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Feel the chill: cold savory soups.

While cold soup has its fans, it's often passed up in favor of a cold salad after only a moment's hesitation. It's an understandable reaction. After all, soup promotion is based entirely on hearty, comforting, warming qualities. It's a thing to chase away chills, not give them.

But that may be changing. According to market research, chilled soups may soon represent as much as twenty percent of the soup market. Part of the reason is a growing appreciation for the quick health fix that some of them provide. The American Institute for Cancer Research believes people will be looking to chilled soups as a convenient way to get servings of vegetables while curbing the appetite for the remainder of the meal.

Health considerations aside, the real beauty of cold soup lies in its simplicity. Soups made for chilling tend to be based on a single ingredient, usually a vegetable, that delivers its essence directly. It's not a forum for demonstrating complexity; it's a place to let flavors speak for themselves.

Liquid Salad

While some chilled soups are simply iced hot soups, gazpacho has never been anything but cold. Originating in Andalusia, the earliest gazpacho was nothing more than bread ground with water and olive oil. It developed further during Arab rule in medieval Spain, into something more like the soup known as ajo blaneo, with garlic, almonds and vinegar in addition to the bread and oil. The word itself may have arisen at this time, since it likely derives from the Mozarabic term "caspa," meaning "fragments." Traditionally made in a mortar, gazpacho is usually coarse-textured.

In Spain, gazpacho today is a type of dish with many variations, the unifying element being bread. The most familiar, tomato-based version did not appear until New World tomatoes and peppers arrived on the ships of explorers in the 15th century. Others include gazpacho de antequera with garlic, almonds, mayonnaise and lemon juice; and gazpacho de la serrania de Huelva, a pureed form with garlic, paprika, tomatoes, peppers, oil and vinegar.

What the rest of the world knows as gazpacho is usually a chopped or pureed mixture of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, garlic, oil and vinegar. Many modern recipes dispense with the bread altogether, making it, in essence, a liquid salad.

One Man's Comfort

Instead of centuries of tradition, it took only the personal preference of a single chef to create vichyssoise. In the summer of 1917, chef de cuisine Louis Diat prepared a soup from his childhood for the patrons of New York's Ritz-Carlton. It was based on his mother's potato-leek soup, which he enjoyed cooled by the addition of cold milk. Some creation tales insist it was serendipity at work when, in desperation, Diat presented the soup chilled once it became clear he didn't have time to heat it properly for a party. Either way, it immediately became synonymous with sophistication. For many long, hot summers, Lord & Taylor's New York flagship store served nothing but vichyssoise at its soup bar.

Today, vichyssoise is the honored member of the chilled cream soup category. The others are similar in that they rely mostly on a single vegetable for a base, such as avocado, squash, peas, carrots and cucumbers. In these calorie-conscious times, half-and-half, milk, buttermilk and yogurt are more like to cream the final product.

In the eastern Mediterranean and through the Middle East, chilled yogurt-based soups are traditional in the summer. In Turkey, cold cucumber yogurt soup is called cacik. Likewise, with slight variations, it is known as tarator in Bulgaria, and ab doogh khiar in Iran. Greek tarata, as described by Alice B. Toklas in her own search for chilled soup recipes, is a yogurt soup with green peppers and eggplant.

The Sweet Beet

Given that many warmer parts of the world have a chilled savory soup or two in the repertory, Eastern Europe is remarkably well-known for its contributions to the concept. The two most familiar, borscht and chlodnik, are beet soups. A third, schav, is made of sorrel. Less often encountered outside the region are Polish kalteszal, a sweet-and-sour beer soup, and ochroszka, made with fermented rye.

Although borscht is commonly served hot, chilled borscht is not simply the same soup served cold. Borscht is the term applied to a number of vegetable soups, most of which contain beets, What makes chilled borscht distinctive is its focus: it is diced beets in clear beet broth with onions, lemon juice, sugar and salt, served with sour cream. Hot borscht is made heartier with beef, cabbage, mushrooms and potatoes.

Cold borscht is most strongly associated with Ashkenazi, or European Jewish culture. During the first half of the 20th century, the Catskill Mountain region of New York State was such a popular destination for Ashkenazi vacationers, it became known as the "Borscht Belt."

The word chlodnik means "cool" in Polish, and that is the only way the soup chlodnik is served. It is a type of cream soup, made by cooking grated beets together with their greens and stirring in sour milk or yogurt after cooling. Unusual among chilled soups, it often contains meat or seafood such as veal or crayfish. Traditional garnishes include radishes, cucumbers, dill and hard-cooked eggs. Schav, which is sorrel simmered in broth or water, is also served with radishes and cucumbers, as well as sour cream and green onions.

"Cold soup is a very tricky thing ... More often than not the dinner guest is left with the impression that had he only come a little earlier he could have gotten it while it was still hot."

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Title Annotation:Back to Basics
Publication:Art Culinaire
Date:Jun 22, 2007
Previous Article:Windows of Hope.
Next Article:Party of one.

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