Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cold Soup

It’s been stuck in my craw. Irritating. Like an itch in that center part of your back that can’t be reached. Cold soup! –A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a cold soup I had at Zaytinya in Washington DC. Before that, I’d been thinking about a cold soup recipe and as summer approached there had been several articles about refreshing cold soups. Still, to me, the idea is a bit foreign. I don’t recall ever making one and I’ve only tasted a few.

My first experience with a cold soup dates back to my pre-foodie days. Rewind to 1989. I was a young guy working as a home health nurse in El Paso, TX. My agency sent me to cover the “regular” nurse for a wealthy oilman who was quite aged and lived alone, except for his house staff of about 8. At dinner time, the staff would all gather and dine with this gentleman. Everyone had to be dressed. So I had to change from my scrubs into proper dinner attire that included a jacket (most young nurses find it puzzling when their agency tells them to bring a dinner jacket to a client’s home). So there we sat. And we were served by the private chef and butler, who joined us at the table. It might have been less shocking if someone had mentioned that this beautiful bowl of liquid placed before me -that had lovely red and yellow floating throughout -that this broth was not hot. The first course was a cold corn and tortilla soup. While it was absolutely delicious, I found myself a bit embarrassed thinking that it had been sitting on the counter too long. As warmth of dinner often invites strangers to be friends, conversation quickly corrected my thoughts and I realized it was supposed to be cold. Ohhhhh…. OK. Now that makes sense. So as I gazed out on the mesa from the large dining room windows and watched the hummingbirds do their aerial dance around the hanging feeders, this soup was the perfect desert creation.

Returning to the present, I’ve had several cold soup tastings over the years. All have been really yummy but I don’t know if I’ve ever made one. But thanks to that aforementioned itch, I was drawn. Specifically, the cucumber-yogurt combination from Zaytinya. So onto the internet and a search for “Cucumber Yogurt Soup”. It returned a plethora of recipe hits. After perusing 10 or so, I realized there was a central few ingredients and the rest was preference. Obviously Yogurt and cucumber were mandatory but so was dill. From there, creative license seemed OK. I found the flavor to be perfectly luscious. The sweet cucumber and tangy yogurt were a perfect pairing. The simplicity of the dill and leek addition leaves your palate wanting more.

Leek was my own idea, at least I did not see leek in any of the recipes I reviewed. The yogurt makes this soup too rich for a large portion, so filling a martini glass about ¾ full would be about perfect. I’ve seen soups such as this served in shot glasses as well. I find this a novel solution since small portions are called for.

Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup

1 leek white and pale green parts only, coarsely chopped
2 large cucumbers peeled and seeded, chopped into cubes
2 cups plain or Greek style yogurt
2 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh dill
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil plus a bit more for a finishing drizzle
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint
Golden raisins

Sauté the leeks over medium heat in about a tablespoon olive oil just to soften and sweat them (about 6-7 minutes). Cool.

In a food processor combine the leeks, cucumber, yogurt, garlic, dill and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Season to taste and reblend. Refrigerate for a couple of hours so flavors can meld.

To serve, place a couple of golden raisins in the bottom of your serving vessel and pour a small amount of soup over top. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and sprig of mint.

Serves 6-8

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