When produce is at its peak at your local store, farmer’s market, or in your own garden, it’s time to make fresh vegetables the star of your meal.
It’s time to make summer soups.
In summer you want to get the most out of your products by enhancing their taste in the purest and most natural way. The fewer embellishments, the less complexity, the better. Other flavors shouldn’t distract you from the garden-fresh goodness of your bounty.
As an added benefit, simple flavors usually come from simple cooking techniques.
In other words, summer soups are delicious and easy to make. Win.
I made four summer soups recently. Only one of them was cool, but each was unforgettable in its own way.
We’ll start with the chilled soup first. It’s called beet-fennel-ginger soup and is prepared with beets, fennel and ginger as well as cabbage and vegetable broth.
“This is borscht,” said a colleague. “You just made borscht” in March.
“It’s not borscht,” I said. “It’s not just beet soup, there’s also cabbage and vegetable broth…”
OK, it’s borscht. But this version is made without meat, so it’s a hearty vegetarian meal—or vegan if you skip the dollop of yogurt on top.
It’s also lighter in tone and texture than borscht I’ve made in the past. While it still has the sweet-earthy undertones of beetroot, it’s also enlivened by the exotic aniseed flavor of fennel and the final warm bite of ginger.
When pureed together – and these recipes will call for a lot of pureeing – the ingredients turn out better than their individual parts. The soup is also light and smooth, perfect for a warm summer evening.
I went the elegant route for my next attempt, Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Soup. The recipe comes from the now sadly defunct Trellis restaurant, which was one of Virginia’s finest restaurants in its heyday.
I’ve made asparagus soup many times and loved it. I’ve made mushroom soup many times and loved it. But I never thought of combining the two into one incredible dish. It takes the culinary genius of Marcel Desalniers, the pioneering original chef and owner of the Trellis.
The resulting soup is delightfully subtle, playing off the delicate, fresh, springtime flavor of asparagus with the satisfying umami ridge of shiitake mushrooms.
As befits the restaurant that created the dessert called Death By Chocolate, this soup isn’t for people who count their Weight Watchers points. A rich roux turns the soup’s texture to velvet, and the flavors are all held together by a cup of heavy cream.
I used half and half to save a few calories. It made me feel virtuous and healthy when I wasn’t.
My next soup also came from a famous restaurant. Cream of Zucchini and Almond Soup was a dish served in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s State Street flagship store in Chicago.
And again I am amazed at the creativity of the chefs.
Who would ever think of combining the grassiness of zucchini with the warm, nutty crunch of almonds? And who would then come up with the idea of making a cream soup out of it?
But that’s not all, where the brilliance of this dish ends. The soup is characterized by the subtle incorporation of sweet spices: a restrained blend of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
It’s a soup like you’ve never had before unless you’ve been to the Walnut Room.
My last soup is the easiest of them all. 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 do is simmer the peas, some sweet red peppers, a piece of onion and a carrot together in chicken broth, vegetable broth or even ham broth. When the vegetables are thoroughly cooked, but just barely, puree them to a silky smooth texture.
Salt generously and serve with croutons or crumbled bacon, if you like.
I have used both. It seemed like a summer thing.
BEET FENNEL GINGER SOUP
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups beets, peeled and chopped
4 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups chopped fennel
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped ginger
8 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fennel sprigs
1. Place beets, cabbage, fennel, garlic, ginger, and 6 cups broth in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Pass the soup through a coarse-mesh sieve. In a food processor or blender, puree the veggies in 1 cup of the heated broth until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add the remaining heated broth and mix. If the soup isn’t of a pourable consistency, add some of the remaining 2 cups of broth until it reaches your desired consistency.
3. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in chilled bowls with yoghurt and sprigs of fennel, if desired.
Per serving: 60 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 1 g cholesterol; 3 grams of protein; 13 grams of carbohydrates; 8 grams of sugar; 3 grams of dietary fiber; 756 mg sodium; 51 mg 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 sticks of celery, chopped
2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper
6 cups chicken broth
7 tablespoons 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 off and reserve the woody stalk of each asparagus spear. 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 ready to use. Blanch the peeled asparagus in boiling water. Don’t overcook; the asparagus should be done but remain crisp. Put the blanched asparagus in the ice water.
3. When the blanched asparagus has cooled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. Remove and chop the mushroom stalks. Slice and reserve the caps.
5. Heat vegetable oil and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chopped (1/4-inch) asparagus, mushroom stalks, celery, leeks, and onions. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until onions are translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
6. While the chicken broth 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 bubbly, 6 to 8 minutes. Strain 4 cups of boiling broth into the roux and whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the remaining broth and vegetables. Whisk until well mixed. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Blend in a blender or food processor. Strain into a 5 quart saucepan and return to low heat. Let the soup simmer for a few minutes while you finish the recipe (Note: If you don’t serve the soup within 1 hour, do the next step first to serve, otherwise the delicate flavor and color of the asparagus will be dissipated will).
8. In a nonstick skillet, heat cream, sliced shiitake, and 3/4-inch asparagus pieces over medium-high heat. When hot, add to the soup and season. Serve immediately. (This soup can be kept hot in a water bath 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 dietary fiber; 389 mg sodium; 58 mg calcium
Recipe from The Trellis Cookbook by Marcel Desaulniers
CREAM OF ZUCCHINI AND ALMOND SOUP
Yield: 8 servings
6 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/3 cups zucchini, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
5 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 tbsp 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 finely chop and grind with a mortar and pestle.
Sauté onions in butter until soft. Add zucchini and almond slivers. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes (zucchini should not be tender and 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. Heat thoroughly.
Per serving: 134 calories; 8 grams of fat; 4 g saturated fat; 20 grams of cholesterol; 5 grams of protein; 8 grams of carbohydrates; 4 grams of sugar; 1 g fiber; 218 mg sodium; 21 mg 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 of sweet red peppers
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-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add peas and cook until peas are warmed through, 1 minute for frozen and 3 to 5 minutes for fresh. Add salt to taste. Blend 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 g carbohydrates; 13 grams of sugar; 7 grams of dietary fiber; 1,355 mg sodium; 49 mg calcium
Adapted from “Vita-Mix Recipes for a Better Life”