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Chill Out

Chilled Fennel and Cucumber Soup

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One of my absolute favorite things to eat on a sweltering summer day is a refreshing, silky smooth cold vegetable soup. Like many people, I first became a fan of this style of soup by way of gazpacho, Spain’s famous chilled tomato soup. In fact, for the longest time, a yellow gazpacho was the only cold soup I made. Once I started shopping regularly at the farmers’ market, however, all that gorgeous produce inspired me to experiment, and now I make all kinds of cold soups.

Like gazpacho, these soups rely on a blender for texture, but their flavors and colors span the spectrum: from a pale and delicate fennel and cucumber combination to a spicy poblano purée to a deeply hued sweet beet soup. I still make a cold tomato soup, but unlike gazpacho, which uses raw tomatoes, this one has a deep, toasty flavor from roasted tomatoes (as well as roasted red peppers).

I like to serve these soups as a first course or in smaller portions as an hors d’oeuvre; the bright flavors and bracing cold excite the appetite, even on the sultriest of summer days.

Read on for recipes and tips on how to give these soups great flavor and smooth texture. Then get cooking-and blending and chilling, too.

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Tips for the best texture
Cook hard vegetables well. Vegetables like beets and fennel must be cooked until thoroughly tender so they purée easily.

Use a blender, not a food processor. A blender’s tapered shape draws the ingredients to the blade, where they’re puréed evenly and finely.

Blend for longer than you think. Keep the blender running even after the soup looks puréed; I let mine go a full 2 minutes to be sure spices are pulverized. A safety tip: When blending hot liquids, never fill the blender jar more than half full. Leave the fill hole cap ajar, cover the lid with a cloth, hold the lid on firmly, and start the blender on low before increasing it to high.

Strain the soup. This may sound fussy, but it results in a more refined texture. (For more on strainers, see the Test Kitchen post Use the Right Strainer for the Job.)

Add fat for body. I add fat to most of my soups in the form of cream or olive oil. Fat not only helps carry flavors but also creates an emulsion for a smoother, more full-bodied soup.

Tips for texture

Tips for flavor

Tips for the best flavor
Choose peak-of-the-season vegetables. Because these soups have few additional ingredients, the vegetable itself needs to have lots of flavor. Shop at a farmers’ market, if possible, and pick vegetables that look vibrant and feel heavy for their size.

Enhance with aromatics, herbs, and spices. These add a base layer of flavor to the soup. I often cook the main vegetable with a little onion for sweetness and garlic for depth. I also add spices at this point. Fresh herbs added just before puréeing provide a top note of flavor.

Season well and often. I season my soup throughout cooking, but the most important time to season is just before serving because the cold temperature can dull flavors. Aside from the usual salt and pepper, I might add an acid, like vinegar, to make the flavors pop.

Garnish for contrast. All of my soups have a garnish that adds texture and either reinforces the flavor profile (fennel fronds for fennel soup) or complements it (tangy sour cream and dill for earthy beet soup).

Photos by Scott Phillps


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