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Let’s Make Some Cold Soup

Cold cucumber soup
Photo by Albert Burneko/Illustration by Chris Thompson

So the most recent one of these blogs was about cacio e pepe, the famous Roman pasta dish of spaghetti tossed with pecorino cheese and pepper and pasta water. The complaint, as voiced by the commenter Bluebrain, was that "it is too fucking hot to be boiling pasta"; Bluebrain wanted a blog about how to make "some fucking gazpacho" or even "some goddamn salmorejo."

I deem this a fair complaint. I live in a log cabin in the woods. Amid everything else, good and bad, that is true about my home, it happens to have a wide-open floor plan and quite high ceilings. Boiling a pot of pasta makes no appreciable change to my living conditions: Neither the steam nor the heat are confined enough to do much of anything unless you're standing right over the stove. If I did not live here, but rather in, for example, the small one-bedroom apartment where my wife and I lived after we got married—probably the most normal type of place for adult humans to live, that is to say—boiling a pot of pasta in mid-June would make my home into a hellish dripping sauna. I might still do it—the pasta is the life, after all, and it shall be mine!—but a wiser and more temperate person might not.

Bluebrain is onto something: This really is a good time for cold soups. On the other hand, you go to hell, Bluebrain! Red gazpacho (the only kind I know all that well) and salmorejo, for all their admirable qualities, are cold tomato-based soups, and if mid-June at normal latitudes is too hot for pasta, then it is also, inarguably, too fucking June for tomatoes. It is OK to use canned tomatoes for hot tomato soup, but for the cold stuff, I simply insist on fresh tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes will not be worth a damn until Tomato Time; Tomato Time will not arrive at those normal latitudes until, at the absolute earliest, mid-July, and even that might be pushing it. Gazpacho is out! Salmorejo is out!

Thankfully this still leaves you with options; strictly speaking one of those options is disregarding my admonishments and making gazpacho for yourself, but even if you have the self-respect not to do that, you still have options. People have been out in the world, feeling hot and sweaty and resentful, not wanting to cook, for a very long time, and in places without tomatoes in them; they have devised many cold soups. Some of these have been around long enough to get proper names—vichyssoise, uh, gazpacho, etc.—but plenty of them are just Some Stuff I Put Into The Blender. There are peach soups (which I cannot countenance before peaches come into season); there are soups of cold spiced yogurt; there are cold pea soups. There is also, if you want to be very literal about things, simply eating some canned soup without having warmed it first, but that is not what I am talking about here.

There is also what I think people in America tend to regard as sort of the stereotype of the cold blended soup: Cucumber soup. This comes in roughly a bazillion forms, which is nice; you can play around with it and figure out something you like. Virtually any of those forms can be prepared within about five minutes if you have a blender, which, again, is nice—both for you, the hungry person not wanting to use their stove, and also for me, the blogger wanting to make readers happy with some food that can be prepared in fewer than a thousand complicated steps. The photo up there is of some spicy cucumber soup that I made this week; it took just a few minutes to prepare, tasted extremely good, and was officially too spicy for all four of the other people who sat down with me to eat it for dinner. Whoops.

Anyway here is how to make it.

You will need a few things.

You'll need some cucumbers. I recommend the long skinny type sometimes packaged as "English cucumbers" for this. Three normal-sized ones of these will come to about two pounds, and will yield enough cucumber soup to serve five people. Sometimes these are sold as "seedless" but in my experience that is a bunch of baloney. They do seem to have fewer and smaller seeds than the thicker, shorter cucumbers not labeled as either "English" or "seedless," though, and this is good; peel the skin off each one, slice it in half the long way, and then scoop out and discard the seedy innermost part with a little spoon. This will give you several long cucumber canoes. Nice. Imagine the whitewater adventures you could send some beetles on in those suckers. But also, hack them into manageable hunks for fitting into your blender or food processor. The cucumbers. Do not hack any beetles.

You will need, if you are using three cucumbers, around four cups of some creamy type of stuff. This can be cream, or whole milk, or buttermilk, or plain (or plain Greek) yogurt thinned out with some water until it is roughly the thickness of heavy cream. Presumably it could be non-dairy stuff too; I have a hunch that you could go with suitably rich and creamy coconut milk and get some cucumber soup that would be absolutely killer, but I did not have time to tinker with that this week and so it is only theoretical for now.

Cucumbers are wonderful and delicious and I like them very much, and I hope I will not offend them too deeply if I note that they are not nature's most powerfully flavorful of growths. You will need some other flavorful vegetal stuff to make your cucumber soup truly vivid-tasting, if that is your type of thing, which I hope it is. The cucumber soup up there in the photo was made with two big cloves of raw garlic, a small minced shallot, two little green Serrano peppers that I guess turned out to be way hotter than I expected, with their stems removed but all the hot stuff (seeds and flesh) left in them, two big fistfuls of chopped herbs (parsley, dill, chives, a few basil leaves, sadly no mint but later I wished I had used some), and a half-dozen or so scallions, sliced thinly (and with some of the slices reserved for garnishing).

The soup also included some non-vegetal stuff, other than the creamy stuff listed above. Here I am talking about salt, naturally. A hit of some good fish sauce did some good in there, as a flavor intensifier that did not make the soup taste even a teeny little bit like fish. And, for some tartness and also because I had a hunch it would just taste extremely good, I chucked a couple of lumps of soft goat cheese into the blender. The truth of the matter is, I don't think the goat cheese accomplished all that much that could not more cheaply have been managed with white wine vinegar or plain white vinegar or lemon juice. For that matter, using Greek yogurt as your source of creaminess might knock out two birds—creaminess and tartness—with one stone. I do think your soup will benefit from some tartness! I am just saying I don't think it needs to come from goat cheese.

I think that was it? I'm pretty sure that was it. You'll love the next part.

To prepare the soup, simply put all of this stuff into the blender or food processor, blend it until it is smooth, taste it and add salt if necessary, and then either refrigerate it for a while to make it truly cold before serving or simply pour it into bowls if you want to have it now. If you reserved some scallions for garnishing, then whenever you decide to eat your cucumber soup, simply garnish the soup with the scallions. That's it.

It's hot out! It's nice to be able to eat a meal that counteracts this, that is refreshing both in temperature and in its cool green flavor, that you could prepare in like a tenth the time it took you to read this blog. Maybe later this summer we can give gazpacho a whirl, if I feel that the tomatoes are worthy of such a thing—but not a moment sooner than that.

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