When the produce at your local store, farmer’s market or your own yard is at its peak, it’s time to make fresh vegetables the star of your meal.
It’s time to make summer soups.
In the summer you want to get the most out of your products by bringing out the taste in the most pure and natural way. The less embellishments, the less complexity, the better. Other flavors shouldn’t distract you from the garden-fresh goodness of your bounty.
An added benefit is that simple flavors usually come from simple cooking techniques.
In other words, summer soups are delicious and easy to make. Win win.
I recently made four summer soups. Only one of them was chilled, but each one was memorable in its own way.
We’ll start with the chilled soup first. It’s called Beet-Fennel-Ginger Soup, and along with beets, fennel, and ginger, it’s also made with cabbage and vegetable stock.
“That’s borscht,” said a colleague. “You just made borscht” in March.
“It’s not borscht,” I said. “It’s not just beetroot soup, it also has cabbage and vegetable stock in it…”
Okay, it’s borscht. But this version is made without meat, so it’s a hearty vegetarian meal — or vegan, if you leave the dollop of yogurt on top.
It is also lighter in tone and texture than borsch I’ve made in the past. While it still has the sweet earthy undertones that come from the beets, it’s also enlivened by the exotic, aniseed flavor of fennel and the warm finish of ginger.
When pureed together—and these recipes will require a lot of pureeing—the ingredients get better than their individual parts. The soup is also light and creamy, perfect for a warm summer evening.
I went the elegant route for my next attempt, Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Soup. The recipe came from the now sadly closed Trellis restaurant, which in its heyday was one of the best restaurants in Virginia.
I’ve made asparagus soup many times before, and I loved it. I’ve made mushroom soup many times before, and I loved it. But I never thought of combining the two into one incredible dish. That requires the kind of culinary genius of Marcel Desalniers, the Trellis’ pioneering original chef-owner.
The resulting soup is beautifully subtle, playing off the delicate, crisp spring-like taste of asparagus from the satisfying umami burr of the shiitake mushrooms.
As befits the restaurant that also created the Death By Chocolate dessert, this soup isn’t for those counting their Weight Watchers points. A rich roux turns the soup’s texture into velvet, and the flavors are all tied together by a cup of heavy cream.
I used half and half to save a few calories. That way I felt virtuous and healthy, even though I wasn’t.
My next soup also came from a well-known restaurant. Cream of Zucchini and Almond Soup was a dish served in the Walnut Room in the State Street flagship location of the Marshall Field store in Chicago.
And again I am amazed by the creativity of chefs.
Who would ever think of combining the grassiness of zucchini with the warm, nutty crunch of almonds? And who would think of putting it together into a cream soup?
But that’s not where the brilliance of this dish ends. The soup stands out for the subtle addition of sweet spices: a subdued mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
It’s a soup you’ve never had before unless you’ve been to the Walnut Room.
My latest soup is the easiest of all to make. Sweet Pea Soup also has the freshest flavor – even though it uses frozen peas.
You could use fresh peas if you can find them.
All you have to do is simmer the peas, some sweet red pepper, a hunk of onion and a carrot together in chicken stock, vegetable stock or even ham stock. When the vegetables are well cooked, but just barely, mash them to a silky texture.
Salt generously and serve with croutons or crumbled bacon if desired.
I’ve used both. It seemed like a summer thing to do.
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups beetroot, peeled and chopped
4 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups chopped fennel
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped ginger
8 cups vegetable stock, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fennel sprigs
1. Combine the beets, cabbage, fennel, garlic, ginger and 6 cups stock in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Strain the soup through a coarse-mesh sieve. Puree the vegetables in 1 cup of the heated stock in a food processor or blender until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add the remaining heated stock and mix. If the soup is not of a pourable consistency, add some of the remaining 2 cups stock until desired texture.
3. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in chilled bowls, if desired, with yogurt and fennel sprigs.
Per serving: 60 calories; 1 gram of fat; 1 g saturated fat; 1 gram of cholesterol; 3 grams of protein; 13 grams of carbohydrates; 8 grams of sugar; 3 grams of fiber; 756 mg sodium; 51mg calcium
Adapted from At Home’s “Healthy Cooking” with the Culinary Institute of America
ASPARAGUS AND SHIITAKE MUSHROOM SOUP
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound fresh asparagus
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of water
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, white part only, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
6 cups chicken stock
7 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Bring 3 liters of salted water to a boil.
2. Break the woody stem of each asparagus and save. Lightly peel half of the stems. Cut the reserved ends and remaining unpeeled asparagus into 1/4-inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Blanch the peeled asparagus in the boiling water. Do not overcook; the asparagus should be cooked and still crunchy. Transfer the blanched asparagus to the ice water.
3. When the blanched asparagus has cooled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
4. Remove and chop the stems from the mushrooms. Cut and save the caps.
5. Heat the vegetable oil and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the chopped asparagus, mushrooms, celery, leeks and onions. Season with salt and pepper and cook until onions are translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
6. While the chicken stock is heating, melt the butter in a separate large saucepan over low heat. Add the flour to make a roux and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is bubbling, 6 to 8 minutes. Strain 4 cups of boiling stock into the roux and whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the remaining stock and vegetables. Beat until well combined. Lower the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Puree in a blender or food processor. Strain into a 5 liter saucepan and return to low heat. Simmer for a few minutes while completing the recipe (Note: If you are not going to serve the soup within 1 hour, do not complete the next step until ready to serve; otherwise the delicate flavor and color of the asparagus will be dissipated ).
8. Heat the cream, sliced shiitakes, and 3/4-inch asparagus pieces in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add to the soup and season to taste. Serve immediately. (This soup can be kept warm in a double boiler for up to 1 hour.)
Per serving: 250 calories; 18 grams of fat; 11 g saturated fat; 45 grams of cholesterol; 6 grams of protein; 19 grams of carbohydrates; 4 grams of sugar; 3 grams of fiber; 389 mg sodium; 58mg calcium
Recipe from “The Trellis Cookbook” by Marcel Desaulniers
CREAM OF Zucchini AND ALMOND SOUP
Yield: 8 servings
6 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/3 cups zucchini, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
5 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 tablespoons ground almonds, see note
2/3 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Note: You can use almond butter for ground almonds. If you don’t have it, grind slivered almonds in a spice grinder or chop them fine and grind them with a mortar and pestle.
Saute the onions in butter until soft. Add zucchini and slivered almonds. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes (zucchini should not be soft, not limp). Add chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Add ground almonds. Simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the cream, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sincerely.
Per serving: 134 calories; 8 grams of fat; 4 grams of saturated fat; 20 grams of cholesterol; 5 grams of protein; 8 grams of carbohydrates; 4 grams of sugar; 1 gram of fiber; 218 mg sodium; 21mg calcium
Adapted from “Marshall Field’s Gourmet: A Taste of Tradition”
SWEET PEAS SOUP
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
4 (1-inch) slices sweet red bell pepper
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups chicken, ham or vegetable stock
2 cups frozen or fresh peas
Salt, to taste
Crispy bacon, optional
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, red pepper and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add peas and cook until peas are heated through, 1 minute for frozen and 3 to 5 minutes for fresh. Add salt to taste. Puree in a blender until smooth. Serve with croutons and crumbled bacon if desired.
Per serving: 198 calories; 7 grams of fat; 2 grams of saturated fat; 5 grams of cholesterol; 7 grams of protein; 29 grams of carbohydrates; 13 grams of sugar; 7 grams of fiber; 1,355 mg sodium; 49mg calcium
Adapted from “Vita-Mix Recipes for a Better Life”