By mid-August, many backyard cooks find the thrill has gone off the grill.
If that's true for you - if the idea of cooking and eating outdoors is not as enchanting as it seemed in early June - maybe it's time for a menu shake-up.
We suggest a chilled summer soup, making use of the bounty of the season's harvest: tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, berries, melons and more.
Putting soup on the menu gives the cook a break because chilled soups are usually simple, they require little if any time over a hot stove, and they can be made well in advance - leaving you time to chill with a cocktail till the guests arrive.
In a heat wave, a light summer soup can be more appealing than a thick steak.
"I think it's a refreshing way to start a meal," says Ben Puchowitz, chef at the much-honored Rittenhouse Square BYOB Matyson.
He says a chilled soup tastes fresher than a hot soup.
"The cold makes it easier for the palate to understand that it's fresh," he says. "It's much harder to make hot things taste light and fresh."
Puchowitz is one of three local chefs we invited to contribute recipes for this article. Since most everyone already has a favorite recipe for gazpacho, we asked for something different.
Puchowitz offered his recipe for Chilled Avocado-Cucumber Soup With Jumbo Lump Crabmeat and Cherry Tomatoes.
Fred Kellermann, chef-owner of Elements Cafe, a BYOB in Haddon Heights where small-plate dishes are the specialty, and chef-partner at Lyons Den, the new Queen Village gastro-pub, contributed Sweet Corn Vichyssoise and Snap Pea Soup With Cucumber Salsa.
And Alex Capasso, chef-owner of Blackbird Dining Establishment in Collingswood, sent us directions for making his Chilled Melon Soup.
In their restaurants, all these chefs top their soups with garnishes - and some of those toppings require more time and energy than it takes to make the soup itself. So in the comfort of your own kitchen, feel free to use a simpler garnish - think parsley, chives, slivers of almonds, or nectarines.
And, as with any recipe, feel free to adapt these recipes to your dietary needs or tastes instead of rejecting them out of hand as too gut-busting or otherwise unappealing.
If whole milk, half-and-half or light cream are more caloric than your doctor prescribes, for example, experiment - perhaps vegetable broth or white wine will work.
"I like to have a chilled savory soup on the menu in summer," says Kellermann, who turned a Mobil two-star restaurant, Krazy Kat's in Wilmington, into a four-star gem.
His corn vichyssoise draws the most flavor from its ingredients by letting the corncobs steep in warm milk. The base for the soup can be made three to five days ahead of time and finished right before serving. You can even freeze the soup at that point - before adding the milk.
His yogurt-based sweet pea soup calls for removing the tiny peas from the pod, cooking the pods, and then returning the sweet raw peas to the finished soup as a garnish. But the recipe doesn't rely only on peas.
"Sugar snap peas will be coming back into season in a week or so," Kellermann says, "But you can use frozen peas or even green beans."
Capasso, a Brasserie Perrier alumnus, says his melon soup is not overly sweet, so it works as an appetizer or as a dessert.
"You could even do Melon Soup Shooters with a cheese plate," he said.
This soup's flavor is subtle, not strong. As part of a meal, it would go well with diver scallops, which are fresh and local right now, Capasso says.
He cofounded the South Jersey Restaurant Association, whose Farm to Fork program highlights the local harvest. Jersey growers give us more than tomatoes and peaches, he says, and scallops are a good example.
"A lot of people don't realize how many local products are available in South Jersey."
If You Go
Here are the restaurants mentioned in this article, if you'd rather have someone else make the soup for you.
37 S. 19th St.
Blackbird Dining Establishment
619 Collings Ave.
517 Station Ave.
Haddon Heights, N.J.
848 S. Second St.
Avocado Cucumber Soup With Crab
Makes 4 servings
For the Soup:
1 clove garlic
1/2 cucumber, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons scallion, chopped
2 limes, juiced
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
6 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Garnish:
1/2 pound jumbo lump crab meat (cleaned)
6 cherry tomatoes halved
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1. In a blender, combine all the ingredients. Leave on high until completely smooth. Taste for seasoning. You may have to do two batches if your blender isn't large enough.
