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Food

Stay chill once you grill with these 3 summer soups

Chilled soups
A trio of cold soups (from left: gazpacho, borscht and ajo blanco) that get smoky flavor from grilled sourdough bread, cabbage and fennel. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Leslie Grow / For The Times)

The stickier the days get, the more I only want to eat cold things, like raw veggies or bits of shrimp or chicken, dipped into a flavorful sauce. But lately my move has been chilled soups: They keep well in the fridge and feel like a meal, not like I’m just snacking.

This summer I’ve decided to grill and chill: I’ll grill all the stuff for a few different soups — meaning 15 or 20 minutes of hot work — and then I have flavorful meals on tap for a few days. Grilling adds smoky, caramelized warm flavors to cold soups that make them all the more satisfying. And each soup is accidentally vegan (if you leave out the feta from the borscht garnish).

To enliven gazpacho, I char sourdough bread to blend with tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion, then stir in chilled seltzer just before serving (it’s 2019 so I know you have some in your fridge). For my smoky take on ajo blanco, the creamy Spanish almond soup, I grill fennel wedges and bunches of green grapes. The fennel goes into the soup, its charred anise quality invigorating the almond and garlic. And for a final touch of blackened flavor, caramelized orbs of grapes garnish each bowl.

Finally, grilled leeks and napa cabbage add body and a pleasant bitterness to chilled beet borscht, a vegetarian version of the ruddy Russian stalwart. It gets even more toastiness and some texture in the form of fresh, crispy sourdough-lemon zest-feta cheese breadcrumb garnish. I can keep it in my fridge, along with those soups, ready to cool down at a moment’s notice when I feel the heat and hunger pangs coming on at the same time.

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Burned Gazpacho
Traditional gazpacho gets body and warm flavor from toasted sourdough bread, blended into the soup. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Leslie Grow / For the Times)

Burned Gazpacho

15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling. Serves 4 to 6.

The flavor of charred bread is the key to this bright, bubbly gazpacho, so use the best you can find. I like using sweet cherry tomatoes here because you can chuck them into the blender with no prep, but if you have super ripe beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes, use those instead.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices (1-inch-thick) sourdough bread
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds ripe cherry tomatoes, plus 6 for garnish
  • 2 small Persian cucumbers (5 ounces), halved lengthwise, seeded, and roughly chopped, plus 1 small Persian cucumber, finely diced, for garnish
  • ½ medium red onion (half roughly chopped, half minced for garnish)
  • ¼ cup sherry or red wine vinegar, plus more
  • 1 almond-size garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 cup chilled plain seltzer (or filtered water)
  • Flaky sea salt

Instructions

  1. Prepare your charcoal or gas grill for direct, high-heat grilling. (Or heat your broiler to high and line a baking sheet with foil.) Brush the bread all over with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill or broil the bread, flipping once halfway through, until deep golden brown all over with some charred bits at the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bread from the grill or broiler and let cool. Tear into bite-size chunks.
  2. Place the grilled bread in a blender along with the ½ cup olive oil, cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, roughly chopped red onion, sherry vinegar and garlic. Blend until smooth, then pour into a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.
  3. Cut the remaining 6 cherry tomatoes into three slices each. Place the remaining minced red onion in a sieve, rinse under cold water for about 10 seconds, then drain.
  4. Remove the soup from the fridge, stir in the seltzer, then season with more salt and sherry vinegar to taste. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish each with three slices of cherry tomato in the center and then scatter the rinsed red onions and finely diced cucumber over the top. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt to serve.
Roast Fennel Ajo Blanco
Grilled fennel invigorates the Spanish almond and garlic soup called ajo blanco; grilled green grapes add extra flavor to the garnish. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Leslie Grow / For the Times)

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Roast Fennel Ajo Blanco

15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling. Serves 4 to 6.

The anise flavor of fennel here works to balance the creamy, garlicky soup and play up the sweetness of the grape garnish. Keep the grapes attached to their stems and in their clusters for the easiest handling on the grill.

