Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chilled cucumber soup with herbs

Just like my guests last Saturday, I won't make you wait long to receive the 2nd course of my multi-course meal.

Chilled cucumber and buttermilk soup with cilantro, mint, and dill 

Cool. Light. Refreshing. Complex. Interesting. Crowd-pleasing. Crisp. Palate cleansing.

These are just a few of the words I would use to describe this soup. It's so unlike anything else I've made, and has an incredible "punch" of flavor (but not overwhelmingly so). This dish was definitely my curveball course. I honestly wasn't sure how my guests would feel about it. I'd made a variation of this soup once before and LOVED it, but you know, sometimes I have interesting taste buds. So when I served the course I told them all that if they didn't like the soup they should not feel bad to say so and stop eating it. Luckily that was far from the case. All 4 of my guests savored this soup from first to last "bite".

I chose this soup for the meal for a few reasons.
  1. It's been a hot summer here so I wanted a cold soup for the 2nd course 
  2. I felt that since the salad course was a tad on the "warmer" side (with the hearty hazelnuts and warm oil), it would be nice to contrast that with a cool, light soup
  3. I've made it before and knew it was (a) incredible delicious, (b) beyond simple and quick to put together [remember what I said about simple dishes when creating multi-course meals??], and (c) could be easily prepared in advance and simply plated when you were ready (in fact, I'd recommend always making it a little in advance, as it helps the flavors blend together)
  4. It's summer here and my goal for the meal was to use my burners/oven for the least amount of time possible
  5. It is a dish that is a bit out of the ordinary, and I wanted to give my guests something they'd never seen before (you gotta have a bit of wow factor in your meal, even if it is stupidly simple)
So how exactly do you make this soup? You blend together cucumbers, radishes, garlic, some avocado, buttermilk, and a handful of different herbs (recipe calls for cilantro, mint, dill, and basil). That's it. No cooking time. Minimal dishes to wash. Perfection.

Hands down my most beautiful course

To prepare the soup for my multi-course meal I made the soup earlier in the day and put it in a tupperware container. I also pre-sliced some radishes to 1/16" (using my awesome OXO mandoline-- Cooks Illustrated's favorite) and reserved a few florets from the tops of my mint stalks. When it was time for soup, I gathered my guest's soup bowls, got my soup out of the fridge, ladled some soup into the bowls (making sure to wipe the sides if I made a bit of a mess), drizzled a bit of basil olive oil using a small spoon (regular olive oil would be completely fine as well), grabbed a few slices of radishes and the mint, and plopped them atop the soup.

The Gourmet Grape in Chicago sells this delicious basil olive oil 
that actually tastes like basil in your olive oil 
(and not like artificially basil flavor). It's subtle, but delicious.

So in just a few minutes we had gone from gathering the empty salad plates to serving the soup course. Perfect transition from the 1st and 2nd courses of my meal!

Yours in turning a simple soup recipe into a beautiful piece of edible art,

p.s. I've been playing around with these presets in Lightroom and it's been so. much. fun!! 
So don't be surprised if you see some semi-funky photos on here in the next week.

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Herbs, adapted mostly from Sassy Radish with inspiration from Tartelette 

This soup is a bit on the liquidy side. If you want a thicker soup, feel free to cut down on the buttermilk and add some sour cream or yogurt instead (check out the recipe from Tartelette). Or maybe throw in the entire avocado instead of just the half. I actually couldn't taste the avocado that much in the recipe, but it did provide a nice texture to the soup-- if you want it to shine, add more.

A final note on the herbs. The recipe calls for 4 types, but feel free to omit any of them as you see fit. For example I didn't have any basil this time so I didn't use it. Or if you don't like cilantro just up the amount of the other herbs to compensate. 

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

1 1/2 pound cucumbers (2 large), peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped, plus thin slices for serving
1/2 ripe avocado
4 large radishes
2 cups buttermilk
3 TBSP chopped dill
3 TBSP chopped mint
3 TBSP chopped basil
3 TBSP chopped cilantro
1 garlic clove
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp pepper, plus more to taste

extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
1 radish, thinly sliced, for serving
springs of mint, for serving

1. Place everything but the olive oil in a blander and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

2. Divide evenly among the serving bowls, and garnish with thinly sliced radishes, mint, and drizzle of olive oil.

Notes on garnishing: Garnish this dish with anything you like. A springs of cilantro or dill or basil instead of mint? Go for it. Cucumber slices instead of radishes? Perfect. Teeny tiny diced avocado with a drizzle of olive oil? Sounds kick ass. Obviously you don't have to make the soup pretty, but I do have to say I much prefer eating this soup when there's just something a little extra special on top.

Also, if you do preslice the radishes for garnish, you may want to leave them in a bowl of cold water so they don't get soggy. I left mine out for a while, then soaked them in cold water a bit before plating and they ended up "curling" a bit. Which I actually loved as they looked like little flowers of radishes atop my soup!


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