In my last column, I had talked about creating fresh nutritious salads in this hot and humid weather. I love rustling up a cold spread for a casual family meal, or as the first course at a dinner party. Chilled soups, dips and crostini with refreshing toppings complement seasonal salads very well. In fact, sometimes, you really do not need any hot food at all!
These days, my go-to soup is the Spanish gazpacho. Made with a blend of raw tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, lime, chilli and olive oil, this is widely consumed in Spain and Portugal during the hot summer months.
While the classic version is delicious, I also have an improvised version in which the tomatoes are replaced with watermelon. The key is to make these cold soups well before the time they are intended to be consumed and chill them in the fridge for at least six hours so that the flavours can blend well and the low temperature enhances the experience.
Cold cucumber soup originated in Eastern Europe, but, over the years, has become a universal classic. I like to play around with it by adding boiled peas and fresh mint or some avocado and then adjusting the taste. You can serve these cold soups in little glasses rather than a typical soup bowl too. If you want to be a bit adventurous, a splash of vodka or white rum could turn it into a fun savoury cocktail at your next party.
Dips and spreads are a powerhouse of nutrition as you can add whatever you want, blend and adjust the taste to your liking. Chickpeas, rajma, tofu, cottage cheese and chicken mince are the common proteins which form the base and then you build up by adding veggies and finish with balancing salt, lime, chillies and other spices.
My refrigerator is stocked with jars of two to three dips at any time which we spread on toast, crackers or just enjoy on the side with rotis, salads or a hot main course. My overly fussy kids love the bright colours and happily dig into them without a care about what’s hidden inside!
Thick creamy dips can also be watered down slightly to a pourable consistency to double as salad dressings. This adds bags of flavour and a vibrant colour compared to the standard vinaigrette or a clumpy synthetic mayo.
I often serve dips as a dipping sauce with omelette, fries, hot appetisers and kebabs. So, the next time, trash that ketchup, which is full of sugar, colour and artificial stuff which does so much damage to your body.
So, I hope you enjoy these cold soups and dips recipes. Do keep in mind though that the recipes are there for an idea or concept, it all comes down to your own taste buds being the real guide. Taste, taste, taste and you will soon be making flavourful food on your own!
Beetroot Hummus Picture: Natasha Celmi
Cold Cucumber Soup
- 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- A handful of fresh mint and basil
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup yogurt
- Salt and black pepper
- Juice of ½ a lime
- ½ green chilli or chilli flakes
- Blend the cucumber, herbs, garlic, lime yogurt and seasoning in a blender.
- Adjust the taste and consistency.
- Chill for an hour
- Garnish with fresh herbs or seeds.
- 3 cups diced watermelon
- ½ cup diced tomatoes
- ¼ cup diced cucumber
- ½ a red/green chilli
- 4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of a lime
- ½ tsp salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Handful of fresh basil
- Some fresh mint
- Blend the watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, chillies, salt, lime and olive oil in a blender. Add lots of finely chopped basil and adjust the taste.
- Chill for about six hours.
- Serve chilled and garnished with some chopped watermelon, mint and cucumber.
Cold Cucumber soup Picture: Natasha Celmi
Watermelon Gazpacho Picture: Natasha Celmi
- 1 cup chickpeas (boiled)
- 2 beetroots, cut in large cubes
- 1tbsp tahini
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½tsp cumin powder
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Chilli flakes
- Salt and fresh pepper
- Toasted pine nuts or walnuts for garnish
- Steam the beetroot or bake in the oven, whichever you prefer.
- Blend the boiled chickpeas, beetroot, tahini, garlic, cumin, chilli flakes, salt and pepper in a blender.
- Add lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of water till you get the right consistency.
- Garnish with toasted nuts and seeds.
- Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil just before serving.
(For a pea hummus, substitute the beetroot in the above recipe with one cup of boiled peas.)
Spinach Ricotta dip Picture: Natasha Celmi
Spinach Ricotta (Chhena) dip
Spinach and ricotta is a classic Italian combination used in several dishes. Ricotta can be substituted with Indian home-made paneer (chhena). I have used this local alternative here which is fresh and healthier than the packaged imported stuff!
- 1 bunch spinach
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ cup homemade paneer (chhena)
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese or other
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Chilli flakes (optional)
- Dash of extra virgin olive oil
- In a pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions and garlic.
- Add the spinach and cook till wilted. l Season.
- In a blender, combine the cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, spinach mix, chilli flakes, oregano and blend.
- To serve, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and adjust taste.
Calcutta girl Natasha Celmi is a culinary specialist and food stylist based in Bangalore. Reach her on Instagram @cucinamiabynatasha or www.cucinamiabynatasha.com