Chill Out With Cool Summer Soups

Photos courtesy World Soups

By Sharon Hudgins

Now that global warming seems to be raising temperatures in Europe, you can beat the heat on your next summer trip by eating cold soup. That’s right. If the thought of eating a chilled soup leaves you cold, think again. Chilled soups have been popular in Europe for centuries, from Scandinavia in the north to Spain in the south. Why not try them yourself?
Some of these soups are made with fruits and berries, often combined with milk products. Others are based on vegetables and meat stocks, sometimes spiked with wine. They can be cooked or uncooked, thick or thin, smooth or chunky, sweet or savory, plain or garnished.

Most cold soups are eaten at the start of a meal, but in elaborate dinners they are sometimes served as palate cleansers between courses. In various parts of Europe, chilled soups are also eaten for breakfast, for snacks, as a main dish of a light meal and even for dessert. Some cold soups are considered solely summer fare, whereas others are served year round.

The next time you travel in Europe, look for these classic chilled soups, some of which are regional or national specialties.

The Scandinavians have a large repertoire of colorful cold soups made from fruits and berries (fresh or dried, bottled or frozen). The bounty of summer’s harvest turns up in many Scandinavian soup bowls: apples, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches and pears; blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, lingonberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, currants and raisins; and even other ingredients such as rhubarb and rosehips. Often these are combined with buttermilk, soured milk, yoghurt or sour cream, with a little lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon added, too.

Uncooked cold soups of this type are made simply by mixing the fruits and berries with the liquid and other flavorings, which are mashed together or puréed in a blender or food processor (much like a fruit smoothie). Cooked cold soups start with heating the ingredients together, then thickening them with flour, potato starch, cornstarch, arrowroot, sago, tapioca, semolina, ground rice or beaten eggs, before the soup is chilled for serving. Often these cold soups are garnished with a dollop of whipped cream or with heavy cream poured over the top.

The Danes make a cold buttermilk soup, which can be cooked or uncooked, seasoned with sugar and lemon juice and thickened with eggs or ground rice. Sometimes this pale-colored soup is poured over crumbled oatcakes in a bowl, topped with whipped cream and served at the end of a meal.

Surely the most famous Danish cold soup is rødgrød—literally “red groats”—a kind of thin pudding made from red fruits and berries (cherries, red raspberries, strawberries, red currants) cooked together, lightly thickened, then served cold, garnished with milk or cream. Occasionally blueberries, blackberries and black currants are added, which give the mixture a deeper, darker color. Considered a “national dish” of Denmark, this chilled pudding-soup is actually very popular throughout the Nordic countries, where you’ll find it on the table for breakfast, served as a soup before the meat course of the day’s main meal, or eaten as a summer dessert.

Rote Grütze is the German version of this same dish. It’s considered a specialty from the northern part of Germany, particularly the region of Schleswig-Holstein (near Denmark), where it’s known as Rodgrütt. You’ll now find Rote Grütze served throughout Germany, especially in the summer, from hotel breakfast buffets to the dessert menus of fancy restaurants, from beer halls to local festivals—the ruby-red mélange is topped with vanilla sauce, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

In the German language, cold soups in general are called Kaltschalen (“cold bowls”). Germans and Austrians both enjoy a variety of cold fruit-and-berry soups, at the beginning or end of a meal, as much as their northern neighbors do. Germans also make a chilled beer soup with currants and grated pumpernickel bread, seasoned with lemon, sugar, cinnamon and cloves, and garnished with pumpernickel croutons or little airy egg-white dumplings; cold spiced red or white wine soup, adorned with crunchy almond macaroons; a refreshing buttermilk soup embellished with stewed fruit or whipped cream; and a pale-green sorrel soup containing dill, sour cream, diced cucumbers and chopped hard-boiled eggs, served with an ice cube in each bowl.

The Austrians have their own versions of cold wine soups, such as lemon soup with sugar, egg yolks and white wine, sprinkled with a dusting of ground cloves, and a rich beef consommé (clarified meat stock) spiked with dry white wine, with a thin slice of orange and some finely chopped parsley floating on top. Austrian cold tomato soup combines white wine with a purée of tomatoes and onions cooked in beef stock, spiced with garlic and paprika, and with finely chopped cucumbers stirred into the soup just before serving.
The Austrians also like lightly gelled cold consommés enhanced with chilled green grapes, diced ham and minced herbs (parsley, chives, chervil, tarragon). And the unusual Austrian Kalte Paradeissuppe (Cold Paradise Soup) consists of chilled cantaloupe, cucumber and melon balls in a shallow soup plate surrounded by a cold purée of tomatoes and sour cream with strips of cooked ham, decorated with chopped parsley and mint—a combination worthy of being labeled “Baroque.”

Cold soups are as prevalent in Eastern Europe as in the central and northern parts of the continent. Poland in particular has a rich heritage of chilled soups based on a variety of fruits, berries and vegetables mixed with meat stocks, dairy products and pickled or fermented foods that give a slightly sour taste to some of these soups.

Sweet soups include pear and buttermilk with cloves and lemon rind, as well as soups made of strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, apples and plums, sometimes partnered with rhubarb, scented with cinnamon or vanilla and garnished with fried bread croutons or little puff-pastry pellets. The Poles also make Zupa Nic (Nothing Soup), a sweet, ice-cold, custardy concoction, with frothy egg-white dumplings, much like the French dessert, Oeufs à la Neige (Snow Eggs).

