Chilled soups refreshing during warm weather, but flavour is key to success

LONDON, Ont. - Based on the general conception of soup, "chilled soup" is something of an oxymoron.

Real soup is warming, hearty and comforting, not cold. But there are lots of good words to describe chilled soup as well — refreshing, flavourful, hydrating, easy to make, even fruity.

"They're two totally different things," says food writer Lucy Waverman, who is the author of eight cookbooks including last fall's "The Flavour Principle: Enticing Your Senses With Food and Drink" (HarperCollins Canada).

"I make cold soups a lot in the summer because I like to start a dinner party off with something refreshing. There are so many combinations and interesting flavours that you can use in the summer. I'm very keen on cold soups."

Holistic nutritionist and cookbook author Joy McCarthy of Toronto is also a fan of chilled soup.

"I find that usually chilled soups are really fast and simple, with fewer ingredients. It's a matter of just throwing three, four, five ingredients into a blender and then you have your soup immediately," she says.

You can eat it right away or chill it for a couple of hours, says McCarthy, whose first cookbook, "Joyous Health: Eat and Live Well Without Dieting" (Penguin Canada), was released in January.

Not all chilled soups can be made that fast, of course. Some vegetable-based soups require the vegetables to be steamed, boiled or roasted before being combined with other ingredients and some fruit soups require time on the stove before being blended and chilled.

Vegetables and fruits are generally the stars of cold soups. Meats are seldom found in them, except perhaps in the form of a prosciutto or shrimp garnish. But in terms of the bases used to make them, their versatility certainly rivals their winter cousins.

Depending on the type of soup, bases can include milk, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, nut milks such as almond or coconut, hemp milk, fruit juices, vegetable juices, wine (still or sparkling), other liquors, tomatoes or water.

Since almost all chilled soups are pureed, "the texture might be creamier, but it doesn't mean it has cream in it," the Toronto-based Waverman says.

"Flavour" is the key to successful chilled soup, she says.

"When you chill anything, it loses flavour, so you have to start with things that are really flavourful.

"You can add things like Thai curry paste or Indian curry pastes into them. That definitely adds flavour. You can use different kinds of herbs and lots of mint, thyme, lemon, salt. Salt is very big in cold soups because once you chill them, you have to add enough salt that it holds the flavour."

The idea of fruit soups may be a little foreign to some, says Waverman.

"Some people would think fruit soups are not something they would like to have as a first course because they think of fruit as dessert, but fruit can be beautifully savoury if you decide to use that flavour profile. You can definitely use a lot of spice. You can use lots of herbs and salt. Keep the sugar out of it."

McCarthy's all for that. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom and cloves, for example, are complementary flavourings with many fruits, she says. Likewise, basil goes well with strawberries and blueberries and mint is a natural with orange or lime.

Some recipes are labelled as dessert soups, a concept McCarthy finds "kind of weird." These generally tend to be fruit soups sweetened with honey, sugar or fruit juices.

But she really likes some fruit and vegetable combinations in chilled soup. One of her favourites is parsnip with apple or pear.

Chilled soups — both fruit and vegetable versions — are usually served as the first course in a summer meal, but you have to ensure the rest of the menu is balanced so that a highly spiced cold soup, for example, doesn't outshine the dishes that follow, says Waverman.

McCarthy says cold soup and a salad is a "nice way to eat lighter and fresher for the summer."

For entertaining, chilled soup shooters — chilled soup served in liqueur or shot glasses — are a novel appetizer.

Gazpacho and vichyssoise are two classic cold soups and probably the best known. Traditional Spanish gazpacho has a tomato base combined with other ingredients such as peppers, onions, garlic, cucumbers, herbs, vinegar and olive oil, but it has been adapted in so many ways that fruit versions are now common.

Despite its French name, vichyssoise may have been invented by a chef in New York. Its combination of leeks, potatoes, onions, chicken or vegetable stock and cream has been called "the finest of all cold soups."


To contact Susan Greer, email her at susan.greer(at)