Cold soup seems to be one of those love/hate food items: people either find it to be a refreshing, light meal on a hot day, or they’re appalled that anyone would strip soup of one of its most comforting qualities.
Yet, despite this ambivalence, chilled soups are a part of the food heritage of many cultures, whether it’s Russian borscht, Spanish gazpacho, French vichyssoise, or the fruit soups that are popular in Scandinavia. Cold soup turns up not just in the warm climates near the Mediterranean, but also in places where the hottest days of summer are still what we’d consider sweater weather.
The biggest difference among those far-flung chilled soups comes from what is considered a summer vegetable. On the warm, sunny slopes of Spain, tomatoes are plentiful, and cooks looking for ways to enjoy them made gazpacho a regional specialty. Further north, potatoes were plentiful, and vichyssoise became known far beyond the region of Vichy as an elegant way to serve potatoes at their freshest. In the even shorter growing season in Russia, the beet crop formed the basis for cool bowls of soup on what passes there for a hot day.
For those with reservations about the wisdom of eating their soup without steam wafting from the top, gazpacho may be the best introduction. After all, with its tomato base and veggie garnishes, it’s basically a Bloody Mary’s tee-totaling cousin.
Gazpacho is a good way to use up some of the garden’s less-than-perfect tomatoes. Spots and lumps that would banish a tomato from a salad plate won’t matter once the tomatoes get processed to a pulp. Other staples from the summer garden, including cucumbers, bell peppers and other peppers, are the supporting characters in a good tomato-based gazpacho.
For some, chilled soups are an integral part of summer menus. “I wish I had a nickel for every time I cooked, served or ate vichyssoise,” Texas City chef Nancy Manlove mused about a recent adventure in cooking, and serving, the chilled potato soup. “My mother introduced it when I was 9.”
Manlove’s expertise in making vichyssoise was put to the test recently, when she competed in the current season of “The Next Food Network Star.” Having reached the finals of the competition, she was tasked with making vichyssoise for a Beauty and the Beast-themed brunch.
Unfortunately, the soup wasn’t what the judges were looking for. Judge Bobby Flay compared it to cold mashed potatoes. Although Manlove found the comparison unfair, it led to her exit from the competition. “I had guests in the room walk up to me and say it was the best vichyssoise they ever had,” Manlove said in her exit interview.
What keeps vichyssoise from being cold mashed potatoes is usually something acidic, like lemon juice or dry white wine. Texture is key; making sure that the soup is silky rather than lumpy goes a long way toward making it inviting. While it is traditionally made with cream, a recipe that foregoes the cream (but still uses butter for smoothness) tastes even cooler on a hot day.