Revenge, patient people tell us, is a dish best served cold. I feel the same way about soup, at least at this time of year. When it gets hot, there are few things that will whet a flagging appetite like a sip of cold soup.
What's even better, they're so easy to make. Puree tomatoes, soaked bread, garlic, assorted vegetables and good Spanish olive oil, and you have gazpacho. Blend avocado with cold chicken stock, and you have the base for something equally grand.
Just as easy, but seen a lot less often, are cold dairy soups — based on tart buttermilk or yogurt. You can make them as simple as grated cucumbers stirred into yogurt or something much more elaborate. And there are few dishes more refreshing.
For the most part, these soups work best as appetizers. I remember one of the first fancy dinners I ever made was for my parents. I labored for a couple of hours on a lovely Hungarian cherry soup that Richard Olney had collected in one volume of his "The Good Cook" series. It really was something — you pitted sour cherries, then made a quick stock with the cracked pits (I used a hammer), a cinnamon stick and riesling, then brought everything together with sour cream and chilled it. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I basked in much praise.
But when we were finished, everyone sat looking around at each other, wondering who was going to be the first to ask where the main course was. We went out for burgers, if I recall correctly.
But just because they won't stand in for a full meal doesn't mean these soups are in any way slight. Easy to make? Sure. But you still need to pay attention to the details.
Maybe the most important thing to remember: The freshly made soup is little more than a rough draft. After the soup's been thoroughly chilled, you will definitely need to fine-tune the seasoning and the texture.
Cold dulls flavor; you'll almost certainly want to add more salt and pepper and maybe more acidity. At the same time, vegetables sometimes give up liquid, which will thin the soup.
And starches can absorb liquid, which will make the soup thick and muddy. That's easy to fix, with the addition of a little milk.
A dairy background makes an ideal blank canvas for experimentation. For example, blend radishes and their blanched tops with buttermilk, green onions and a little garlic, and you have a soup that's pretty nice — tart and spicy with bits of crunch.
Some cold soups actually can make a whole meal. Grate cucumbers into yogurt with some chopped jalapeno and minced red onion, and you have an appetizer. Add cooked barley for a satisfying light dinner. No after-dinner burger runs necessary.
Buttermilk soup with radishes, peppery green oil
Prep: 25 minutes
Chill: 2 hours
2 bunches radishes, with their tops
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 bunch green onions, green and white parts, chopped
3 cups buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1. Trim the green tops from the radishes; rinse the tops well, discarding any that are discolored or wilted. Blanch in a saucepan of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, about 30 seconds. Drain; transfer to a bowl full of ice water to stop the cooking. Squeeze dry; chop coarsely. Reserve 2 tablespoons to make the oil.
2. Quarter all but 4 of the radishes. Coarsely grind the quartered radishes, most of the blanched tops, garlic and green onions in a food processor.
3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl or pitcher; add the buttermilk and sour cream. Stir well to combine. Season aggressively with salt and white pepper. Chill for a couple of hours.
4. Meanwhile, blend the reserved 2 tablespoons blanched radish tops with the olive oil until smooth; strain it through cheesecloth into a bowl. Do not press or squeeze the solids or the results will be cloudy.
5. To serve, taste and adjust seasoning for salt and pepper. Thinly slice the remaining radishes. Divide the soup among 6 chilled bowls. Float the sliced radishes on top; drizzle with a little of the green oil.
Per serving: 280 calories, 25 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 744 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.
Cucumber and yogurt soup with barley
Prep: 10 minutes
Cool and chill: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
1 cup pearl barley
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 pound small cucumbers
4 cups yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced, seeded jalapeno pepper
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
1 tablespoon chopped mint
3 tablespoons chopped dill
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1.Toast the barley in a dry saucepan over medium heat until it smells browned. Remove the pan from the heat to avoid spattering; add the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain; cool to room temperature.
2. If the cucumbers have been waxed, peel them. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise; scrape the centers with a spoon to remove the seeds. Grate cucumbers into a large bowl; add the garlic, jalapeno, red onion, 2 teaspoons mint and 2 tablespoons dill. Add the yogurt and cooked barley; season aggressively with salt. Chill for a couple of hours.
3. To serve, add just enough milk to thin to the consistency of heavy cream. (The cucumber will release some liquid, and the barley will absorb some, so the amount might vary.) Add salt to taste, if needed. Divide the soup among 6 chilled soup bowls. Top with the remaining mint, dill, a sprinkling of chopped walnuts and a dash of paprika.
Per serving: 323 calories, 10 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 45 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 142 mg sodium, 6 g fiber.