Soup tends to be associated with nourishing the soul, warm and hearty. In the dead of winter, a bowl of potato soup wards off a chill and during the weakest day of an illness, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of homemade chicken soup. While all this might be good for our heat-flattened soul, we are expecting a high of 88 degrees, and it’s just too hot. The heat continues to pummel the cobblestone streets of Georgetown in the familiar haze of humidity DC is famous for. Hungry and hot, locals and tourists alike drag themselves along sweltering sidewalks in search of an oasis, craving something cold, light, and refreshing.
“French Onion is everyone’s favorite, but I have to take if off the menu once the thermostat reads 70 degrees” says Ris Lacoste, at her namesake restaurant, RIS, on the corner of 23rd and L.
Luckily for her many soup fans however, Ris has a relatively simple solution to compliment her daring and creative menu: cold soups, the summer’s ready cousin to the wintery favorite.
Ris attributes her delicious soup creations to the not-so-secret concept of incorporating fresh local ingredients. We are fortunately returning to a locally grown society, appreciating the need for real food. Summer bears the fruits of local labor. By nature, summer’s bounty provides us with the perfect ingredients for cold soups – beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes.
“I was just at the Farmer’s Market and the bounty is here: fresh things from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. So now I can plan my summer menu,” Ris says.
Ris and her staff have been anticipating the bounty of summer since early spring. They’ve worked diligently to come up with soup ideas and turn them into reality. Ris is using simple logic to invent bold new combinations.
“Crops that are grown at the same time and in the same place should be paired with each other.” Ris says.
Pair foods that grow together; “If they grow together, they go together.”
Though I, like many people, claim to have a passion for food, Ris possesses a palpable intuition about her craft. She describes her love for food, her restaurant, and even the content of this column as being something more than just a simple enthusiasm about cuisine.
To create her summer soup calendar, Ris engendered variations on classic favorites and modern cold soups and experimentally perfected the flavor combinations. Ris mixed up five savory soups embodying everything from veggies to nuts to fruit to liqueur. She then let Jessica Buchanan, who consults Ris on recipes, work through the restaurant sized recipes to make smaller printable versions, so others can try them at home.
There is no wrong way to fashion a cold soup, chunky or smooth, nippy from the start or cooked and chilled. Try experimenting until something tastes precisely right. Skin the vegetables, or leave the skins on. Try adding a splash of your favorite dressings. Think of your favorite salad ingredients and imagine the flavors and textures in a liquid base.
Some tips from the chef: Freeze a portion of your soup into ice cubes and add them to the soup just before serving. Your soup will stay icy cold without being watered down. Chill your bowls. Make your cold soup enough time in advance that it will be very cold. A day in advance is great. They often taste better after the ingredients have had time to mingle together.
Garnish is the final step. To finish off your summery soup, embellish with crunch and texture, balancing acts to what is already in the soup.
“Love garnishing, just go crazy,” she says.
Cold Beet Coup
Yield: 6 cups
3 C. Red Beets (6 small red beets), roasted & coarsely chopped
½ Onion, sliced
3-4 Cloves Garlic, roasted
1 Small Fennel Bulb, coarsely chopped
(Save a few fennel fronds for garnish)
¼ C. Fresh Parsley
2 T. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
½ tsp. Ground Cumin
2 C. Vegetable Stock or Water
½ C. Orange juice (1 orange)
1 T. Pernod (or anise flavored liquor)
1 T. + 1 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
6-8 Grinds Fresh Group Black pepper
1 tsp. Salt
¼ C. Pernod
1 T. Honey
½ C. Sour Cream
Note: To roast beets & garlic, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim tops & bottoms of beets & cut the top off a bulb of garlic (so some flesh of the garlic is exposed). Season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan, cover loosely with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Let cool before peeling skin and roughly chop. Squeeze roasted garlic out of skins into a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
In a Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté onion, fennel, roasted garlic, salt and pepper until slightly soft or translucent, about five to eight minutes. Add parsley, roasted beets, cumin and sauté for another three minutes. Add vegetable stock and simmer soup for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add orange juice, Pernod and vinegar. Let cool slightly. Puree soup until smooth, adding more vegetable stock if needed to thin out. Season with ground black pepper and salt. Chill immediately overnight.
Meanwhile, bring Pernod and honey to a simmer and reduce until it’s a light syrup, approximately 10 minutes. Cool syrup. Combine with sour cream, thinning out with a little water or milk until able to drizzle.
Serve cold beet soup with a drizzle of Pernod Cream and fennel fronds.
You can also garnish with a small crumble of goat cheese or feta, or just plain sour cream.
Cucumber & Yogurt Soup
Yields: 6 Cups
4 English/seedless cucumbers (approximately six cups), peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 pieces of white bread
Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste for salt, if needed. Chill immediately for four hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the crust off the bread and then piece into ¼ inch squares. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast in the oven for eight to 10 minutes. Slice the cucumber and radish very thin or use a mandolin, and set aside.
For serving, garnish soup with a slice of cucumber, radish and a few croutons for crunch.
You can also substitute the dill for fresh cilantro and garnish with a Greek raita and toasted pita chips. Or try it with mint or parsley for a different twist on flavor.