Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Big Chill Beat the Heat of Summer with Cool Soups from the Mediterranean

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Big Chill Beat the Heat of Summer with Cool Soups from the Mediterranean

Article excerpt

Never mind the heat, it's still soup season -- chilled soup, that is.

Gazpacho and vichyssoise spring to mind. But venture past the predictable and discover a variety of cool soups from the Mediterranean. Like soothing salads, they quench the thirst and whet the appetite. And they're surprisingly portable for picnics. Team these soups with crusty bread, cheese and ripe fruit for a movable feast.

Long before refrigeration, Mediterraneans beat the heat with soups cooled in their cellars. Yogurt and Cucumber Soup and chilled Almond Soup With Green Grapes are classics. Newer soups, such as Lemon Soup With Zucchini and Roasted Green Pepper and Tomato Soup, descended from traditional recipes. Some blur the lines between soup, salad and side dish. Others cross national borders.

"If you use fresh ingredients, you'll have the best cold soups," said Bashar Alai, chief and owner of Basha, a Dallas restaurant that features dishes from Spain, Morocco, the Middle East, France, Italy and Greece.

Freshness pays off: The true flavors of the ingredients emerge when dishes aren't cooked or heated, says the Syrian native. Chilling soups is common, but another option, serving them at room temperature, also heightens their flavor. That philosophy inspired Cucina Fresca (HarperCollins, $16), a cookbook of largely room temperature Italian foods. Among the book's 11 soup recipes is Lemon Soup With Zucchini, an update of the lemony Greek classic, "avgolemono." The traditional egg-enriched chicken broth gets a boost from orzo (rice-shaped pasta), as well as grated zucchini.

Chopped mint, lemon and garlic spark Yogurt and Cucumber Soup. Variations turn up in six Eastern Mediterranean countries.

Chilled Roasted Green Pepper and Tomato Soup is a cold soup variation on the Morroccan salad "schlada." The juicy salad features smoky, roasted green peppers, garlic and tomatoes pounded to a pulp.

Moroccan influences also show up in southern Spain's soups, such as Chilled Almond Soup With Green Grapes. This satisfying soup marries a variety of flavors and textures: creamy almond puree, juicy grapes and pungent garlic.

Devising your own cool Mediterranean-inspired soups is simple, Alai says. "I recommend converting vegetable soups into cold soups."

He prefers chilling only vegetable broth or water-based soups, as he detects an aftertaste from the fat in cold chicken broth. Defatting the latter helps.

Adapting traditional dishes to cold soups may sound avant-garde. But the practice has old-fashioned roots. When French chef Louis Diat refined his mother's potato soup at New York's Ritz Carlton hotel in 1917, he added cream and an ice bath, giving birth to the venerable vichyssoise. It turns 80 this summer. Happy birthday, vichyssoise, and long live cool soups.

Ideas, suggestions

With Yogurt and Cucumber Soup or Lemon Soup With Zucchini, try:

Stuffed grape leaves, imported black and green olives and feta cheese.

Crusty bread.

Pita pocket sandwiches filled with hummus, tomatoes and sprouts, or tuna salad with sunflower seeds and sprouts.

Suggested wine: Lacryma Cristi Bianco, 1995, from Mastroberardino; a flowery, herbaceous, dry white.

With Chilled Almond Soup With Green Grapes or Roasted Green Pepper and Tomato Soup, try:

Manchego cheese (or other hard, aged cheese) and peasant bread.

Couscous or rice salad.

Sandwiches made with crusty rolls or fresh bread, imported hard salami and tomatoes, or Brie and good-quality smoked ham (such as Black Forest).

Suggested wine: Monte Antico Rosso di Montalcino, 1993; a fullbodied red.

Soups on the go

Cool soups make excellent picnic fare. Not only can they be prepared in advance (the flavor improves overnight in the refrigerator), but they stay chilled for hours when packed in a thermos or cooler. So prepare a batch to bring on the boat, to an outdoor play or concert, or on a picnic. …

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