Cold soups for a hot summer
Chilled soups save a lot of time in the kitchen when the weather is hot. The Chilled Fresh Corn Soup, above, is refreshing and satisfying. Garnish with edible flowers and a little chili oil.

Cold soups for a hot summer

Cold soups make a great summer lunch or snack; they are filling and refreshing. But dressed up, they hold their own at a special brunch or dinner party.

BELLOWS FALLS — Right now, every imaginable summer vegetable and fruit awaits us at the markets and farm stands: squash, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, scallions, peppers, turnips, beets, radishes, the first corn, greens beyond belief - and it all looks inviting.

We have everything we could want right at our fingertips, yet we have a dilemma - it's just too hot to cook! Some days, it's even too hot to eat.

On long, hot summer days like this, I'm glad I have a plan, and my blender is at the center of my kitchen routine. In just a few minutes, without turning on the stove, a big batch of fresh soup can be prepared and set to chilling in the refrigerator for doling out over the next few days. This is fast food, Vermont style!

Family and guest favorites are gazpacho, chilled corn soup, cucumber soup, vichyssoise, and chilled pea soup, all served nice and cold and in frosty bowls. By themselves, they make a great summer lunch or snack; they are filling and refreshing. But dressed up, they hold their own at a special brunch or dinner party.

I've served these soups in little “shooter” glasses as a starter for brunch, and for variety at parties and cookouts. With so little time in cooking, you have plenty to spend a few minutes garnishing!

The easiest to prepare are the raw soups such as gazpacho and cucumber, techniques more than recipes. They can be made in less than five minutes, armed with only a knife and a blender. The only real time involved is in the chilling.

Chilled cucumber soup

In a blender, combine:

¶1 large English cucumber

¶zest and juice of one lime or so

¶2 or 3 scallions

¶{1/2} small onion

¶1 ripe Haas avocado

¶2 or 3 cloves garlic

¶2 Tbsp. fresh minced dill

¶{1/3} cup fresh parsley

¶2 cups vegetable stock or water

¶salt and pepper

Process to desired consistency. If you want to make this creamy, as is traditional, add 2 cups of plain yogurt.

Of course, you can substitute and vary many of the ingredients. That's part of their ease.

Quick, spicy gazpacho

Gazpacho is traditionally a Spanish soup made with stale bread and almonds whirled in a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, peppers, onions, and oil and vinegar. However, removing the bread lightens it, leaving a clean, fresh flavor. That's how I serve it.

This recipe for gazpacho makes exactly enough to fill a 2-quart canning jar for easy storage in the refrigerator. No cooking, little measuring, and you have instant meals for a few days! All you need to do is feed raw foods into the blender or food processor.

You can process your gazpacho to your own desired state: an extremely smooth purée, or a soup with lots of texture. If you want it chunky, process the garlic and onion in the tomato juice first, dispersing them more evenly so that they are less apparent in the final product. No one wants to bite into a big chunk of raw garlic.

Use any tomato - cherry, plum, or big meaty beefsteak - in abundance. If you don't have enough fresh tomatoes yet, use a can of organic San Marzano whole tomatoes.

Below is the recipe as I made it on one recent day, but this is one of those dishes that is about technique and not precise measurements. Make it your own!

If you have a lot of tomatoes, use more; if you love cucumbers, add more of those. No onions? Use scallions or leeks. What else do you have on hand? Arugula? (Yum!) Chard? Spinach greens?

If you love the flavor of peppers the best, increase the amount. I like it with heat, so I use two hot peppers and usually add a bit of cayenne as well. You can omit them altogether, or increase it to your preference. Sometimes I add a bit of Worcestershire sauce, and I might swap out the vinegar. Taste as you go, and make it yours.

You don't have to be precise here in your chopping, just rough is fine since it will be processed in the blender.

In a blender or food processor toss:

¶1 cup tomato juice, low sodium

¶1 quart chopped plum tomatoes or 1 (28-oz.) can tomatoes, chopped, and their juice

¶1 sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped

¶1 English cucumber, all parts

¶1 large red bell pepper

¶1 stalk celery, leaves and all

¶1–2 jalapeño peppers, seeds optional

¶{1/4} cup parsley or cilantro

¶{1/4} cup olive oil

¶{1/4} cup sherry or cider vinegar

¶{1/2} tsp. cumin

¶1 tsp. smoked paprika

¶1 tsp. chili powder

¶1 tsp. salt

¶Freshly ground pepper

Process until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. If your blender is small, you might have to split the mixture into two batches.

Chill at least 4 hours. Adjust seasoning after it has set; you will probably need more salt.

Dress up for dinner: This makes a lovely supper with a little pile of Maine crabmeat nestled on top, or a few chilled, grilled shrimp.

Chilled fresh corn soup

For chilled soups with minimal cooking, my favorite is chilled fresh corn soup. A little sauté and a little rest in the refrigerator yield great rewards, and even the cobs get put to work in this recipe.

We stop at the farmstand and get a dozen ears of corn when it is beautiful and bountiful. And cheap. After eating our fill, we cut the kernels off the rest, and freeze what we don't eat for use all year. If I'm going to make soup, it's quick work to save some of the corn aside and put this soup together.

Using the cobs in this recipe adds an immense amount of flavor, so don't skip this step. Let them work for you as long as possible! I use this technique when making traditional hot corn chowder as well.

If your corn is grown really early or really late in the season and is not as sweet as you would like, add 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey.

So make a meal of fresh corn; in just a few moments, tomorrow's supper is just a blender's task away.

Over a large bowl, cut off the kernels of:

¶ About 6 ears (2–3 cups) of corn

In the same bowl, run the cobs over a grater (I use my regular box grater) and remove the rest of the pulp and corn milk. Add to the kernels, set aside, and reserve the cobs as well.

In a large skillet, heat:

¶2 Tbsp. butter

¶1 Tbsp. olive oil


¶1 large onion, diced

Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until onions are nice and soft, but not brown. Add the kernels and the milky pulp, and a little salt and pepper.

Retrieve those cobs, place in the pot, and cover all with 3 cups or so of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and cook for 20 minutes.


¶1 pint milk or non-dairy substitute

This will need to sit overnight in the refrigerator, or at least 6 hours to completely chill and let the flavors enhance.

When ready to make, fish out the cobs, scraping off as much of the soup as possible. Now, finally, you can place them in the compost bucket! They've done their job.

Working in batches, purée the soup in the blender until as smooth as possible.

If you want to make this soup really smooth and velvety, put everything through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing against the sides with a spatula. I don't bother with this step because I like the texture better, and I don't want to waste the fiber!

Taste and correct the seasoning.

You can eat this soup as is or top it with a drizzle of chili oil, crème fraîche, some minced chives, minced bacon or bacon substitute, and any other herb you fancy.

It is quite inviting with some peppery, edible nasturtium flowers to garnish!

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