When most people think 'cold soup,' their minds understandably jump to Gazpacho, in one of its numerous regional variations. Now call me a cheat, but I rarely bother making my own; the reality is that most decent delicatessens stock fantastic stuff in cartons, saving a huge amount of time and effort on your part. Balancing the seasoning and acidity of a Gazpacho is notoriously difficult, so if you find a brand you like, don't see buying it as a cop-out.
Amongst others, there is also the Vichyssoise vein of cold soupage, but it's not my favourite. For me, the best soup to usher in those early summer days, and one that will see you through to mid-September, is anything bright green and with a healthy amount of gin. Now, when I first started putting gin into soup, I'm fairly certain my husband suspected me of having some kind of borderline alcohol dependency; admittedly, if the gin wasn't going into my food, it would be going into my tonic. Or both, for that matter. But my logic is very convincing: the botanicals found in most gins match perfectly with all those foods we associate best with summer- think cucumber and lemon, for example- so it gives a green summer soup a perfectly innocent kick.
What You Need:
- 2 sticks of celery (hold on to the leaves)
- A large handful of borage, if available. Failing that, 2/3 of a cucumber.
- 1 courgette
- 1 average-sized bag of watercress
- A couple of slices of decent quality white bread, crusts off.
- Juice of 3 unwaxed lemons, and the zest of 2 (reserve half for the the garnish)
- 100g of soft British goat's cheese, or feta.
- 100g frozen peas
- 1 handful of applemint (or ordinary if you can't find any)
- 50ml Hendricks gin (as it has a more pronounced cucumber flavour, but any gin works well)
- A good slug of cider vinegar
- 1 cup of crushed ice
- Tabasco/generic hot sauce to serve (optional)
Plus: a blender.
Try to allow some degree of flexibility with your ingredients: asparagus works well if you throw in a couple of stalks, but it is worth bearing in mind that its season is very short (just a couple of months from the end of May, depending on weather.) Obviously you could use asparagus imported from Israel or some other far-flung country, but it kind of defeats the object here. This soup is amazing because you could probably source everything within a twenty mile radius, if you tried hard enough- depending on how many local goats are hanging around. Essentially, if you have anything non-toxic and of the right hue hanging around your garden, just chuck it in. Lettuce, broad beans and chives can all be subbed-in as necessary, depending on your mood. Just be creative.
What You Do:
Seeing as this soup is raw, there's not much scope for screwing it up. That is unless (like me) you feel the urge to stick a wooden spoon into your blender halfway through the blending process. Large chunks of wood are an optional extra.
1. Chop up your celery, keeping a few of the leaves for a fancy garnish. Throw it in the blender with the roughly chopped borage/cucumber and courgette.
2. Pulse a couple of times to achieve a lumpy, thick-ish base, and then tear up your bread, adding this on top. Follow this with the rest of the veg, and then the cheese. Feel free to keep some back if you want to crumble it on top with the rest of your garnish. Blend it.
3. At this point, the jug will probably need a bit of a jig to ensure everything is getting mushed. But like I said, don't use a wooden spoon.
4. Add the gin, lemon juice and cider vinegar, followed by the zest of one of your lemons. If you are using the unwaxed variety, you'll notice that the scent and oils are a lot stronger than in its waxed variety. I'm sure I don't need to explain why.
5. Season like there's no tomorrow- this can take it. In the unlikely event that you do go over the top, it's easy enough to counter balance with a bit more gin, lemon juice, cucumber... anything. Whizz it all up until you get a smooth-ish consistency, and then heap on the crushed ice. Bash it all up again, and then check for seasoning. This really is quite a personal soup, and you can add as much or as little of the ingredients as you like to suit your taste.
6.Serve chilled, with a few pretty bits and pieces of anything that went in there initially adorning the top. I get incredibly excited by the contrast between cucumber and chilli on my tongue, so I'm not shy with the Tabasco, but it's always up to you.
So, before it's too late, try to squeeze in one more summery soup. Before you know, it'll be leek and lentil all round...