Refreshing Cold Soup

Aaaand we’ve finally arrived at the dog days of summer here in the Northern hemisphere. The last thing we want to do is turn on any source of heat, so what do we do about dinner? The answer is a refreshing chilled soup, featuring peak summer produce!

Chilled soup is one of those things that you just don’t need a recipe for (even though tons exist—you may have heard of a certain “gazpacho.”) In my opinion, it’s much more fun to play around with whatever you have in the fridge or find at the market, testing out new ideas and flavors.

“But that sounds hard,” you say? It’s not at all! All you have to do is follow this general framework:

1-2 lbs of raw vegetables and herbs

I like to choose 2-3 types of fresh vegetables and 1 or more handfuls of fresh herbs. I like to combine veggies that have a similar color, so the resulting soup doesn’t end up a muddled brown. Good choices for veggies include:

  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • zucchini or summer squash
  • avocado
  • baby spinach
  • jalapeño pepper (if you like a kick!)

And for the herbs:

  • cilantro
  • fresh basil
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh mint
  • fresh dill

I also like to throw in some “alliums,” members of the onion family. These lend extra complexity and bite to the final product:

  • red or white onion
  • garlic
  • chives
  • scallions

Word of warning about alliums: don’t use too much! Just 1-2 cloves of garlic or a quarter of a medium onion should do. Because it’s all going in raw, you don’t want to overwhelm the palate.

1-2 tablespoons of something acidic

For the most part, this means lemon or lime juice or a light-colored vinegar. The acidity balances out the sweetness inherent in many summer vegetables.

1-2 cups of broth, tomato juice, or water

To give the soup that liquid consistency, we’ll need a… well, liquid! I tend to prefer broth because that adds a base layer of umami flavor. Any kind of broth will do, except for seafood broth. Tomato juice also adds that umami, but it’s a tad acidic so cut down on the lemon juice or vinegar. Water works too; the flavor will just be a little lighter. The amount you use depends on how thick your soup turns out. You can always add more to adjust the consistency.

Optional items to add body and richness

For me this means some form of dairy (such as heavy cream, sour cream, yogurt, or even cream cheese). A surprising addition is bread crusts—yes, use those up! They add a nice body and thickness to the soup.

Oil and salt

These add final touches of flavor. Without these, you may find yourself eating a vegetable smoothie.

If this all seems very overwhelming, don’t worry! I got you. For first-time cold soup makers, here is a ready-made combination of ingredients to try:

  • 1 English cucumber (the long thin kind, usually wrapped in plastic)
  • ¼ of a medium onion or ½ of a small onion
  • 2 sprigs each of parsley and dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup cream or sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil to drizzle

Remember, a lot of cooking is about learning to taste and adjust based on personal preferences. Cold soups are an excellent way to practice doing that, because you can always add more things to the blender or the final mixture. This is, in other words, supremely tweak-able.

Let’s make some refreshing chilled soups!

Tools Needed:

  • blender or stick blender
  • knife
  • cutting board

Ingredients Needed:

  • some raw vegetables and herbs (see description for suggestions) 1-2 pounds
  • lemon juice or any kind of vinegar
  • broth, tomato juice, or water at least 1 cup
  • leftover bread crusts optional
  • heavy cream, sour cream, or plain yogurt optional
  • olive oil
  • salt

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  • Wow, this looks delicious. I love the creaminess that avocado adds, too.

    If you want to avoid washing your food processor next time, just chop the veggies up into smaller bits and go at it with your immersion blender directly. It’s a good way to practice your knife skills!

  • That’s gorgeous! I love the feathery sprig of dill on there. Yeah, it’s tough to get a perfectly smooth consistency with a stick blender, but sometimes that’s part of the charm. Well done!

  • Mmmm.. avocados! This looks tasty. Just curious – what kind of chicken stock did you use? Was it a particular brand? I find that Swanson Organic Chicken Broth (the kind in those Tetrapak boxes) is pretty good, almost as good as homemade :)

  • I ended up making more than strictly recommended, with a cucumber, a squash, two tomatoes, a third of an onion, two avocados, a little bit of fresh basil, and a bit of lemon juice. For the stock, I used the leftovers from a few meals—the skin and juices of some chicken I’d over-spiced and burnt onion bits, which I’d added to the water I’d boiled sweet potatoes in. Amazingly refreshing, and very creamy with the avocados.

    I don’t have an actual blender, only an immersion blender, so I used the food processor attachment to get my initial bunch veggies chopped on the finer before I went at it with my stick. There were still a few struggles until the concoction got more liquidy… then everything was blended incredibly smoothly! I started with my plainer ingredients and then kept adding things that sounded good until the soup was interesting. Because I added so much, I ended up making 4 servings… which was not at all a problem, and only lasted one more day.

  • I forget about chilled soups! I see the wisdom of the garnish and the drizzle to elevate it from the realm of smoothies. Really delicious and easy on a hot night. I used tomatoes, a summer squash, a little dill, jalapeño and for something creamy, a splash of buttermilk. Tastes like the lushness of summer.

  • I made my cold soup using baby spinach, cucumber, garlic, a little onion, cauliflower and dill. It turned out pretty good although since I was using a hand blender I wasn’t able to get the smooth consistency I was hoping for. The flavor was great and it really was simple to do. I’m excited to try other flavor combinations. I’m most proud of how it looks in the bowl. I’ve never been greaton beautiful presentation but I think I nailed it this time.

  • After traveling and eating out for two weeks, my jet lagged body craved some nutrition — and this was perfect. I blended zucchini squash, cucumber and spinach with chives, basil and a dollop of Greek yogurt. I used chicken stock as the liquid base, which was fine but I needed to add quite a bit of salt at the end to enhance it. Next time I probably would add a little less basil (the soup tasted a bit on the raw side) and use real chicken broth instead of stock. It was my first time using a blender to make soup — will definitely try it again!