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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

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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.

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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