Soup stabilizes my menus all year. In winter, it's hearty grain or bean soups; in summer, the lighter vegetable soups, served chilled. I make them sweet or savory, and they are the perfect summertime food: quick to prepare and soothing to eat when the weather is hot.
Most of my summertime soups can be meals in themselves. I make them up to two days before serving time, refrigerate them in tightly covered containers and adjust the seasonings before serving. I like the Curried Zucchini Soup served with a hearty chopped salad and French bread, the Thai-Style Carrot and Peanut Soup with crackers and hummus. Small amounts of chilled soup are perfect as an easy starter to a dinner party.
Since there is very little fat in most savory chilled soups, quality ingredients are essential for flavor. Use only the freshest vegetables and herbs.
Aromatic vegetables like garlic and onions need to be sauteed before you puree them into a chilled soup. The secret to extracting the sweetest flavor from them is a long, slow saute with plenty of stirring to prevent browning. If garlic and onions brown, a slightly bitter oil is released, which strongly flavors the soup and cannot be masked. I recommend using a heavy pan, such as a Dutch oven, to allow the heat to be distributed evenly during the saute and to lessen the chance of browning.
When making savory chilled soups, it's a good idea to check the seasonings again right before serving. When the soup is warm, there is often stronger flavor. Once chilled, the flavor dims a little. Adjust the salt and pepper or add a boost of extra chopped herbs to counteract this.
Most summertime soups freeze well for up to two months, preserving the peak-of-summer garden flavor, although all are at their best made fresh.
If your garden is overflowing with zucchini, turn the bumper crop into creamy buttermilk-based soup. Curry gives this soup a beautiful hue; rich flavor comes from a long saute to soften the vegetables before pureeing.
Curried Zucchini Soup
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1/4 cup defatted stock
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely minced
3 medium zucchini, chopped
4 green onions, chopped (including greens)
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1 to 2 teaspoons honey
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin or to taste
3 cups low-fat buttermilk
salt, black pepper
Combine stock and oil in medium Dutch oven and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion, zucchini and green onions. Saute, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. (Take care to not allow onions to brown or bitter flavor will result.)
Add curry powder, honey and cumin. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Puree in blender in batches along with buttermilk. Chill soup thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Adjust seasonings before serving.
I've adapted this delicious Thai soup that comes from Miami chef Amanda Cushman. Though lower in fat than most Thai soups, it's still creamy and rich -- an excellent starter for a summer Thai menu.
and Peanut Soup
Makes 4 servings
1 pound peeled baby carrots, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups defatted stock
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
low-sodium soy sauce or salt
Combine carrots and stock in heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Cook, covered, over medium heat until carrots are soft, 10 minutes. Strain, reserving stock. Puree carrots in blender, using small amounts of stock if needed. Add 1/4 cup cilantro and 3 tablespoons peanuts. Process again to puree. Set aside.
Heat sherry and oil in same pan over medium heat. When hot, add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add milk and whisk until well blended. Add pureed carrot mixture and reserved stock and stir well. Cover and chill 1 hour. Season to taste with soy sauce or salt. Serve garnished with remaining peanuts and extra cilantro.
Celebrate corn season with this simple soup from Gourmet magazine; I adapted it to reduce the fat by using defatted stock and substituting nonfat milk for the half-and-half originally called for.
Herbed Cream of Corn Soup
Makes 4 servings
4 cups cooked fresh corn kernels
1 cup defatted stock
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup nonfat milk
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Puree corn, stock, green onion and thyme in blender until smooth. Strain through sieve set over bowl. Press hard on solids to extract flavor. Discard solids.
Stir milk and parsley into soup. Cover and chill 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mary Carroll is the author of the "No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook," Rodale Press.