Eastern European Jewish cooks had the right idea when it came to beating the heat. They made cold concoctions like Russian borscht, Polish schav and Hungarian sour-cherry soup.
Served in a glass as a cool prelude to a meal -- or in a bowl accompanied by bread and cheese, and, perhaps, some diced potatoes -- these refreshing, busy-day recipes can be prepared almost instantly with just a short stop at the stove. Simply put, they are the perfect choice for muggy August evenings.
To hasten the chilling process, fill a plastic bag with ice cubes and seal well. Put the bag in the hot soup, and place in the fridge a half-hour or so before serving.
A sweet fruit soup can easily be turned into an elegant dessert, with or without a small scoop of vanilla ice-cream plopped in the center.
11/2 lbs. beets (any color), peeled and cut into pieces
4 cups water or vegetable stock
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tbsps. red-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, combine the beets, water or vegetable broth, and onion.
Bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer until beets are very tender. Let cool.
Purée the beet mixture, vinegar, sugar and olive oil in blender until smooth. (If the mixture is too thick, add more water.)
Stir in the sour cream, if using, and taste for salt and pepper.
Note: This dish is pareve if not using the sour cream.
Cool Cucumber Soup
6 scallions, trimmed
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. honey or sugar
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
Place the onions, cucumbers, and dill in a food processor or blender. Process until finely chopped.
Add the remaining ingredients, except for the dill sprigs, and process until smooth.
Chill until very cold.
Taste for salt and pepper, and serve garnished with dill sprigs.
Chilled Herb-and-Potato Soup
2 Tbsps. butter or vegetable oil
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh chervil
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
4 cup vegetable stock
1 cup milk
1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cooked
1/2 cup watercress leaves
salt and pepper
mixed chopped herbs for use as garnish
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter or oil over medium heat.
Add the shallots, chives, parsley, chervil, tarragon, dill and lemon zest. Cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the stock, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.
In a blender or food processor, purée the herb mixture with the milk, potatoes and watercress. Chill.
Just before serving, taste for salt and pepper.
Garnish with the chopped herbs.
Cold Plum-Cinnamon Soup
2 lbs. plums, quartered and pitted
3 Tbsps. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
grated zest of 1/2 an orange
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 cups fresh orange juice
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1-2 cups water
In a medium saucepan, combine the plums, brown sugar, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests, with just enough water to cover.
Simmer, partly covered, until the plums break down, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
In a blender or food processor, purée the plum mixture with the orange juice, lemon juice, half the almonds, and 1 to 2 cups water, depending on the desired consistency.
Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Serve sprinkled with the remaining almonds.
Serves 4 to 6.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at: [email protected] .