By Catharine Kaufman
A kitschy summer food trend I’ve noticed the past couple of seasons is a reversal of traditional hot and cold dishes: soups of all kinds are served chilled while assorted salads have warm, wilted or grilled components. It’s a gustatory no-brainer that when the mercury shoots northward people prefer refreshing, zesty chilled soups over steamy, flu-season healers, and light grilled fruits and veggies as a change up from heavy charred carnivorous offerings. Here’s a summer soup and salad primer to get the best out of this flip flop food phenomenon while showcasing summer’s bountiful beauties.
Nothing refreshes like glorious gazpacho, southern Spain’s signature chilled veggie soup — a liquid salad of fresh-off-the-vine-picked tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, garlic and chunks of bread sopping with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. The dish was originally considered a poor man’s paste of bread, water and oils given to ancient Roman workers as a salty fortification while building aqueducts across the Empire. Tomatoes were added to the mix after Columbus imported them to Spain from the New World.
Gazpacho has not only assimilated into the American cuisine, but evolved into gourmet bliss in a bowl from many chefs’ culinary creations. Gazpacho has gone urban, fruity, meaty, smoky and sophisticated. Golden gazpacho blends juicy mangoes, yellow heirloom tomatoes, orange juice and melons. Beet gazpacho dials up the ruby roots in a chunky spicy puree with salsa verde. Strawberry gazpacho juxtaposes the seedy fruit with duck prosciutto and basil. Grilled gazpacho combines the smoky mesquite flavors of roasted red peppers, tomatillos and assorted heirlooms. While white gazpacho, reminiscent of the crude concoction called “ajo blanco,” plucked from the Middle Ages during Spain’s Islamic occupation and served to the workers in the vineyards, nicely incorporates blanched almonds, green grapes, bread chunks, olive oil and vinegar.
For other invigorating versions of chilled soups, sweet tooths must try minted mixed berry with pound cake croutons, blueberry vermouth, Greek Karpouzosoupa, (watermelon mint soup), pineapple and coconut cream or silky black cherry. Pescavores can indulge in lobster fennel swimming in a creamy Greek yoghurt base. Or shrimp saffron pistachio, smoked salmon and dill yogurt or heart-healthy avocado lime bisque with a dollop of lump crab. Spicy palates can cool their heels with cucumber wasabi, carrot and ginger or Mexican mango chipotle. While traditionalists can beat the heat with minty sweet pea, raw corn chowder, vichyssoise or beet borscht with a swirl of crème fresh in the bulls-eye middle.
Bursting with vibrant colors, these summer refreshers are as gorgeous as they are tasty and can be served in champagne flutes or martini glasses to show off their beauty.
These chilled soups pair nicely with a salad either wilted with a warm dressing or crisp and crunchy, tossed with warm grilled fruits or veggies inspired by bbq gurus and adventurers like Bobby Flay. Do a twist on the classic Caesar by brushing garlic olive oil on romaine leaves then warming on the grill, while croutons toast alongside for a mesquite flavor. Add some smoky notes to a Greek salad by tossing in roasted heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic and caramelized onions. Grill portobellos, zucchini, assorted summer peppers and corn and toss with mixed greens, and zesty vinaigrette dressings. For sweet offerings, grill sliced peaches, nectarines, pears or mangos, pineapple spears or beets and blend with your favorite leaves and candied, spicy or savory-flavored nuts for a protein-packed crunch. My picks are heart-healthy walnuts, antioxidant-loaded almonds or the Roto-Rooter for arteries, pecans.
Or you can keep the veggies cool and crisp and add a warm sweet or savory dressing. Try lutein and calcium rich kale, spinach or arugula with toasted nuts, sautéed red onions and a crumbling of goat cheese with a warm pomegranate or red wine vinaigrette. Do Asian chicken with grilled mandarin oranges and a warm sesame, rice wine dressing. Or a twist on traditional potato salad with a warm olive oil balsamic combo.
My refreshing contribution is a zesty slurp of summer in this divine golden gazpacho. As an added boon, both you and the kitchen stay cool.