Cold summer soups

On a parched July day many years ago, a friend brought a thermos of chilled cucumber soup to Lake Lanier. I had never tasted anything like it. Life-changing and palate-cleansing, it was part liquid salad and part dairy dream: a cuke smoothie of sour cream and yogurt, whirred with garlic and sweet Vidalias and topped with a cherry (tomato).

My taste buds went for a skinny dip, and my internal thermometer seemed to plunge.

A couple of decades and innumerable gazpachos later, I know that chilled soup is an excellent response to a heat wave. Whether it’s deli-style borscht sprinkled with dill or almond gazpacho mixed with cucumber and white grapes, these liquid restoratives are cold comforts to the soul.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe: Why not push the bright bounty of summer through a blender? Or bring out the earthy undertones of red beets by caressing them in a cool bath of yogurt? And no more chips with sandwiches! Have a mug of icy potato-and-leek vichyssoise with that BLT.


Watermelon Gazpacho

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (includes two-hour chill time).

Serves: 6

This chunky, salsalike gazpacho uses salt and lime to balance the sweetness of ripe summer melon. If you like spice, add a dash of your favorite hot sauce and the optional minced jalapeno. Any kind of bell pepper will do, though we like red and yellow for the color. This gazpacho has a real tropical feel -- and almost begs to be served with shots of tequila or cold beer with lime.

3 cups seedless watermelon, pulsed in a food processor until soupy

1 cup seedless watermelon, chopped

1 cup tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely diced

1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, finely diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon shallot, finely minced

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 small jalapeno, finely minced (optional)

Bottled hot sauce to taste (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the watermelon (both pureed and chopped), tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, cilantro, green onions, shallot, salt, lime juice, and jalapeno if desired. Stir well and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or optional hot sauce to taste.

Chill at least two hours. Taste again for seasoning. Ladle into individual soup bowls and serve. (Note: This may be prepared a day in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator. If you plan to chill for longer than two hours, stir in the cilantro shortly before serving.)

Per serving: 55 calories (percent of calories from fat, 8), 1 gram protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 362 milligrams sodium.


Cold Puree of Beets with Greek Yogurt

Beets are healthy and delicious, and this dish evokes the flavors of both Persia and Eastern Europe. It has the ingredients of a classic deli borscht, but the addition of Greek yogurt makes it creamy. Dill always marries well with beets, but we like the fresh zing of mint. A combination of both herbs would work nicely.

Hands on: 10 minutes

Total time: 3 hours (includes two-hour chill time)

Serves: 6

3 cups beets, peeled and cut into medium dice (2 large or 3 medium beets)

2 cloves of garlic, roughly minced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint, plus a few sprigs for garnish

1/4 cup sour cream

In a medium boiler or sauce pan, cover beets and garlic with 2 1/2 cups water. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until beets are just tender.

Remove from heat, pour beets and liquid into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. (If desired, save out 1/4 to 1/2 cup of beets to stir back in later or use as garnish.) Stir in lemon juice, yogurt and mint.

In blender or food processor, puree in batches, or use an immersion blender to puree in same bowl. Cover and chill for at least two hours. When ready to serve, ladle about 1 1/2 cup of pureed beets into four individual soup bowls. (If you saved out the chopped beets, stir in first, or place on top for garnish.) Dollop each bowl with about 1 tablespoon of sour cream and garnish with mint.

Per serving: 83 calories (percent of calories from fat, 30), 4 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 88 milligrams sodium.


Chilled Essence of Cantaloupe with Hunks of Valbreso Feta

Rory Moon, the Atlanta chef-turned-floral designer, used to serve this up at Floataway Café. He recommends French Valbreso feta, but almost any good feta would do, and we like a little cracked black pepper. If the cantaloupe is not sweet enough, try stirring in a little honey or simple syrup.

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Serves: 4

8 cups seeded and chopped cantaloupe (about 1 large cantaloupe)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more to taste

4 ounces feta cheese, preferably Valbreso, cut into 4 large hunks

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

In a food processor, puree cantaloupe. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium to large mixing bowl. (You may mash cantaloupe with spoon to extract the juice.) Toss out the pulp and keep the reserved liquid in bowl. Stir in salt and lemon juice.

Cover and chill for at least one hour. When ready to serve, taste and adjust with more salt or lemon juice as desired. Place about 1 cup of cantaloupe puree in a shallow soup bowl, top with a hunk of feta and freshly cracked black pepper.

Per serving: 31 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 2 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 215 milligrams sodium.

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