EITHERn the first really warm day of the year, I went out and bought a carton of gazpacho from sunnier climes; when it’s so hot that the shoes stick to the asphalt, even I tend to lose my appetite for anything but cold liquids. And there is nothing more refreshing than cucumber, a vegetable that is 96% water and 100% delicious green freshness. Many cultures around the world have a cucumber soup recipe in their repertoire: Iranian abdoogh khiarIndian kheere ka shorba and polish chłodnik ogórkowyto name a few, and here is mine.
It’s time to focus on the cucumber, so often simply chopped and tossed as a last-minute addition to a salad, as more than just a crunchy side dish. Most soup recipes call for it to be peeled before use (and if you plan on serving it in fancy little cups then this may be the way to go), but I like the slightly bitter taste of the paper-thin coating on your average British cucumber, so I’m going to keep it that way. I would remove the seeds though, because they taste very poor and risk making the soup quite watery. (Note that if the cucumbers you have have thicker skins, peel them—it’s a minute’s work, after all.)
Chef Anthony Demetre warns readers of his book Today’s Special to avoid the temptation to skip “the salting and draining process: Cucumber juices may be less bitter than they once were, but they’re still pretty indigestible.” He and Simon Hopkinson both sprinkle the minced pieces with salt and let it extract the juices from the pulp, which leads me down an interesting rabbit hole that ends with the discovery that “burpless cucumbers” (as Jane Grigson, are “coyly known”) are a relatively recent phenomenon in the long history of cucumber appreciation. They now seem to be just about the only show in town in the UK (unless, chef and food writer Thom Eagle informs me you get lucky with the heirloom varieties), and salting them risks making the final product quite salty for some palates, so I’m going to skip this step, but then again, if you’re using homegrown or windier fruit , as Grigson also charmingly calls them, you may want to just sprinkle them with a very little salt and then leave them in a colander for half an hour or so before continuing with the recipe.
Chef Tom Kerridge lightly sautés the cucumber, making his recipe a middle ground between the raw versions from Demetre, Hopkinson and others, and the cooked kind featured in Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookbook and Comfort Food. by Clarissa Dickson Wright, which seem to tie in with the hot cucumber soups of Eliza Acton and her Victorian ilk. Although I can’t detect any real difference in flavor, except for the fact that the cucumbers take on the flavor of the oil or butter they’ve been cooked in, and that softened cucumbers are certainly easier to puree, I don’t like recommend turning on the stove unnecessarily in the height of summer, especially since it means the soup will take longer to cool to serving temperature.
Of course, removing the seeds because they’re too watery might seem counterintuitive, since the soup needs to be diluted with something, and in fact, Kerridge includes sparkling water in his book version of Best Ever Dishes, explaining that it helps prepare the dish. very light and airy”. However, like the other recipes I try, it also adds dairy, a classic cucumber pairing, in the form of Greek yogurt. She is also the choice of the mysterious “Tom”, whose recipe was published in the New York Times in 1973, and who combines it with sour cream. Demetre uses fresh milk and cream, Jonathan Meades orders iced water and caillé, which he describes in Plagiarist in the Kitchen as “fermented and very light, Basque in origin, at the other end of the spectrum from Greek yogurt,” though he admits it can be used. replace with sheep or goat yogurt. Henrietta Clancy uses plain yogurt in her book Just Soup, and Paul Gayler’s Greek yogurt, along with water from cucumbers, in her Great Homemade Soups collection.
Hopkinson, whose soup has the “most fragrant combination of flavors,” mixes yogurt and cream with chicken stock (from a cube, preferably) and tomato juice, Dickson Wright opts for cream and chicken stock, thickened with a roux and broth. and Costa chicken cream thickened with flour and egg yolk. Delicious as Costa’s soup is, it tastes more like a rich cold chicken soup than something fresh from the garden, while Hopkinson’s has a distinctively sophisticated complexity that, while a joy to eat, doesn’t scream cucumber to me. tester panel. We all prefer the simpler cucumber and dairy soups, and we’ve decided that the ideal combination for cooling down is the lightness of yogurt (I like the Meades goat variety) with the tartness of something like crème fraîche or sour cream. If you want an even lighter result, you can replace the creme fraiche with just enough cold water to achieve a pourable consistency, though if you do, I’d suggest serving it in smaller portions.
As with so many recipes, alliums are worth a look here, but not in the form of Kerridge’s onions or Costa’s shallots, both of which require cooking, but garlic, which can simply be grated or minced and stirred. Feel free to put in more than that in the recipe below if you want a tzatziki sort of vibe, but remember that a little garlic can easily overpower a lot of cucumber. Kerridge also adds a mild green chili, which I consider a stroke of sheer genius: while it contributes little in the way of heat, especially given the cooling effects of dairy and cucumber, its herbaceous greenness works brilliantly to enhance similar flavors in cucumber. . itself.
Herbs are also popular, particularly mint, chives or dill. I’ve opted for dill, because it happily reminds me of pickled cucumbers, but if, like many, you’re not a fan of its anise flavor, swap it out for your favorite bland herb. The yoghurt flavor means there shouldn’t be a need for a hint of citrus in recipes from Kerridge, Costa and Dickson Wright, but try it and you’ll see: brands, as well as taste buds, differ.
Though I’ve been lazily sticking with diced cucumber and minced herbs, it’s easy to turn this soup into a heartier dish by topping it with smoked salmon curls, as Demetre recommends, cooked prawns, as in Hopkinson’s recipe (an excellent pairing with small sweet and juicy numbers from the North Sea), or chopped nuts, to keep it vegetarian. For flavor, you can finish the soup with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or more minced chilli or, of course, you can serve it with “a big splash of chilled vodka, if you want to live life to the fullest”. Well, if it’s good enough for Tom Kerridge…
perfect cucumber soup
Homework 10 minutes
It serves 4
2½ large cucumbers
1 small garlic clovepeeled and shredded
1 mild green chillitrimmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
300 ml of natural whole milk yogurt (I like the goat one)
100 ml of whole fresh creamor sour cream
1 small bunch of dill, mint or chives
Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise…
…then scoop out and discard the watery seeds.
Coarsely chop two of the cucumbers and put them in a blender with the garlic and chili.
Add the yogurt and creme fraiche or sour cream, and blend until fairly smooth.
Chop the leaves of the herb of your choice and add most, but not all, to the blender, along with a good pinch of salt. Blend again, then taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
If you have time, chill the soup now.
Meanwhile, finely dice the remaining cucumber. Divide soup between bowls, sprinkle with remaining cucumber pieces and herbs, and serve.
Cold soups: the best way to cool down on a hot day, or clearly inferior to an ice lolly? Aside from the obvious contenders like gazpacho, what are your favorite recipes?
Felicity Cloake’s new book, Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey, is published by HarperCollins at £16.99. To order a copy for £14.78, go to guardianbookshop.com