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Cold comfort

It’s the weather for soups. Not those bowls of hot broth that warm you up when the weather is as cold as your old math teacher’s gaze but chilled soups that lift your spirits even as temperatures rise. Now that we are almost in the midst of May, let’s explore the world of cold soups.

The thought struck me when I received two well produced books recently. The books — one on soups, the other on salads — were written by Davinder Kumar, vice president, F&B production, Le Meridien. I had met the chef on a couple of occasions when I’d had a meal at the hotel in Delhi, and was impressed by his style. Kumar, who has been working in the same hotel for close to 30 years, can make the simple feel so exotic, and the exotic, so very easy.

Chilled fruit soup

I find this thread in his book on soups too. Though the volume includes both hot and cold soups, I thought I’d zero in on a few cold recipes. Not just because of the weather but also because they are out of the ordinary. Yet, like all his dishes, they appear so simple when you actually look at it closely.

Take his chilled garlic and almond soup. For this, he grinds chopped almonds and garlic together, to which he adds some sherry and extra virgin olive oil. He then blends this with vegetable stock, refrigerates and then serves.

Of course, in many of these recipes, the vegetable stock is all important. The chef suggests that you prepare your stock in advance and refrigerate it. In a saucepan filled with 1 litres of water, add 100g carrots, 50g onions and bouquet garni (25g leeks, 12g celery, 6g parsley stalk, 1 bay leaf, a sprig of thyme and 1tsp peppercorns). Allow this to simmer on low heat for two hours while you keep removing the scum on top. Strain it through a muslin cloth, and your stock — thick and strong — is ready. If you want it lighter, you can reduce the cooking time.

Cold garlic and almond soup

The stock, the chef says, is the skeleton of the broth. To use another analogy, you need a sturdy trellis for your vines to flourish. A good stock, he adds, should be light. If it has strong flavours — with loads of garlic, for instance — it may drown out the flavours of vegetables or fruits.

Bell peppers, tomatoes, fennel and leek are some of the veggies that enhance soups. Potatoes give body and texture to broths. His chilled carrot and potato soup, for instance, relies heavily on potatoes, apart from onion, carrots, celery and parsley.

What I particularly like about him is the innovative way he uses fruits. He prepares soups with all kinds of fruits — from cantaloupe and oranges to strawberries and mangoes. Sometimes he mixes them with vegetable stock; occasionally, he just blends them with some other liquid such as coconut milk or orange juice. His chilled fruit soup, for instance, is a medley of bananas, strawberries and pears — mixed with orange juice (not cooked) and flavoured with lemon juice and honey.

The chef, who has been in the culinary business for four decades, says that he’s experimented with soups over the years and jotted down the recipes. The result is a cold cauldron of soups. When the weather is hot and sultry, and you shudder when you think of heavy food, try out his cold soups. Like Oliver, you’ll ask for more.

Tex-Mex gazpacho

(serves 4)

Ingredients:

•1 cucumber •4 tomatoes •1 green bell pepper •1 green onion •3 cups vegetable stock •2 cups tomato juice •2 tsp lemon juice •2 tbs chopped jalapeno •1 tsp chopped garlic •salt and ground black pepper to taste

Method

Peel, de-seed and finely chop cucumber, tomatoes and green pepper. Finely slice green onion. Keep the vegetables aside. Put all the other ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer. Add the chopped veggies. Cook for 5 minutes on slow fire. Remove and let cool. Keep in the refrigerator to chill. Stir again. Check seasoning and consistency. Serve in pre-chilled soup bowls.

Photographs by Jagan Negi