verde verily – my summer green soup journey
It starts with a shot glass of green cucumber gazpacho at a swanky Healdsburg restaurant, to go along with an array of small plates. No scratch that. Rewind. It actually starts with Anna Thomas over 35 years ago, when summer gazpacho was all the trend, and the only recipe I ever turned to made a vat of tomato and cucumber soup, garlicky, staining my largest Tupperware bowl that lovely summer red-orange that only tomatoes and maybe some other vegetables high in beta carotene will do.
Every summer I made this recipe at least a couple of times, , often double batches when tomatoes were abundant from my mother’s garden, though by the end of the week sometimes it was hard to face the last bowl. I loved the fresh, uncooked tang, a little bite of acid heightened by a bit of vinegar. In fact if you tried to get me to try a cooked version, I would have turned it down, because the rawness of gazpacho was the thing I loved.
Over time, I have made fewer batches, though my copy of Ms. Thomas’ Vegetarian Epicure book two still falls open, the binding broken at page 87. This 1978 book is now in its 14th edition, and still inspires me when I open it up. It has moved from home to college apartments to every household with me, and is never likely to be culled from my cooking library. It is a trusted companion to my culinary education even as he fridge space and my tastes have changed (these days the largest thing allowed in the fridge is my vat of bread dough). And over this past summer, the version of gazpacho I can’t seem to get enough of is green.
Cucumber. Zucchini. Zucchini and Cucumber. Cucumber and green Zebra tomato. All fresh, raw, made in small batches, chilled instantly as ice is part of the recipe, ready in minutes and as fresh and variable as you can imagine, every serving trying on a separate garnish for style. Maybe a splash of syrupy balsamic, a few dots of hot chile sauce, a drizzle of infused olive oil (garlic, basil, lemon), another drizzle of Crème fraîche, sour cream, a dollop of yoghurt. An endless, smooth palette for your palate, broken with a leaf, some zest or just some flaky Maldon salt.
Mid-summer, I saw the most beautiful soup I had ever seen – a teaser then a recipe from Kate Morgan Jackson, which she posted in her beautiful blog, Framed Cooks. I couldn’t wait to make it, and was amazed at the possibilities. I made it with basil, as per her original, then I played with it, adding mint and cilantro. I emailed friends and family to urge them to try this amazing soup! I served it with basil, served it with garlic infused olive oil, or even just a bit of pepper. There was no easier way to have a first course ready in 15 minutes. The woman is a genius! I could not believe the elegance of her recipe.
Emboldened by my success and how fun it was to make small batches, like savoury green smoothies, I played with different combinations. Trying to reproduce the gazpacho shot I had in a Healdsburg eatery, I tried adding green zebra tomatoes to cucumber, sprinkling only the tiniest amount of Maldon salt or drizzling bits of balsamic, sprinkling with thinly sliced almonds. Fortunately there were no protests as I kept the trusty old blender in frequent service. My beehive-style Oster – with on/off/pulse. No fancy equipment at all. I fell for the healthy crisp and clean flavours, and particularly liked how nicely Persian cucumbers played with all of these. They never seem to produce a bitter one, the skin is delicate, and the seeds are small.
Trying to guide an avid gardener towards ways to use up her crop of cucumbers, a virtual kitchen brainstorm unfolded and another friend mentioned a Tomatillo Cucumber soup. I looked at the ingredients and immediately started swapping ingredients in, with my newfound blender experience with cold soups I was getting a little cheeky. I had waited all summer for the Hatch chile peppers to start arriving in California and just this week had captured some for our yearly binge. Easy – exchange Hatch for the Poblanos, then skip the hothouse cucumber for my favourite Persian cucumbers. I use those almost daily when they are available, for smashed cucumber salads, green or red gazpachos, Greek salads, snacks. You never have to worry about them being too seedy, and they buzz up beautifully. Also, they seem nearly burp less (unlike the varieties my mother used to grow for me that claimed to be but were never burp-free)!
What was new to me in this recipe was to cook the cucumbers. I didn’t have any culinary experience with cooking cucumbers, though I have noted it showing up in everything from stir-fry recipes to grilled salads. I was skeptical, but since I had been snared by the promise of a chile and tomatillo marriage, I had to give this a try!
