Article: Chilling Out with Soups -- July 2009
Steamy summer days call for lighter, refreshing meals that are easy to prepare. A perfect fit? Chilled soups, which are gaining in popularity throughout the U.S. and abroad, and require no oven to create a healthy, quick meal that can satisfy anyone’s taste buds. Chilled soups offer the chance to showcase summer garden offerings: bright, fresh and in-season ingredients bursting with fresh flavors. Cold soups can surprise the palette, while offering liquid refreshment in a completely unique way.
Soup History, in Brief
French chef Louis Diat has been coined the “Father of Cold Soups.” Whether deliberately or by accident, in 1917, chef Diat, the head chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, served a silky-smooth, cold soup made of potatoes, leeks, onions, stock and cream. It was an instant hit, and the soup, coined Vichyssoise after the town in France where chef Diat grew up, spread across menus everywhere. Vichyssoise is a velvety, creamy soup, but it is not the only cold soup that has been around for a while. Gazpacho, first thought to be inspired by Roman and Moorish cuisines and ingredients, was invented in southern Spain, in a region called Andalucía. It consisted of typical ingredients found in the region: bread, olive oil, garlic, almonds and vinegar. The soup was served cold and was called ajo blanco or white gazpacho. Once tomatoes and peppers were introduced to the region from the New World, these were added to the local soup, creating the tomato-based version with which most are familiar today.
Other traditional cold soups include borscht, originally from the Ukraine, but widely associated with Russian cuisine. The main ingredients in borscht are beets, grown throughout the region, giving the soup a beautiful color and flavor. Borscht is typically served with sour cream, which provides a nice contrast in both color and flavor, where it adds a sour tartness that complements the flavor of the beet soup. Borscht is a soup that can be served either hot or cold. When served hot, it is typically made with beef or beef stock, while the cold version tends to be vegetarian.
Many traditional cold soups made with fruit have origins in Eastern Europe. Polish apricot soup, called zupaze moreli; Scandinavia’s sot supp, made with chilled grape juice, dried fruit and cinnamon; Czechoslovakian blueberry soup (Boruvkova Polevka Studena); and Meggyleves, a Hungarian sour cherry soup, are just a few examples. Sorrel soup is also a cold soup of French origin, with a sour flavor that comes from sorrel leaves. Madrilène is yet another soup traditionally served cold, created using clarified stock flavored with tomato, then chilled to create a jellied consommé. Soups that are served cold may be cooked and chilled, such as Vichyssoise, or ingredients may be combined raw and simply chilled, as with many fruit-based soups. Both methods offer different flavor and textural options for creating a unique eating experience.
Old is New
While many of these traditional cold soups may sound outdated, numerous chefs are revitalizing these recipes to fit with consumer demands for healthier, ethnic, bold-flavored and unique dishes. A gazpacho can be made with peaches, instead of tomatoes, to create a sweet-and-savory version of the classic. Or, create a golden gazpacho by using golden tomatoes and yellow peppers--even a “gazpacho gone wild” can be made with crawfish and a shot of tequila. All shine by using creativity and innovation to change a tired recipe into something unique and special.
Chefs are using creative combinations on menus to create excitement around cold soups. How about a classic borscht soup, now served with a spicy jalapeño ice cream for a new twist and unique flavor? Bold flavors, such as a fire-roasted tomato soup with garden fresh basil, velvety corn soup with a cilantro pesto and sour apple-mint soup are just a few examples of innovative flavor explosion in chilled soups. Many cold soups now feature fruit, also; a refreshing strawberry champagne soup is a great starter for a light meal, and fruit soups can also move to the end of the meal, creating a unique dessert, such as a sweet peach-ginger soup. Melon soups offer clean, fresh flavor and a creamy finish created by adding yogurt. These chilled soups can be simple, refreshing and healthy, and a great way to get kids (and adults) to eat their fruits and vegetables in a fun way. Sweet-and-savory combinations can also be mixed, offering unique and unexpected flavor profiles, such as a watermelon-black pepper soup or a pureed pea and fresh mint soup.
The containers in which chilled soups are presented offer many other possibilities for creating something different on a menu. For example, serving a fresh, cold cucumber-lime soup in a hollowed-out cucumber “shot” cup makes a great visual presentation that is also edible. Or, use a scooped-out cantaloupe half as a bowl for a chilled cantaloupe and Poblano pepper soup. Garnishes are another way to create special chilled soup dishes. They do not need to be elaborate--a simple edible flower or fresh herb sprig can complement the flavors of the soup, while adding a splash of color. The possibilities are endless to create new, exciting soups that will keep consumers excited and interested.
Mixing it Up
There are many advantages to profiling these updated cold soups on menus. These soups are versatile, utilizing the best local ingredients the season has to offer, while providing a nutritious dish at the same time. Cold soups are unexpected, offering a curious new experience for many diners to sample familiar ingredients in a new way. They are also very easy to prepare at home and can take little preparation time to create a quick meal with ingredients on hand. Cold soup courses can offer vibrant colors and flavor palettes, packed with vitamins and antioxidants, providing a healthy, yet flavorful option on any menu. Introducing unique garnishes to add texture, especially to smooth soups, creates a multi-dimensional eating experience. Adding fried leeks to a traditional Vichyssoise or tempura-fried avocado on top of a cold avocado soup are great ways to introduce a contrasting textural component to the cold soup and make it more interesting, both visually and flavor-wise.
Blending two unique soups is another method for offering a textural and color contrast, such as swirling a chunky, fire-roasted tomato gazpacho with a cooling, silky smooth cucumber soup for great visual and flavor appeal. Many soups that are traditionally served hot can also be converted into cold soups. African peanut soup is a great example; each version has its advantages and flavor differences.
It is important to keep in mind that flavors can be muted when a soup is chilled. As a result, it may be necessary to boost the seasonings when creating cold soups, especially if converting from a hot soup recipe. Some fruits and vegetables used in cold soups can also discolor from exposure to oxygen. This oxidation can be decreased by preparing the soup using pre-chilled ingredients and serving immediately upon preparation. Or, introduce a complementary acidic component to the flavor of the soup. For example, adding pineapple juice to a coconut-banana soup or adding lime juice to an avocado soup can enhance the flavor, while preventing discoloration.
Cold soups are versatile and unique, offering a great way to showcase local ingredients that are in season, while offering a healthy meal option with bold flavors. Try chilling out with a cold soup this summer--the combinations of ingredients are limited only by the imagination and the contents of one’s garden or local store. pf
Chef Allison Rittman, CRC, was one of the first women to become a certified research chef in the U.S. She has over 16 years of experience in the food industry, specializing in product development, national account presentations and culinary trends. Her education includes a degree in culinary arts from The Culinary Institute of America, as well as a B.S. degree in biological sciences from the University of Iowa. Chef Rittman works as the corporate research chef for Paradise Tomato Kitchens, a premier sauce manufacturer, and currently resides in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at 512-992-4501 or email@example.com.