For better or worse, food is fashion. Today’s slick magazines tout the season’s gastronomic must-havesan art of meticulous display that is called “food styling”with the same degree of seriousness that they devote to models on a runway.
In the magazines you will find all of today’s fashionable food essentials, copiously spread before you. There’s Israeli couscous (it’s much larger than Moroccan, you know) with coriander and asafoetida (one of the stinkier exotic spices, often referred to as “pungent” by those in the know). Melon seeds are also big this year, specifically bitter melon seeds. There are Meyer lemons (the “Meyer” setting one apart from the masses of regular lemons, in the same manner that a white T-shirt from Armani Exchange is preferable to one from The Gap).
Meanwhile, balsamic vinegar, particularly of the so-called “white” variety (which, by the way, doesn’t actually exist), and portobello mushrooms (last decade’s brilliant marketing ploy to sell rubbery, over-grown button mushrooms) are clearly out. While I personally am an utterly reformed food fashion victim (I have to read all of those magazinesit’s my job), I must say that I am pleased to note the food mafia’s near-universal declaration that cold soups are once again cool. Along with strappy little sandals and scarlet-tipped toes, cold soups are presently on everyone’s IN-listfrom Metropolitan Home to Vanity Fair and even Bon Appetit. Their resurgence makes sense when viewed alongside the return of the cocktail and Audrey Hepburn style (which, we all know, never actually left). Like dry vermouth on the rocks and “The Girl from Ipanema,” a zippy chilled soup is sophisticated, refreshing, and ultimately chic.
“Zippy” is the operative word here. Say goodbye to thick, sweet dessert sauces masquerading as soup. A good chilled soup should not weigh one down, but rather invigorate the taster, like a nice aperitif. Gazpacho, no doubt our first cold-soup love, does the trick neatly, with a Spanish flair we’ll never forget. But there comes a time to move on and branch out.
Next time your guests are waiting for the coals to come to temp, try one of these recipes to break that awkward silence. Swish onto the patio with a tray of neat little bowls filled with flavorful tonic.
Heads will turn. Spirits will be lifted. Appetites will be piqued. You, and your guests, will be cool.
Chunky Chilled Beets Soup
Borscht (that’s beet soup) is kind of a quirky classic, like shoulder pads and double breasted jackets. Trendy menus these days are padded with beetsa blithe happenstance for stalwart fans such as myself. As herbs go, dill seems a bit out right now, but I predict dill’s return to grace, as cilantro becomes passé. Beets and dill are a classic match. Beets are often thought of as a cool weather stand-by, but, like carrots, you’ll find tender fresh beets throughout most of the summer. Nothing lifts the spirits like a nice pickled beet, and this soup is essentially a bowl full of them. I’ve often thought that the broth would make a divine martini (festive, too), but that’s another column.
1 bunch beets, trimmed
3 T. olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
1/4 head green cabbage, sliced thin
1 c. dry white wine
1 c. water
juice of 1 lemon
2 t. horseradish
6 T. creme fraiche (or sour cream)
Place the cleaned and trimmed beets in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the beets are tender but still firm, about 15 minutes. Let cool and peel, then quarter and slice the quarters about 1/4” thick.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a soup pot and add the onions. Cook until translucent, about five minutes. Add the celery and cabbage and cook two more minutes. Add the wine, water, and beets. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook about five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and horseradish and taste for seasoning. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool thoroughly and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of chives.
Cold Roasted Tomato Puree
6 vine-ripe tomatoes
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
3 T. olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. unflavored yogurt
chives to garnish
Roasting tomatoes intensifies the flavor, calling for scarce embellishment. Preheat the oven to 400. Place the tomatoes and onion in a small roasting pan and toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Scatter the thyme branches over and roast until the onion is soft and the tomatoes are blistered, about 25 minutes. Splash the vinegar into the still-hot pan, then allow to cool. Lift the peel from the tomatoes, then, in batches, puree all the pan’s ingredients. Thin with water as needed. Chill and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with yogurt and chives.
Spiced Melon Soup with Cucumber Relish
1 ripe honeydew melon, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 can coconut milk
2 t. red curry paste
juice of 1 lime
This concoction is slightly thick and slightly sweet, but far from cloying and further still from dessert. Like a heady cologne, a little dab will do ya. Just puree everything. Chill and adjust the seasoning. Serve cold with cucumber relish.
1 English cucumber, diced
1/4 red onion, diced
1 bunch mint, roughly chopped
2 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar
salt and red pepper to taste
Mix together, adjust seasoning, and serve over chilled melon soup. Best used the day it is made.
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