Cold soup?   Your thinking – this goes together like bikinis and December in Manitoba!  A steaming, luscious bowl of rich savory broth, full of fish and seafood or caramelized onions nestled under a crust of gooey cheese, with flavors reminiscent of far away places is a true culinary exploration for the senses, and the best means possible to ward away the chills.  In the middle of a smoldering summer however, embrace the polar opposite with a bowl of refreshing cold soup.  As the soup chills, the flavors mature and will simply burst in your mouth by the spoonful.  Since cold soups usually start with a base of one or more vegetables, this is a great way to celebrate just picked vegetables from your garden or use up ripened ones from your refrigerator.  A refreshing start to a summer meal, it is also an excellent, tasty and healthy means of reaching your daily intake of fruits and veggies (for dessert, consider serving a chilled fruit soup).

The two most well known cold soups are Vichyssoise and Red Gazpacho.  Vichyssoise, a cold leek and potato soup, has, as with most notable famous French culinary creations, a dubious history.  Incorrectly, the name vichyssoise is sometimes used to describe any cold soup regardless of ingredients.  Others believe they have created their own version by adding such things as apples, lobster, and even curry and asparagus and attaching vichyssoise to the ingredient (as in Apple Vichyssoise).  The claim to fame, however, of this cold soup starts in 1917 with French Chef Louis Diat, head chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue in NYC.  He was preparing a soup (using his mother’s recipe) as the first course for the restaurant’s big opening night.  No one really knows if Chef Diat planned on serving the soup cold, and legend has it that because he failed to heat it in time for the meal, he quickly added cream, garnished it with chives and served it as is.  Two things we do know to be true is that a classic dish was born and Chef Diat called it “Vichyssoise” after his hometown in France.

A Spanish mainstay in the long hot summers, the many local variations of gazpacho from Andalusia can be easily categorized by color - red, green or white.  The essential ingredients forming the base of the soup are bread, olive oil, garlic, salt, vinegar and water.  With the addition of tomatoes from the Andes - they began appearing in the recipe in the 19th century - the famous red gazpacho, or the one which is just called gazpacho, was created.  Gazpacho, the cold, uncooked vegetable soup, now has an international reputation.  A more concentrated version called salmorejo, from Cordoba, uses no water (only tomato is added to the base) and is often garnished with hard-boiled eggs and strips of ham (jamon).  White gazpacho is typical of south and east Andalusia.  The famous white version from Malaga, ajo blanco (white garlic) is made with almonds (sometimes pinenuts) and is garnished with little cubes or melon or apple in the summer and grapes in September.  The less familiar green gazpacho from the Huelva region, attributes it flavors to chopped herbs and green vegetables. Coriander, mint, parsley and basil can be used individually or combined, while lettuce, green pepper and endive bring freshness and texture. 

Regardless of the long seeded tradition of gazpacho, many variants of the dish have been created and continue to become even more diverse as chefs get creative, applying new techniques for serving the essential ingredients (jellied gazpacho or clear gazpacho with tomato sorbet anyone?).  Gazpacho is consumed chilled, but never iced.  Please resist the urge to heat it up, although some have tried, because you will loose the intense and pure fresh flavor.  

Creating cold soups can be as simple as a few ingredients blended and chilled, vegetables simmered in broth to soften before they are blended and chilled, or as eloquent as a creamy smooth version topped off with a rich, luscious garnish.  Several combinations of cold soups already exist, all of which were likely created to stave away the heat, and with the basics you can create a few more of your own by experimenting with ingredients and garnishes. These can even be a complete summer meal, just serve them with a nice loaf of crusty bread.

Cold soup basics #1 - blended and chilled

Combine vegetables (such as avocados, cucumbers or tomatoes - these do not require cooking before pureeing) with liquid (can be either water, broth, buttermilk, olive oil or combination thereof) and seasonings and using a blender, blend until smooth.  If adding cream, do it now or after it has chilled.  Chill.  Garnish.  Serve.

Try these at home: Gazpacho Shots and Avocado + Cucumber Soup

Variations:

Avocado + shrimp and salsa garnish

Cucumber + yogurt, pistachios and dill garnish

Cucumber + yogurt and mint garnish

Cold soup basics #2 - cooked, blended, and chilled

Cook the vegetables to soften (they can be sautéed, boiled, or sautéed first and then simmered) in the liquid (broth or water). Cool slightly.  Blend until smooth.  Strain if required.  If adding cream, do it now or after is has chilled.  Chill.  Garnish.  Serve.

Variations:

Asparagus + leeks and crab garnish

Vichyssoise: Potato + leek

Pea + orzo and lobster garnish

Zucchini + parmesan

Beets + sour cream