With their bright flavors and bold colors, cold soups let you take full advantage of the great garden vegetables available this time of year. They’re convenient, too: I love the fact that they must be made in advance, so there’s no last-minute simmering to heat up the kitchen. And I really appreciate their versatility—perfect as a starter to an outdoor meal from the grill or lovely on their own as a refreshingly light lunch or supper.
The best chilled soups start with the best vegetables, so let them be your guide. My inspiration comes from whatever catches my eye at the farmstand or market—pristine cucumbers, bright-orange carrots with their feathery tops attached, freshly dug beets. The freshest vegetables will feel heavy in your hand (older vegetables lose moisture and weigh less) and will carry a pleasant fragrance of earth.
Light broth (or even water) lets a cold soup’s flavor shine through. In general, it’s best to use milder, lighter liquids for chilled soups than you would for warm ones; you want the flavor of the main ingredients to shine through and not be masked by a strong-flavored broth. Opt for light chicken broth, buttermilk, yogurt, coconut milk, fruit or vegetable juices, or even water.
A food processor or a blender makes quick work of putting together a chilled soup. Unlike gazpacho (which is typically a rather chunky cold soup), the soups here get much of their flavor and texture from being puréed. A blender will give you a slightly smoother texture than a processor. Unless you have a professional-capacity blender, you’ll have to work in batches. Also, be sure any cooked vegetables you use are completely tender before puréeing. Undercooked vegetables will give the soup a gritty, chewy texture.
Give cold soups time to chill completely; count on at least three hours in the refrigerator for one batch of soup. As the soup chills, the flavors will meld, and the soup may thicken. Just before serving, check the soup and adjust it if need be. To thin a cold soup, I generally use plain cool water, adding just a little at a time.
Don’t be shy when seasoning chilled soups. Chilling mutes flavors, so even if you fully season the soup before chilling, you’ll need to taste it again and adjust before serving. Most cold soups benefit from a good shot of bracing acidity, like citrus juice or vinegar, which will help to brighten flavors. Before ladling a chilled soup into serving bowls, let it sit a room temperature for about 10 minutes to take off some of the chill. Though not essential, this can improve the flavor, especially if your refrigerator is very cold.