Ingredients

  • 2 small fennel bulbs, with stalks and fronds attached (1 ¼ pounds), trimmed and cut into 8 wedges each
  • 1 small bunch green grapes, attached to their stems
  • ½ cup everyday olive oil, plus more
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chilled filtered water
  • 1 cup whole roasted unsalted almonds
  • ¼ cup sherry or red wine vinegar, plus more
  • 6 almond-size garlic cloves, peeled
  • Flaky sea salt

Instructions

  1. Prepare your charcoal or gas grill for direct, high-heat grilling. (Or heat your broiler to high and line a baking sheet with foil.) Brush the fennel wedges and grape bunches all over with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill or broil the wedges and grapes, flipping once halfway through, until deep golden brown all over with some charred bits at the edges, 5 to 6 minutes for the fennel, 2 to 3 minutes for the grapes. Remove the fennel and grapes from the grill or broiler and let cool.
  2. Place the grilled fennel in a blender along with the ½ cup olive oil, water, almonds, vinegar and garlic. Blend until very smooth, at least 1 minute, then pour into a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Refrigerate the grapes alongside the soup.
  3. Remove the soup from the fridge, and season with more salt and sherry vinegar. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish each with whole or halved charred grapes then scatter the reserved small fennel fronds over the top. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt to serve.
Blackened Borscht with Spicy Feta
Breadcrumbs
This cold, vegetarian spin on borscht gets added oomph from grilled Napa cabbage and leeks, then garnished with a crunchy-cool feta and bread crumb topping. Prop styling by Nidia Cueva.
(Leslie Grow / For The Times)

Blackened Borscht with Spicy Feta Bread Crumbs

20 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling. Serves 4 to 6.

Buying pre-cooked beets — which I see at more and more grocery stores these days — makes this soup incredibly quick and easy to throw together, but you can use your own home-cooked beets if you like by baking or steaming beets until tender then peeling off the skins. If making the bread crumbs ahead of time, store the cooled crumbs in an airtight container for up to 3 days, then reheat in a skillet before stirring in the lemon zest and feta to serve.

Ingredients

  • 1 leek, trimmed of all dark green parts, halved lengthwise and rinsed
  • ¼ small Napa cabbage
  • 1 cup everyday olive oil, plus more
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds pre-cooked peeled beets, dried and halved
  • 2 cups chilled filtered water
  • 1 almond-size garlic clove, peeled
  • Juice of 1 lemon (¼ cup), zest reserved for garnish
  • 3 ounces sourdough bread
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, well-drained and finely crumbled

Instructions

  1. Prepare your charcoal or gas grill for direct, high-heat grilling. (Or heat your broiler to high and line a baking sheet with foil.) Brush the leek halves and cabbage wedge all over with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill or broil the leeks and cabbage, flipping once halfway through, until deep golden brown all over with some charred bits at the edges, about 8 minutes. Remove the leeks and cabbage from the grill or broiler, let cool then roughly chop.
  2. Place the leeks and cabbage in a blender along with ½ cup olive oil, the beets, water, garlic and lemon juice. Blend until smooth, at least 30 seconds, then pour into a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.
  3. While the soup chills, make the spicy feta bread crumbs: Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until it forms rough crumbs, some fine and some the size of peas. You should get about 1 ½ cups. Place a quadruple-thick layer of paper towels on a plate and keep nearby. Heat the remaining ½ cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the crumbs (they will look sodden in the oil; it’s OK) and cook, stirring, until golden brown and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the chile flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately scrape the crumbs onto the paper-towel-lined plate and spread out in an even layer to cool. Once cooled, transfer the crumbs to a bowl and stir in the reserved lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. (See note above if making ahead of time.)
  4. Remove the soup from the fridge and season with more salt and lemon juice. Stir the feta into the bread crumbs right before you’re ready to serve them. Pour the soup into bowls and scatter the spicy feta bread crumbs over the top.

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