Polish cold savory soups are often based on cooked or raw vegetables mixed with a sour liquid. In addition to several cold versions of barszcz (borshch) made with red beets and garnished with sour cream, the Poles make beet and buttermilk soup poured over hard-boiled egg slices; buttermilk and pickle brine soup; cold cucumber soup with soured milk, dill pickles, and hard-boiled egg quarters; and a creamy green cold soup of soured milk and buttermilk with sorrel, dill pickles, green onions, parsley, chives, dill weed, garlic and hard-boiled eggs.

Borshch, served hot or cold, is the national dish of Ukraine, where you’ll find as many versions as cooks who prepare it. Usually based on beets, which give it a bright red color, borshch can also contain potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, radishes, dill, garlic, meat stock, buttermilk or sour cream, pickle brine or sauerkraut juice, hard-boiled eggs, chopped beef or ham and even crayfish or shrimp. You name it, and the Ukrainians are likely to throw it into the soup pot. And in the summer they’ll often serve it chilled.

Sweetened fruit soups are popular in Ukraine and Belarus, too. On hot summer days, a light meal in these countries might consist of a bowl of cold fruit soup or chilled borshch, accompanied by a fresh vegetable salad or a fruit compote.

Hungarians love cold fruit soups. You’ll find chilled cherry soup on many Hungarian restaurant menus—a pretty pink soup made with tart Morello cherries, flavored with red or white wine, sugar, cinnamon and lemon, with a dash of sour cream or a dollop of whipped cream as a final flourish. Cold raspberry and strawberry soups are also popular, as is the simple but elegant fruit soup composed of puréed peaches and peach seeds, sugar, sparkling wine and Hungarian Riesling wine. Hungarian chilled vegetable soups include beet soups similar to Slavic borshch and a creamy yellow squash soup seasoned with dill.

Romanian fruit and berry soups range from apple, apricot, cherry and plum, to gooseberry and red currant. Some are sweet and creamy, garnished with puffs of sweet meringue and sliced nuts. Others are slightly sour, from lemon juice or soured milk products, and some even contain chopped or slivered smoked meats. The Romanians also make a cold vegetable soup containing cucumbers, carrots, onions, celeriac, veal stock, sour cream and dill.

Surely the most famous “French” cold soup is Vichyssoise—the classic potato and leek cream soup—which was actually created in New York by a French chef, Louis Diat, in the early 20th century. But the French can claim plenty of cold soups on their home soil, from seafood bisques to Crème Cyrano Froid, a cold chicken soup thickened with eggs and seasoned with mustard, tarragon and cayenne pepper, along with pieces of finely diced chicken or ham, all lightened by whipped cream folded into the mixture.

Other cold and creamy French soups include such flavors as broccoli, asparagus, cucumber with tarragon or mint, tomato with garlic and dill, carrot with cayenne, pumpkin with ginger and nutmeg, and green pea with diced chicken or turkey. These are often served in a bowl placed on a bed of crushed ice to keep the soup chilled while you eat.

In summer the French have a penchant for chilled consommés with pieces of cooked meats or vegetables suspended in the slightly gelatinous stock. They also make a lovely cold sorrel soup seasoned with garlic and lemon juice, mixed with heavy cream, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and thin slices of cucumber, then poured over diced black bread for serving.

Gazpacho is the king of cold soups in Spain. A regional specialty from Andalucía, in southern Spain, gazpacho can now be found on tourist menus all over the country, especially in the summer. The most common kind of gazpacho is a reddish-colored purée of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, white bread, garlic, olive oil and wine vinegar. Served at the beginning of a meal, this type of gazpacho is often garnished with fried croutons and diced raw onions, cucumbers and peppers.

Before tomatoes and peppers arrived in Spain from the Western hemisphere 500 years ago, Andalucían gazpacho was simple peasant fare, made with the cheapest ingredients—only bread, water, salt, garlic, olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice—mashed together in a wooden bowl and eaten as the midday meal by farm workers in the fields. Today you’ll find many kinds of gazpachos in Spain: red, white, green and yellow, thick or thin, containing a wide range of ingredients from fruits and nuts to eggs, fish, meat and milk.
Salmorejo is a version of red, tomato-based gazpacho from Córdoba, where chopped hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna and strips of Spanish serrano ham are added to the cold mélange. Córdoban cooks also concoct a chilled white gazpacho made with almonds and sometimes pine nuts. Granada and Málaga both claim ajo blanco, a smooth white garlic and almond gazpacho garnished with green grapes. And Spanish gazpachuelo frio is another chilled white soup, prepared from thick homemade mayonnaise whisked with plenty of ice water before chopped red tomatoes and black olives are stirred in.

Given the torrid summers in southern Europe, it’s surprising that Italy, Greece and parts of the Balkans don’t have a tradition of many chilled soups in their regional or national cuisines. The Italians do have a minestrone freddo alla milanese, a rice and vegetable soup from Milan, garnished with basil leaves and grated cheese. But even that soup is eaten only at room temperature, not chilled.

Greeks cool off with tzatziki soupa, cold cucumber and yoghurt soup blended with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and fresh mint. And around Thessaloniki, Greeks eat a sweet cherry soup made with dry white wine, heavy cream, cherry liqueur and cinnamon—much like the fruit soups favored in many northern European countries.

Tarator is a classic Bulgarian cold cucumber-and-yoghurt soup, very similar to the version eaten in Greece. But Bulgarian tarator is enriched with a paste of pounded walnuts, garlic, salt and olive oil swirled into it, often with chopped walnuts or dill sprinkled over the top. Bulgarians make other chilled soups from yoghurt combined with zucchini, sorrel, mushrooms and fresh herbs (especially dill). Cold tomato soups can sometimes be found in the Balkans, too. And on Christmas Eve the Bulgarians even serve a cold soup made of sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice, chopped leeks, onions and paprika, accompanied by a bowl of grilled hot peppers!

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