While winter soups are comforting and healing — such as a steamy bowl of chicken and matzo ball, mushroom barley, or mulligatawny — chilled summer soups to me are a refreshing bliss. They also evoke fond memories and some zany blasts from my past. Let me share with you some chilled soup stories, folklore and divine recipes.
The first time I tasted chilled soup, I thought it was both weird and wonderful. When summer rolled around, my beloved Russian grandma prepared her traditional chilled beet borscht with boiled red-skinned potatoes and a dollop of fresh sour cream. To me, it was like red liquid candy, but most importantly, to paraphrase Marie Barone from "Everybody Loves Raymond," "It was made with love."
Then there was my Aunt Joy, an elegant socialite who refused to cook the day her bridge ladies came over to play since she associated cooking aromas with an aura of provinciality and didn't want to disrupt the aristocratic ambience. So she served chilled soup, her favorite scallop fennel, the runners-up — carrot and ginger, blueberry vermouth and cucumber leek.
As a teenager, I can recall another wacky chilled soup story. The Malaysian woman I baby-sat for was a hoity-toity, Fortune 500-esque spouse, but a neophyte cook. Then she enlisted me, the 16-year-old-more-interested-in-boys-than-braising-broiling-or-baking as her sous chef to help prepare a gourmet feast for a New Year's Eve dinner party for 30 of her hubby's most pish-posh business associates.
Lucy and Ethel started concocting the vichyssoise at 5 p.m. even though the soup needed to chill for several hours and guests would be arriving around 7. It was Toronto, ehhh! don't forget, in the dead of winter, double-digit negative temperatures that would've made a polar bear shiver. Maybe my employer had more culinary savvy than I realized when she placed the piping-hot stockpot of potato leek soup on the freezing balcony of her tony penthouse. The vichyssoise was perfectly chilled after sumptuous appetizers were served.
My favorite chilled soup, hands down, is gazpacho, which transports me back to Marbella, Spain, in my "salad days" when I was young, single, romantic and a mediocre cook. (I thought the exotic term referred to a baggy evening pantaloon.)
I fell in love with this traditional Andalusian chilled veggie soup — a liquid salad of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, garlic and chunks of bread sopping with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.
Southern Spain's signature dish was originally considered a poor man's food of bread, water and oils blended into a paste and served to ancient Roman workers who needed a salty fortification while building roads and aqueducts across the Empire. Tomatoes were added to the mix after Columbus brought them to Spain from the New World.
Today, gazpacho has assimilated into the American cuisine and evolved into many chefs' creative combinations and permutations, including golden gazpacho blending mangoes, yellow heirloom tomatoes, orange juice and melons.
I've come a long way from the youth of my chilled soup days, and now enjoy whipping up everything from light and refreshing minted strawberry soup with pound cake croutons to hearty and zesty gazpacho verde with roasted tomatillos, all packed with the wonderful flavors of sun-ripened, fresh-off-the-vine fruits and veggies. These are as colorful as they are tasty and can be served in champagne flutes or martini glasses to show off their beauty.