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Cold Summer Soups
by Elliot Essman
When the dog days of summer descend, there's nothing quite as refreshing as a cold summer soup. Cold soups can serve as tasty starters to full course meals, or as full meals in their own right. They can employ a wide range of ingredients. Many, including all the recipes I'll cover here, are completely meat free and hence designed to please everyone.

My own current cold soup favorite does double duty as a vegetable side dish. I discovered oven dried tomatoes a few years ago. Don't let the oven component scare you away during hot weather; we don't heat the oven hot enough to warm your kitchen. I start with two quality round tomatoes per serving. (To choose the best tomatoes, look for tomatoes that smell like tomatoes.) I square off the rounded bottom of the tomatoes with a knife so they will stand in an oven-safe baking dish without rolling. I cut off enough of the stem end of the tomatoes to expose the juicy flesh inside. I arrange the tomatoes fairly closely together in the baking dish, squirt each one with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. A sprinkle of sugar is optional. I then bake the tomatoes uncovered in a 175 degree oven for ten to twelve hours.

If you cut the tomatoes artfully, the result is an extremely attractive side dish, with the green of the rosemary nicely complementing the red of the tomatoes. The long slow oven roasting concentrates the tomato flavor in a manner akin to sun dried tomatoes, yet leaves the tomatoes much more succulent. To make into a soup, just throw into a blender, tomato skins and all (the dozen hour bake makes the skins quite soft). Blend very briefly, so as to retain some good tomato texture. Experiment with adding other vegetables, like chopped cucumbers or carrots, to offset the tangy taste of these concentrated tomatoes. If you have plenty of good tomatoes, say from your garden, I suggest using some oven dried tomatoes as the base of a soup, and serving others whole as a side dish in the same meal. Extra oven dried tomatoes will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.

Canned artichoke hearts form the basis for a refreshing soup you can make well ahead of time. Drain two fifteen-ounce cans of water-packed artichoke hearts. In a large saucepan, fry a chopped onion and crushed garlic clove in a tablespoon of olive oil until just softened. Roughly chop the drained artichoke hearts, then add to the onions and garlic along with two cups of heated vegetable stock. Bring it all to a boil, cover, then simmer for about three minutes to marry the flavors. The next step is to puree the blend to remove all lumps. You can do this in a food processor, a hand-cranked fool mill, or push the mixture through a sieve. After returning the pureed mixture to the saucepan, stir in a half cup light cream and two tablespoons of fresh thyme (just one tablespoon if you want to use dried thyme, but crush it between your fingers first). Chill for several hours in the refrigerator before serving in chilled bowls. I like to garnish this soup with thin strips of roasted red bell pepper, a little bit of grated orange peel, or both, and serve with a good chewy bread.

Vichyssoise may sound oh-so-sophisticated, but it is essentially a fairly simple potato and leek soup to which cream has been added. (This one's not for dieters.) Start with three large leeks, trimming so as to use only the white parts, which you will chop very finely. Make sure you've washed the leeks very carefully to remove any sand or grit. Thinly slice an onion. Chop a pound of new potatoes. Melt three tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, add the leeks and onion, and fry for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the leeks and onions brown. Add the potatoes, three cups of vegetable stock, juice of half a lemon, a pinch of ground nutmeg, a quarter teaspoon of ground coriander, a bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes to soften all the vegetables. Let the soup cool a bit, remove the bay leaf, then use a food processor, food mill, sieve or stick blender to smooth out all the lumps.

Time to add the creaminess: blend an egg yolk with two thirds cup cream (light or heavy, as you dare). To temper this cold mixture, first stir a little bit of the soup into it, then gently stir the cream and egg mixture into the soup. Reheat without boiling, let cool gently, then chill. Serve with diced chives or chervil. No one said this dish didn't take a little bit of effort, but the result is, well, vichyssoise.

There are as many variations of Gazpacho in Spain as there are cooks; in Spain, everyone's mother's gazpacho is the absolute best. I follow the recipe given me by a friend in Barcelona, Spain. I was warned to use only authentic Spanish olive oil, but I cheated, since I wasn't about to do a search of every gourmet store in town just for a tablespoon of oil. All the following measurements are approximate: combine two pounds of chopped tomatoes, a red and a green bell pepper (both chopped) a chopped onion, a seeded, peeled cucumber, two or three cloves of minced garlic, three tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar, the aforementioned tablespoon of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add tomato juice (or try bloody Mary mix) to thin, bread crumbs to thicken. Chill many hours before serving, garnish with croutons, diced tomatoes, bell peppers or cucumbers. Create your own variation to go with these flavor combinations. A squirt or two of hot sauce or a diced jalapeņo in the mix would not be out of order.

We end this discussion of summer soups with Mrs. Essman's cold borscht. (That's Mrs. Essman, my Russian mother.) Russian borscht, hot or cold, is positioned to be a meal in itself. Beets are always the base for borscht. You can use fresh beets, but canned beets give you the advantage of their juice. Begin with two fifteen-ounce cans of sliced or shredded beets with their liquid. Mix in juice of half a lemon, one tablespoon of cider vinegar, and a tablespoon of sugar. To this mixture, add one cup of quartered boiled new potatoes, a cup of diced cucumbers, four sliced radishes, two chopped hard cooked eggs, and one cup of diced green onions (scallions), or substitute any kind of onion or even shallots. To be authentically Russian, add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl, garnish with dill (no flavor is more Russian), and serve with black bread. Though borscht is a poor peasant's dish, think of the visual appeal a few specks of black caviar would make against a background of that white sour cream. Authentic Russian vodka, the kind made from potatoes rather than grain, and served straight, would add a final touch of authenticity. Top -- Food Articles Home

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