2. Pour the soup into a storage container and put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Refrigerate the serving bowls at this time.
Prepare the Garnish:
1. For the garnish, pick through the crabmeat and make sure there are no leftover shell pieces. Place the crabmeat in a mixing bowl with the oil, halved cherry tomatoes, and finely chopped chives. Season with salt and pepper.
1. Pour the soup into 4 chilled bowls. Spoon the crab salad into the center of each soup. Drizzle some of the leftover oil from the mixing bowl around the salad. For a little spice, sprinkle some cayenne pepper over the top.
Sweet Corn Vichyssoise
Makes 6 to 8 servings
6 cups fresh corn removed from cobs (reserve cobs for later use)
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 cup leeks
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons salt
3 cups milk, approximately Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
1. Place all the prepared vegetables into a pot with 2 tablespoons of oil and sweat on medium heat until onions are opaque.
2. Add enough water to cover the vegetables by 1 inch and turn heat up to a boil.
3. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and lower heat to simmer and cook until the potatoes are fully cooked.
4. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature
5. Puree in a blender until smooth.
6. Chill. At this point, the soup may be refrigerated for 4 to 6 days.
7. When you are ready to finish the soup, place the reserved corn cobs into a pot and add enough milk to just cover them. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat to cool, but do not remove the cobs.
8. When the milk is cold, remove the cobs and set aside.
9. When ready to serve, add the milk to the vichyssoise base, 3 parts base to 1 part milk.
10. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg.
Sweet Pea Soup With Cucumber Salsa
Makes 6 to 8 servings
For the Soup:
1 cup diced onions
1 cup celery
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups water
2 pounds pea pods with peas removed and set aside
2 cups yogurt
For the Cucumber Salsa:
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/2 small red onion, diced
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons canola oil
To make the Soup:
1. Place the onions, celery and garlic in a small pot on medium heat and sweat.
2. When the onions are opaque, add the white wine and about 2 cups of water and bring to a rapid boil.
3. When boiling, add the pea pods and cook for 30 seconds just until the pods turn bright green.
4. Remove the mixture from the pot into a bowl atop ice to stop the cooking process.
5. Puree the mixture, adding ice if needed to create a smooth blend. Don't add too much ice, because that will make the soup bland.
6. When fully pureed, add the peas for garnish and texture, and refrigerate.
7. To finish and serve the soup, blend in yogurt, season to taste and serve with a tablespoon of cucumber salsa.
To make the Salsa: Simply combine all ingredients and chill for 20 minutes.
Chilled Melon Soup
Makes 6 servings
1 small cantaloupe, seeded, peeled and chopped
1 small honeydew, seeded, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup honey
1 quart spring water
1 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
1. Put all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.
2. Pass the puree through a fine strainer.
3. Chill and serve.
- From chef Alex Capasso, Blackbird Dining Establishment, Collingswood
Per serving: 259 calories, 2 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 56 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Mango and Lime Soup
Makes 8 to 10 servings
10 mangoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups apricot nectar
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
Juice and zest of 2 limes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup light cream
Fresh mint leaves for garnish
1. Place the mangoes in a 4- to 6-quart pot. Add the apricot nectar, wine and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice, lime zest and salt. Add the light cream.
3. Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender, until smooth.
4. Place the soup in a glass or plastic container and refrigerate for at least 5 hours before serving. Garnish with mint leaves.
Note: The flavor of this soup really depends on ripe mangoes, which should have yellowish-red skin and flesh that is soft but not mushy when you lightly press the outside with your finger. Buy them a few days in advance, when their skin is still slightly green, to make sure they are ripe when you make the soup.
Per serving (based on 10): 270 calories, 2 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 43 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 27 milligrams cholesterol, 45 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or email@example.com