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Cooking

Summer spoonfuls

Start the season with chilled cucumber soups.

Cucumbers and leeks make a light soup that’s perfect straight from the fridge.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Cucumbers and leeks make a light soup that’s perfect straight from the fridge.

SAVORY CHILLED CUCUMBER SOUP

Makes about 2 quarts

I prefer English cucumbers for their thin, tender skins, some of which can be included in the puree to tint the soup green.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, chopped

Salt and pepper

2½ pounds English cucumbers

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2/3 cup half-and-half

1½ tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives, for garnish

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the butter until hot. When bubbling subsides, add the leek and ½ teaspoon salt, and saute until the leek begins to soften, about 2½ minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Set the pot aside to cool. Meanwhile, peel, seed, and finely chop half a cucumber and set aside. Peel the remaining cucumbers (leaving about ¼ of the skin on one) and chop into 1-inch chunks.

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In a blender, puree of the cucumber chunks and of the leek with 1 cup of broth until very smooth, about 40 seconds. Pour into a large nonreactive bowl (preferably stainless steel) and set aside. Repeat for 2 more batches, adding the half-and-half to the last batch. With all 3 batches in the bowl, stir in the lemon juice, ¾ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the finely chopped cucumber. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.

At serving time, stir the soup to re-blend. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. Serve at once, garnishing with the chives.

Variations

CUCUMBER SOUP WITH ARUGULA, AVOCADO, AND LIME

Follow the recipe for Savory Chilled Cucumber Soup, making the following changes:

1) Omit the leek mixture and half-and-half, adding the ½ teaspoon salt directly to the soup (to maintain the total quantity of salt at 1¼ teaspoons).

2) Reduce the pepper to ½ teaspoon and cucumbers to 1½ pounds, roughly chopping about ¾ of them for pureeing and finely chopping the rest.

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3) Along with the roughly chopped cucumbers and the broth, puree 1½ avocados, 2½ cups arugula, and 1 garlic clove, minced, in 3 batches.

4) Substitute ¼ cup fresh lime juice for the lemon juice and 2 scallions, thinly sliced, for the chives.

CUCUMBER SOUP WITH MINT AND YOGURT

Follow the recipe for Savory Chilled Cucumber Soup, making the following changes:

1) Omit the leek mixture and half-and-half, adding the ½ teaspoon salt directly to the soup (to maintain the total quantity of salt at 1¼ teaspoons).

2) Decrease the quantity of broth to 2 cups. Along with the cucumbers and broth, puree 1½ cups plain yogurt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 cups mint leaves, 1½ serrano chilies, seeded, if desired, and chopped, and 3 shallots, chopped, in 3 batches.

3) Substitute 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint for the chives.

TIP: If you’re using English cucumbers, leave ¼ of the skin on one of them. With standard cukes, peel them all completely.

Jim Scherer

TIP: If you’re using English cucumbers, leave ¼ of the skin on one of them. With standard cukes, peel them all completely.

KOREAN-STYLE ICED CUCUMBER SOUP (OI NAENGGUK)

Makes about 2 quarts

This is generally served in small portions as one of many side dishes known as banchan that accompany Korean meals. But I think larger portions make a cooling, satisfying light meal on their own, especially on screaming hot humid days.

½ cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil, plus extra for drizzling

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium shallots, minced

¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and ground black pepper

1½ pounds cucumbers, halved, seeded, and cut into very thin

2-inch-long match-sticks (about 4½ cups)

Ice cubes

4 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

1½ tablespoons sesame seeds, lightly toasted

1 small red chili pepper, seeded and cut into very thin rings

In a large nonreactive bowl (preferably stainless steel), whisk the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, shallots, red pepper flakes, sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to dissolve the sugar and salt. Add the cucumbers, toss in the vinegar-soy sauce mixture, and set aside to marinate briefly, about 10 minutes. Add 5 cups very cold water and 8 ice cubes, stir to mix, cover, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.

At serving time, add the scallions and stir to mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, black pepper, or vinegar, if necessary. Serve cold, adding 2 ice cubes to each portion and garnishing each with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, a few chili pepper rings, and a drizzle of sesame oil.

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