By Mary Ann Ebner
From a medley of berries to creamy cucumber, chilled soups can be made with just about any of summer’s fruits and vegetables.
And when temperatures rise, warm weather conditions call for a kitchen break and cool options. Seasonal cooking — with minimal time spent at the stove or grill — should reflect that break from the routine. Colorful food selections that refresh with a nutritious but light result can be easily mixed and matched to create the ideal spread without even reaching for a heat source.
Though grilling outdoors may be slightly more bearable than cooking in a steamy kitchen, hot and humid conditions often rouse us to step away from the flame. A picnic of peaches, bread, cheese, wine or chilled green tea will prompt most of us to welcome the opportunity to eat lightly.
A simple cold lunch at a riverside picnic spot turned out to be summer’s most relaxing family meal. The preparations were minimal — hearty sandwiches and sliced apples — and we enjoyed the retreat from a labor-intensive meal with little left to wash aside from a cutting board and knife. Temperatures dipped for the day, the Hudson lapped peacefully along the banks and nobody did any dishes.
In an effort to extend easy living for a few more weeks, it’s all about family-style salads, heaps of vegetables and fruit desserts — all fresh and uncooked. And it’s more reason to shop the farmers market. In looking beyond my own meager garden of herbs, peppers and tomatoes, the inspiration for July and August menus rests with whatever the farmers are picking and selling. And when you can’t grow your own cucumbers, find your favorite farmer.
I’ve failed repeatedly in trying to produce cucumbers since moving back from scorching Central Texas to the Hudson Valley and didn’t even try to grow them this year. But cucumbers beat the heat when dining indoors or out, and they can round out a meal or fill in as the foundation. An unattended farm stand peddling cucumbers motivated me to blend up a batch of summer soup. This particular Hudson Valley producer runs a small-scale retail operation — a roadside table stocked with a variety of fruits and vegetables alongside a donation jar. Customers take their pick and drop a cash payment through the jar’s lid.
The few cucumbers I selected could have ended up in a salad, spring rolls or served alone dressed with a vinaigrette, but the vegetable crop made the perfect base for cucumber avocado soup. The recipe takes minutes to put together and can be eaten immediately or chilled for a day and packed for a picnic or even placed in a sealable bottle for a Hudson Highlands hike.
My latest variations turned out silky smooth and mild, but my early efforts to prepare cucumber soup suffered from a few garlic cloves too many. The initial batch ended up not so much as a simple supper but as simply a good lesson.
It doesn’t take much to ruin a dish by smothering the mild cucumber and avocado with too much garlic. That was my big mistake. At the time I lived in California, not too far from Gilroy, which according to the City of Gilroy is best known as the “Garlic Capital of the World.” The community is easy to find once you’re in the vicinity of this locale. The scent of garlic travels for a good distance. (Those who appreciate the Hudson Valley’s garlic festival in Saugerties would undoubtedly go for the garlic ice cream in Gilroy.) The garlicky aroma in and around the city cannot be mistaken, and Gilroy influences everything from old-fashioned garlic toast to garlic-themed weddings. Given my location at the time, the excess garlic can be understood.
Cutting back on the garlic brought the cucumber back to center and allowed the mint — added last — to finish the blend with a refreshing satisfaction expected from a cold soup.
To make this chilled soup, toss all the ingredients into a standard blender or use an immersion blender. (Reserve a few cucumber slices for crunchy dipping, but otherwise blend until smooth and creamy.) Transfer blended soup into a pitcher to replenish bowls at the table or pour this cool cucumber mixture directly into serving bowls from the blender. The recipe shared here produces a soup with a fairly thick consistency, but for cold soup lovers who prefer a lighter chilled serving, thin with more broth, water or even a splash of white wine.
Cool Cucumber Avocado Soup
1 large or 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and diced
½ medium avocado, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Twist of fresh ground pepper
Small ice cubes (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Combine cucumber, avocado, garlic and chives in mixing bowl.
Mix broth, yogurt and sesame oil in blender or food processor. Gradually add cucumber mixture to liquid and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper.
Chill soup 1 hour or blend in 2 ice cubes and serve immediately topped with fresh mint.
Photos by M.A. Ebner