Easy recipes to prepare

Hot summer, cold soups

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When the hot weather settles in, especially during the day, I find it more difficult to be motivated to cook.

Even when it cools off at night, it's tough to make myself get in the kitchen. After a hot day, I just don't feel up for a big meal. My solution: a serving of cold soup.

Nutritious as it is delicious, cold soup satisfies our hunger without raising our body temperature. Add a baguette and some good butter to create a complete dinner.

And while some of the soups I'm sharing do require some minimal cooking, they can be cooked in the morning when it's still cool. Then put them in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat. And a couple of these soups require no cooking at all.

You can serve cold soup rustically chunky or elegantly smooth. A few pulses in the food processor is all it takes to leave some pieces for a little bite. Or keep it running until the soup is fully emulsified.

Garnish with some chopped fresh herbs and a little thinned out sour cream, and you have a very appealing presentation. And I love to match the occasion by serving the soup in eclectic containers, from Japanese bowls to stemless wine glasses to porcelain teacups.

I got into cold soup many years ago when I first met my husband's mother. She came to visit us in our Lincoln Park apartment in Chicago when the temperature was soaring to 100 degrees. Even a window air-conditioner couldn't make a dent.

I knew she was a spectacular cook, and I wanted to impress her. But it was just impossible to turn on the stove.

So I invented my first cold soup: Spinach, Cucumber and Yogurt. No cooking required, only my trusty food processor (you can also use a blender.) My husband made the sacrifice and grilled Greek chicken kabobs on the hot backyard Weber.

We ate on a picnic table under the shade of the corner oak tree. When we tasted the bright green soup, which I had never made before, happy looks came over everyone's faces. Easy and delectable. I was hooked.

Today, I also make cold soup when I'm having friends over and need a unique alternative to a vegetable side dish. Soup fills the bill as it's chock-full of a variety of veggies.

Most of the soups make an excellent accompaniment to grilled meat or fish if a more substantial meal is desired. Here's a tip if you're serving picky eaters: pureeing the soup helps disguise the ingredients. And except for the Vichyssoise, which contains potatoes and whole cream, most of these soups are pretty low cal.

So give them a try the next time you want to cool off. When I served all five soups to my food tasters (i.e., friends) for this article, each soup was declared better than the last, and very little was left unconsumed. You may decide you want to return to them again and again as part of your repertoire.

But be prepared: if you make one of them, you might want to double the recipe. What's the downside? You'll have leftovers. They're just as heavenly the next day. 

VICHYSSOISE

This is the king of soups, traditionally served as a rich first course for an elegant dinner party. But you'll want to save this recipe for the cold weather because it is delicious as the simple peasant dish known as leek and potato soup. Follow the directions through the making of the soup, but do not puree, and do not add cream. Makes six 1/2-cup servings.

2 large leeks

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

3 medium potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, well-scrubbed

3 cups chicken broth

About 1 teaspoon salt or to taste

About 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup heavy cream

A few drops hot sauce

A dash of Worcestershire sauce

1/4 snipped fresh chives

Trim off the root end of the leeks, and cut off half the green stems. Making small cuts around the green stems, remove tough stem pieces one at a time until the tender green stem is exposed. Make deep X-cuts extending half way on both ends of the leeks, and wash all dirt and grit away thoroughly under cold running water. Shake off excess water, and chop into small dice.

Peel and chop the onion. Cook the leeks and onions in the butter over low heat for 5-10 minutes. Do not brown. The vegetables should soften and look translucent.

While the leeks and onions are cooking, peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2" pieces. (Note: If making hot leek and potato soup, it is not necessary to peel the potatoes.)

Add the potatoes and chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. (Note: If you are making hot leek and potato soup, taste for salt and pepper and serve.)

Allow to cool to room temperature, and puree in batches in a food processor or blender. Return soup to clean pot and add 1 cup heavy cream, the Tabasco, and the Worcestershire. Chill thoroughly for four hours or overnight.

Serve in cups, and garnish with a sprinkling of chives.

SAUTEED BABY LETTUCE SOUP

Makes 6 1-cup servings.

This soup is ideal to make when the garden is bursting with greens. And it's a great choice when serving vegan guests.

4 scallions, trimmed and chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons flour

4 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon or more fresh thyme leaves

5 ounces baby lettuces, preferably 50/50 spinach blend (about 6 cups), or all baby spinach

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 cup diced tomatoes

Italian parsley leaves

Thyme sprigs

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the scallions and cook for a couple of minutes until softened. Over low heat, add the flour and stir to combine. Slowly add the vegetable broth, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 5-8 minutes.

Add the lettuces to the broth. Cook just until the lettuces wilt and are still bright, about 3-5 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir. Taste for seasonings and adjust.

Chill the soup overnight. Puree in batches in a food processor or blender. To serve, ladle into bowls, and garnish with parsley leaves, diced tomatoes, and thyme sprigs.

BEET BORSCHT

I love the ruby color of this soup. And when you stir in sour cream, it turns a glorious pink. Makes 8 1/2-cup servings.

1 medium leek, tough green leaves removed, cleaned well of sand and finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large turnip, diced

3 medium beets, peeled and diced

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup white wine

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper, or to taste

3/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Heat the oil and the butter in a stock pot. Add the leeks and sauté over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add the beets and the turnips and sauté for 5-10 minutes more. Add the vegetable stock the vinegar, the bay leaves and the white wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Allow to cool to room temperature. Puree in batches in a food processor or blender until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. Chill overnight.

To serve, ladle into bowls, with a spoonful of sour cream and a pinch of chopped dill.

SPINACH, CUCUMBER & YOGURT SOUP

This soup is great on a hot day. No cooking is involved! Makes 6 1/2 cup servings.

5 ounces baby spinach

1/2 English cucumber, cut into chunks

2 scallions, trimmed, washed and cut into 2" pieces

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons fresh dill

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Thin cucumber slices and additional mint leaves for garnish.

Puree the spinach in batches in a food processor, scraping down often. When very fine, add the cucumber, the scallions, the mint and the dill. Process until liquified. Add the yogurt and the salt, and process until very smooth. May be served immediately, or chill until serving.

Before serving, stir in the lemon juice.

Float a cucumber slice or two and a mint leaf on the surface of each serving.

GAZPACHO

Another soup that needs no cooking, this one is like a salad in a glass! Makes 4 1-cup servings.

2 pounds fresh heirloom tomatoes, washed, cored and cut into chunks

1 pound Roma tomatoes, diced small

1 small clove garlic

1 English cucumber, diced small

2 scallions, trimmed and sliced, plus 1 scallion diced small

1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded and diced very small

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper, or to taste

Place the tomatoes, the two scallions, 1/4 of the poblano chile and the garlic in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add the diced Roma tomatoes, the diced cucumber, the vinegar, the olive oil, and stir to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and season to taste. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Place the rest of the poblano chile pieces and the third diced scallion in two small bowls and pass to guests to add to their taste. You may also sprinkle a few crispy croutons in each serving if desired.

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