Few culinary debates get more heated than those over chilled soup. Some consider cold soup a confused dish that cannot decide whether it should be ladled with a dainty soup spoon or scooped with chips. Meanwhile, others appreciate cold soup for its fresh ingredients and flavorful complexity. Folks either love this refreshing dish or find it unappetizing; very few fall into the middle ground.
Appreciating summer soups requires a focus on the ingredients. With vegetable stands overflowing around South Carolina in the summertime, an arsenal of recipes and preparations is necessary to ensure that none of this bounty goes to waste. Certainly salads, fruit smoothies, and grilled vegetables are a great use of our local resources. But what about a light, delicately balanced mixture that utilizes produce at its ripest point? That is where these vibrant summer concoctions play their part.
During these hot months, meals should be cool, refreshing, and easy to make. Regardless of personal feelings about chilled soup, the dish undeniably fits these requirements. Perhaps the most well-known is gazpacho. Originating in Spain, gazpacho is popular for its use of fresh ingredients on sultry summer days. Chef Jason Bruner, who currently runs the kitchen at 1801 Grille in downtown Columbia, spent some time working in kitchens around Barcelona, Spain. During this time, he became familiar with what he describes as a health-driven country with foods that its people enjoy.
“Gazpacho is a dish based in the roots of the Spanish people. Its popularity is largely a result of supply and demand. Fresh ingredients layer one another to create a unique seasonal blend,” he says, “similar to the process of building a beer or wine.”
In Spain, gazpacho is rarely the same from day to day or from region to region. “The flavor changes based not only on what produce is available, but also on the ripeness of the produce.” says Jason.
For a truly flavorful soup, older, even over-ripe produce is best. Jason explains that the market vendors in Barcelona kept bruised or over-ripe produce that had developed a higher sugar content just for the purpose of selling it to restaurants that were making gazpacho. Because heat is not used to soften and draw out the produce flavors, ripening acts as a cooking agent in gazpacho.
However, Spain does not have a monopoly on hot summers or cold soup. Korea serves several different cold soups that feature regional noodles and spicy peppers. The Oi-naengguk recipe on page 30 takes cold soups to the next level by including ice.
Fortunately, many of the ingredients used in gazpacho and other chilled soups are also grown in the Southeastern United States. When making these recipes, look for the tomatoes with skins that have burst from the weight of their sweet juice or for bell peppers that might have lost some of their crunch while sitting on the windowsill for one day too long.
Many of the ingredients in these soups are repeated. Cucumbers and tomatoes find their way into fresh summer soups time and time again, largely because of their prevalence in the warm months. If other produce continues to find its way into the shopping bag, try whizzing it into a chilled soup.
Making summer soups should be about working creatively with what is on hand. How do you keep chilled soup from becoming like a chip dip?
Soup should be thinner than a dip, garnished, and not as strongly seasoned. When building a personally inspired soup, think about the ingredients. Are they soft and easily blended, or might they need a quick steam to soften them? Would they work better blended or simply chopped like the cucumbers in the yellow squash soup (on page 31)? While these cold soups aim to keep cooking to a minimum, different cooking styles or preparation of the produce can create a distinct flavor. The roasting of red peppers in the Roasted Pepper Soup adds smokiness while softening the peppers for blending.
Even though tomatoes are the centerpiece of the soup, gazpacho is distinctly different from other tomato sauces. It is not as spicy as salsa and should be less rich than a marinara sauce. Experiment with different summer vegetables and maybe even fruits when creating gazpacho. A ripe peach or slice of watermelon might add just the right refreshing sweetness.
3 Roma tomatoes
1/2 English or seedless cucumber
1 bell pepper
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 large basil leaves
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Some chefs will add stale bread to enhance the texture of their gazpacho. A nice sourdough in particular gives the soup a much-desired zing. However, to keep prep work to a minimum, this recipe does not call for the produce to be peeled or deseeded, and the added fiber provides a good structure to the soup.
Place all ingredients into a blender and blend to preferred consistency. Some enjoy a smoother soup, while others want to experience the individual texture of each piece of produce. Chill for 5 hours to cool the ingredients and let them get well acquainted. Serve gazpacho in a chilled bowl and top with fresh basil and cheese crackers.
To add a bit of bite and umami, top the gazpacho with parmesan cheese crackers. These are simple to make and store until ready to serve.
Parmesan Cheese Crackers
1 block of parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice Parmesan into 1/4 inch thick pieces. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place the slices on the paper and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven when golden and fragrant. Allow the crackers 10 minutes to cool. The crackers should be ridged, so peel the foil or parchment paper away. Store in an air tight container until ready to serve.
Gazpacho is delicious, but it is hardly where cold soups end. Korea uses its own distinct flavors to cool down. In keeping with its traditional flavors though, this soup packs a different kind of heat with fresh chili peppers.
1 English or seedless cucumber
1 garlic clove
1 hot pepper (a chili pepper is best, but a jalapeno or other available spicy pepper can be used)
1/4 of a shallot
1 teaspoon of fine salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons of fine sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup chilled water
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Red bell peppers, sliced for garnish
Slice the cucumber into thin matchsticks. Crush and dice garlic clove. Slice the hot pepper and shallot thinly. The amount of hot pepper added is dependent on personal taste. For a less spicy dish, only use a few slices. Stir these ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add salt, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar to create a sweet, salty, and sour balance. Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add 1 cup of chilled water and ice. Stir to combine. Top with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Yellow Squash Soup
Squash has such a delicate flavor that anything too strong will overpower its sweet, buttery profile. Steaming the squash before blending softens the vegetable, resulting in a smoother, creamier soup.
4 yellow squash
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 English or seedless cucumber
Crumbled goat cheese
Slice and steam the yellow squash until tender. Let the squash cool. In a blender, combine the squash, broth, salt, and garlic powder. Dice the cucumber and stir it into the soup. Garnish with goat cheese and serve in a chilled bowl.
Roasted Pepper Soup
3 bell peppers
1/4 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some for garnish
Roast the peppers over a fire, using a gas grill or stove with the eye on high. Place the whole pepper over the eye until it is charred. Turn it to char on all sides. Use a paring knife to scrape the charred skin off of the peppers. Cut the stem and discard the seeds. Place the peppers, yogurt, oregano, and salt into a blender and blend on high until smooth. For a smoother soup, you may drain through a sieve, but this step is not necessary. Drizzle with olive oil and serve cold.
Summer Corn Chowder
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 ears of corn
2 cups of sugar snap peas
In a blender, prepare the base of the soup by blending chicken broth, milk, salt, pepper, oregano, and paprika. Place the base in the fridge. Cut the corn from the cob. Pour 1 teaspoon of olive oil into a skillet and heat over medium. Add the corn. Stir occasionally with a spatula until the corn begins to brown and gets a bit crispy. Set the toasted corn aside to chill. Slice the sugar snap peas width-wise. Once all ingredients are cool, stir together and serve. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and a full snap pea.