and a convenient way to get your quota of daily greens (and yellows and reds) - a grab-and-go alternative to a smoothie that fills you up without weighing you down.

As to what makes a good cold soup, just about anything seasonal and fresh goes.

"The vegetables you use in the soup can double as garnishes," says Daniel Stern, the former Le Bec-Fin chef who is now consulting and cooking for private parties. Finely shaved fennel, cucumbers, basil, tomatoes - any primary ingredient will work as an accent, Stern says.

Gazpacho, one of the most popular cold soups, is a powerhouse of flavor that includes the garden's midsummer harvest of tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, onions and herbs. It originated in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, where it is typically served as a first course, but there are many variations to the dish.

Juan Carlos Rodriguez features gazpacho on his summer menu at Isla Verde, his Nuevo Latino restaurant in North Philadelphia, but it wasn't a soup he grew up with.

"Gazpacho isn't really a Puerto Rican dish," says the chef, who moved to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico five years ago. "But whenever we put it on the menu, our customers love it. It's like a liquid salad in a bowl."

Rodriguez adds a twist to his gazpacho by contrasting two cold soups, one made with red tomatoes, the other with green tomatillos, in the same dish. He pours one into a cookie-cutter form in the center of the bowl, surrounds that with the second soup, and then carefully removes the form, creating a two-tone soup with eye appeal.

"I like to experiment, to go beyond the rice and beans that I grew up with," he says.

It was ingredients from warm Latin climates that inspired Scott McLeod, when he was cooking at ¬ĚPasion!, to create his favorite cold soup, made with plantains and coconut milk. McLeod, who now owns Fresca Superior at 20th and Walnut, sees cold soup as the ideal appetizer for a summer meal.

"There's usually a blend of sweet and acidic flavors which work well at teasing the palate," he says.

Making a cold soup can be as easy as flipping the switch on your blender or food processor. In many cases, there's no need to fire up the stove at all, since both the sweet and savory ingredients can be blended raw.

If there is any cooking involved, it's usually minimal. Summer vegetables like squash, zucchini, peppers and onions can be simmered until they just start to soften. Next, puree with fresh herbs like dill or parsley and enough chicken or vegetable broth to get the consistency perfect. These soups should be chilled for several hours; they can be garnished with sour cream or low-fat yogurt and more snipped herbs.

You can also incorporate both fruits and vegetables in one recipe. That's what Salisbury does at Rx in his popular beet and blueberry borscht, which is especially light and easy to make.

For dessert fare, fruit soups can be made by combining fresh fruit in a blender with unsweetened juice, mint and yogurt.

Once chilled, these soups need to be tasted and reseasoned, because the flavors are less prominent after refrigeration. Be sure to check before serving and add more seasonings if the soup is bland. Cold soup also tastes best when consumed within two days. If the mixture separates during refrigeration, whirl the soup in a blender before serving.

Grapefruit and Red Wine Consomme With Avocado Puree

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 1/2 cups red wine

2 shallots, sliced thin

1 fresh bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

4 ruby red grapefruits, juiced

Salt to taste

1 cup Simple Syrup, see note

Avocado Puree, see note

Candied Grapefruit Rind for garnish (optional), see note

1. In a medium saucepan, reduce the red wine by half with the shallots, bay leaf and peppercorns. Add the grapefruit juice and bring to a simmer.

2. Skim the froth off the liquid to clarify. Add a pinch of salt and the Simple Syrup to desired sweetness. Strain soup through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Chill.

3. To serve, spoon the soup into chilled bowls and garnish with a spoon of Avocado Puree and, if desired, a sprinkling of Candied Grapefruit Rind.

- From chef Daniel Stern

Note: This soup may be served sweet or savory, to taste. For a savory version, Stern suggests adding fresh herbs and a teaspoon or so of sherry while reducing the amount of syrup. For crowds, serve cold soup in small cups or shot glasses.

For Simple Syrup (or Bar Syrup): Bring 1 cup water and 2 cups sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Let cool. (Make extra, at a 2:1 sugar-water ratio, for future use and refrigerate.)

For Avocado Puree: blend 1 ripe avocado (pitted and peeled) with 2 tablespoons Simple Syrup or corn syrup. Whisk in 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add salt to taste. Chill.

For Candied Grapefruit Rind: Cook the julienned zest from 1 grapefruit in Simple Syrup for 10 minutes.

Per serving: 327 calories, 2 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates,

37 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 14 milligrams cholesterol, 84 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Chilled Coconut-Plantain Soup

Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/2 cup onions, sliced

3 ripe plantains, peeled and

sliced thin

4 cups water

1/2 cup Half-and-Half

6 cups coconut milk (3 cans)

1/2 cup canned cream of

coconut

1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chile flakes, ginger, garlic, turmeric and onions. Cook until the onions are tender, about 4 minutes.

2. Add the plantains and water; bring to a boil, then simmer until the plantains soften and begin to break apart, about 5 minutes. Add the Half-and-Half, coconut milk, and cream of coconut and simmer for 10 minutes more. Remove from heat.

3. Puree smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Chill.

4. Serve in chilled bowls. Squeeze a fresh lime wedge in each bowl to balance the soup's sweetness. Adjust the soup consistency to taste with additional coconut milk.

- From Scott McLeod, chef-owner of Fresca Superior

Note: This exotic soup tends to thicken the second day. Thin it with a little more coconut milk or low-fat milk.

Per serving: 924 calories, 8 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, no sugar, 86 grams fat, 7 milligrams cholesterol, 55 milligrams sodium,

8 grams dietary fiber.

Gazpacho, Two Ways

)Makes 6 servings

For the Red Tomato Gazpacho:

12 ripe tomatoes, scalded, skinned and seeded

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup carrots, scraped and chopped

1/3 cup leeks, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

6 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the Green Tomatillo

Gazpacho:

12 tomatillos, peeled, seeded

1/4 cup wasabi-coated dried peas

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

6 tablesoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. Prepare the Red Tomato Gazpacho: Place the tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, leeks, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a processor or blender. Puree to a smooth consistency.

2. Transfer gazpacho to a plastic container. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight, allowing the flavors to meld.

3. When ready to eat, strain the red gazpacho. Set aside.

4. Prepare the Green Tomatillo Gazpacho: Place the tomatillos, wasabi peas, cucumber, leeks, garlic, vinegar, oil and cilantro in a processor or blender. Blend to a chunky puree.

5. To serve, put a round cutter or mold in the center of each of 6 chilled bowls, filling each with Tomatillo Gazpacho.

6. Pour the Red Tomato Gazpacho around the mold. Place bowls in serving position and gently lift out the mold.

7. If desired, garnish as the chef does with grilled flatbread and crisp, quick-fried Serrano ham.

- From Juan Carlos Rodriguez, chef-partner, Isla Verde

Per serving: 193 calories, 3 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates,

8 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, no cholesterol, 66 milligrams sodium,

3 grams dietary fiber.

Cold Beet Soup (Borscht

2 cups cooked beets, roughly chopped, or 2 (15-ounce)

cans beets, drained

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

4 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup scallions, coarsely chopped

10 sprigs fresh dill

Salt, to taste

Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to adjust acidity

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1. To a processor or blender, add the beets, cucumbers, sour cream, buttermilk, scallions and sprigs of dill. Blend smooth.

2. Taste and add salt and enough lemon juice to make the soup slightly acidic. Chill well.

3. When ready to serve, divide among chilled bowls. Garnish each bowl with chopped dill and a little hard-cooked egg.

- Adapted from Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans

(Polanie, $10.95)

Per serving: 176 calories, 11 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates,

18 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, 82 milligrams cholesterol, 604 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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