Cooking from the Farms: Cucumbers
Allowing for certain exceptions – ice cream, sorbet, salads, the occasional sandwich, and leftover pizza – I like my food served up in the warm to hot range. A little heat applied to a dish seems to release the best in flavor and texture. Think of a steak: what can be buttery soft, juicy, and smoky off the grill, is tight and dense and fatty-tasting the next day when sliced up as leftovers.
Liking a flame under my food means I’ve never really cottoned on to cold savory soups. There’s no question that chilled soup is refreshing on a hot day but some of the best-known preparations don’t excite my palate. Gazpacho reminds me of salsa without the benefit of tortilla chips and vichyssoise tastes more of cold, stodgy cream than it does of delicate leeks.
But in the middle of a sticky heat wave, I will gladly revisit my food prejudices. And yesterday, after a thunderstorm lodged itself right above the neighborhood and dumped rain and more humidity rather than less, seemed the perfect day to start.
Last week’s Cider Hill CSA share landed me with loads of cucumbers: one half dozen of the pickling variety (which I did pickle) and three dark green salad cukes. One of those made it into a salad and it was fresh, crisp, and clean tasting with a tender unwaxed skin, everything a good raw cucumber should be. I had two left, two on the large end of medium-sized. With more vegetables coming home with me today and tomorrow, I really needed to use those cukes at once.
Soup immediately popped into my mind. A batch of soup, a real catch all, tends to make quick work of a lot of odds and ends of vegetables. Not hot soup, though, not in yesterday’s heat.
And yet…a cold cucumber soup? I asked myself, remembering that there is a good reason why cucumbers make for great warm weather eating: they are full of water. Our bodies love water on these hot days. But our taste buds like soup that tastes like soup. A bowl of soup that was one step beyond a big bowl of water might refresh but not excite. The cucumbers needed something extra, something with body.
When I gave a little thought to the grilled shrimp tacos with roasted corn and black bean salsa already planned for the main course, I knew what that something extra would be.
I may have made up this soup on the fly in order to use up what was in the house and to serve something cool, but it was a risk worth taking.
In fact, the experiment may have changed my mind about cold soups lacking in flavor. This soup was yummy indeed.
Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup
For the soup:
- 2 good sized cucumbers, peeled seeded, roughly diced
- (1) 7.6-ounce can of crema (Mexican table cream)*
- 3 Tbsp. crème fraiche
- 1 avocado
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 3 Tbsp. cilantro
- ½ cup chicken broth
- juice of one lime
- salt and pepper to taste
- up to ½ cup additional chicken broth if you like a thinner soup
For the garnish:
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 grilled shrimp per bowl of soup
Put the chopped cucumber into the glass bowl of a blender.
Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Using a spoon, scoop the flesh into the blender along with the cucumber. Add the crema, crème fraiche, scallions and cilantro, cover with the blender’s lid and blend until smooth.
Add to the mixture the juice of one lime and a half cup of broth.
Blend again briefly. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
At this point the soup has a very mousseline consistency. It appears thick but the whipped avocado and crema give it a light and fluffy rather than heavy texture. Still, if you think you will like the soup a little thinner, add up to another half cup of broth.
Once you have corrected for seasoning, blend the soup again until very smooth. This won’t take too long. Chill the soup in a bowl or container if it will be a while before you eat.
To serve, ladle soup into 4 – 6 shallow soup bowls. Place some diced avocado in the center of each and top this with a grilled shrimp.
Of course, I was serving shrimp for dinner and reserved a few from the ones intended for the tacos. This soup would also be nice served with the avocado and a spoonful of the corn and black bean salsa on top in place of the shrimp.
*Mexican crema is often found in cans (above) in the Mexican/Spanish food aisle in the grocery store. If you cannot find this, you can make your own using equal parts sour cream and heavy cream mixed together with a little salt. If you use ½ cup of cream, ½ cup sour cream, you want about a half teaspoon of salt.
Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit on your counter for three hours. After three hours, store the crema in the fridge.
©2010 Jane Ward