I recently made four summertime soups. One of them was chilled, but each, in its way, was unforgettable.
We’ll start with Beet-Fennel-Ginger Soup, and along with beets, fennel and ginger it also is made with cabbage and vegetable stock.
”That’s borsch,” said a colleague. “You just made borsch in March.”
”It’s not borsch,” I said. “It isn’t just beet soup. It also has cabbage and vegetable stock.”
OK, it’s borsch. But this version is made without meat, so it is a hearty vegetarian meal — or vegan, if you forgo the dollop of yogurt on top. It also is lighter in tone and texture than borsch I have made in the past. While it has the sweetly earthy undertone that comes from the beets, it also is enlivened by the exotic, anise taste of fennel and the finishing warm bite of ginger.
When puréed together — and these recipes are going to require a lot of puréeing — the ingredients become better than their individual parts. The soup also is light and smooth, perfect for a warm summer’s evening.
I went the elegant route for my next effort, Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Soup.
I have made asparagus soup many times and loved it. I have made mushroom soup many times and loved it. But never have I thought to combine the two into one incredible dish. That takes the kind of culinary genius possessed by a pioneering chef. The soup that results is magnificently subtle, playing the delicate, fresh spring like taste of asparagus off the satisfying umami burr of the shiitake mushrooms.
This soup is not for people counting their Weight Watchers’ points. A rich roux turns the texture of the soup to velvet, and the flavors are tied together by a cup of heavy cream. I used half-and-half to save a few calories.
My next soup also came from a famous restaurant. Cream of Zucchini and Almond Soup was a dish served at the Walnut Room in the flagship State Street location of the Marshall Field’s store in Chicago. Who would think to combine the grassiness of zucchini with the warm, nutty crunch of almonds? And who would think to put it together in a cream soup? But that’s not where the brilliance of this dish ends. The soup stands out because of the subtle inclusion of sweet spice: A restrained mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
My last soup is the easiest to make. Sweet Pea Soup also has the freshest taste.
Simmer together the peas, some sweet red pepper, a hunk of onion and a carrot in chicken stock, vegetable stock or even ham stock. When the vegetables are thoroughly cooked, but just barely, you puree it to a silky smooth texture.
Salt it generously and serve it, if you want, with croutons or crumbled bacon. I used both. It seemed like a summery thing to do.
Yield: 8 servings.
2½ cups red beets, peeled and chopped4 cups chopped cabbage2 cups chopped fennel1 garlic clove, chopped3 tablespoons chopped ginger8 cups vegetable stock, divided½ teaspoon salt
teaspoon black pepper½ cup nonfat yogurt2 tablespoons chopped fennel sprigs
1. Combine the beets, cabbage, fennel, garlic, ginger and 6 cups of the stock in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Strain the soup through a large-mesh sieve. Purée the vegetables in 1 cup of the heated broth in a food processor or blender until smooth (you might have to do this in batches). Add the remaining heated broth, and blend. If the soup is not of a pourable consistency, add some of the remaining 2 cups of broth until it reaches your desired texture.
3. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in chilled bowls, if desired, with yogurt and fennel sprigs.
Nutritional information per serving: 60 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 1 g cholesterol; 3 g protein; 13 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 756 mg sodium; 51 mg calcium.
Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Soup
Yield: 8 servings.
1 pound fresh asparagus½ pound shiitake mushrooms1 tablespoon vegetable oil1 tablespoon water4 stalks celery, chopped2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped1 medium onion, choppedSalt and pepper6 cups chicken stock7 tablespoons butter
cup all-purpose flour1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1. Fill a large bowl with ice and water, and set aside. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil.
2. Snap the woody stem off each stalk of asparagus, and reserve. Lightly peel half the number of stalks. Chop the reserved ends and the remaining unpeeled asparagus into ¼-inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Blanch the peeled asparagus in the boiling water. Do not overcook; the asparagus should be cooked yet remain crisp. Transfer the blanched asparagus to the ice water.
3. When the blanched asparagus is cool, cut into ¾-inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
4. Remove and chop the mushroom stems. Slice and reserve the caps.
5. Heat the vegetable oil and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the chopped (¼-inch) asparagus, mushroom stems, celery, leeks and onions. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onions are translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
6. While the chicken stock 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 bubbles, 6-8 minutes. Strain 4 cups boiling stock into the roux and whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the remaining stock and vegetables. Whisk until well combined. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Purée in a blender or a food processor. Strain into a 5-quart saucepan and return to low heat. Hold at a simmer for a few minutes while completing the recipe (Note: If you are not going to serve the soup within 1 hour, do not complete the next step until ready to serve; otherwise, the delicate flavor and color of the asparagus will be dissipated).
8. Heat the cream, sliced shiitakes and 3/4-inch asparagus pieces in a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add to the soup and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately. (This soup can be held hot in a double boiler for up to 1 hour.)
Nutritional information per serving: 250 calories; 18 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 45 g cholesterol; 6 g protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 389 mg sodium; 58 mg calcium.
Cream of Zucchini and Almond Soup
Yield: 8 servings.
6 tablespoons onion, minced1 tablespoon butter1
cups zucchini, sliced thin2 tablespoons slivered almonds5 cups chicken stock2½ tablespoons ground almonds, see note
cup half-and-half or heavy cream1 tablespoon brown sugar
Note: You can use almond butter for ground almonds. If you don’t have it, grind slivered almonds in a spice grinder or chop small and grind with a mortar and pestle.
Sauté onions in butter until soft. Add zucchini and slivered almonds. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes (zucchini should not be barely tender, not limp). Add chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Add ground almonds. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cream, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat thoroughly.
Nutritional information per serving: 134 calories; 8 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 20 g cholesterol; 5 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 218 mg sodium; 21 mg calcium.
weet Pea Soup
Yield: 4 servings.
½ tablespoon olive oil1 cup chopped onion4 (1-inch) slices sweet red bell pepper1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin4 cups chicken, ham or vegetable stock2 cups frozen or fresh peasSalt, to tasteCroutonsCrispy bacon, optional
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add stock and simmer 5 minutes. Add peas and cook until peas are heated through, 1 minute for frozen and 3-5 minutes for fresh. Add salt to taste. Purée in a blender until smooth. Serve with croutons and crumbled bacon, if desired.
Nutritional information per serving: 198 calories; 7 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 5 g cholesterol; 7 g protein; 29 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 7 g fiber; 1,355 mg sodium; 49 mg calcium.
Daniel Neman writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.