I simply have no resistance to the combination of tomatillos and chiles. Hatch, jalapeño, even a judicious amount of serrano, as long as you pair it with Tomatillos I am there. Tomatillos-jalapeño-Avocado? You bet! The likelihood that my chili or pozole will be a green one? 97%. Will I plan a Route 66 road trip to include breakfast at Joe & Aggies in Holbrook just for the green chile and eggs?? Every chance I get. Would I chop cucumbers and add them to a tomatillo salsa, sure – I think I would. But somehow I had never cooked cucumbers before. The experience was a transformative one – somehow they retain a unique cucumberishness, but become silky, and of course while the texture disappeared in a blended smooth soup, I found as I played with cucumbers in other dishes, that they became something else – not exactly crunchy, but also not soggy or slimy (which I might have expected). I even used them in an impromptu green curry lunch dish, standing in for zucchini, blending beautifully with firm tofu and a gently spicy coconut and tomatillo sauce.
This latest soup was different in that it was cooked, then fully cooled before blending, then thoroughly chilled (overnight works well). I think that the complete cooling helps maintain the right viscosity when you blend it, and the tomatillos are naturally a good source of pectin, though I do not claim to be a food scientist. It behaves more like a traditional soup than a gazpacho, yet has these fresh green flavours of summer that are worth roasting and freezing peppers for just to have them again in late fall. It is sophisticated enough to stand in for a Vichyssoise.
I adapted the recipe my good friend (and fine artist) Terry Parker recommended. She is an amazing cook, and her appreciation of the flavours of the Southwest is based on years of experience. Now she makes it her home. The original recipe looks great – and when I cannot find Hatch chiles, I will try it with the Poblanos, maybe even as a warm soup in fall and winter. But for now, as we watch the August days pass, I know there will be a warm spell as we enter September, and more of this velvety soup with the spicy backbone of jalapeño.
This soup is worth the effort to roast and prepare your chiles if you have access to fresh ones, and the soup is really BEST made the night before so that it is fully chilled when you serve. It also lasts several days stored in a closed container in the refrigerator without taking any harm.
Inspired by the Tomatillo Chile soup first published in Bon Appétit, July 2001
Chilled Verde: Hatch Chile & Tomatillo Soup
- 3-4 Hatch chilies*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2-3 medium Persian cucumbers, peeled, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 4 cups canned low-salt vegetable broth (homemade or Rapunzel organic with Sea Salt)
- 2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño chilies
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup whipping cream (use Greek yoghurt or unsweetened almond milk if you prefer)
preparing your Hatch chiles
Line a cookie sheet with foil, and place washed chiles under the broiler, no closer than 4-5 inches, then broil or roast your Hatch chiles until they are blistered or blackened. You can also do this on a BBQ or gas grill, either method will require close attention.
If you are using a broiler, check and turn every 5 minutes until done on all sides. Enclose in paper bag or simply gather up the foil in a closed packet to hold the steam and cool 5-10 minutes. Peel and seed chilies, removing the ribs also if these are especially hot ones, then cut into 1-inch pieces.
making the soup
Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute for 5-10 minutes (just until the onions begin to brown a bit). Add tomatillos and cucumber; saute another 5 minutes. Add broth and hatch chilies; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tomatillos are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in jalapeños, lime juice and cilantro.
Cool completely (transferring to a cool bowl will shorten this time)
Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Transfer to large bowl; stir in cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill soup until cold, at least 3 hours or overnight. Divide soup among 6 – 8 bowls.
a drizzle of cream or dollop of yoghurt
chopped cilantro or scallions
a half-teaspoon of syrupy balsamic.
a scattering of pomegranate seeds
The original recipe can be found on Epicurious. Many thanks to Terry Parker and Kate Morgan Jackson.
More thoughts on chiles and the zen of knife skills in my next post. Enjoy your soup!
p.s. when I master a Catalan version of red gazpacho or pan con tomate served as a shot, I’ll hum a slightly different tune of course!