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Let's hear it for cold soups
(post, Megan Scott)
When people learn that I'm from the South, they assume that hot weather doesn't affect me.
"Oh, you're used to this kind of weather," they say, almost as if it's understood that Southerners have a gene that shields them from heat. How else could Southern belles have withstood summer in crinolines and whalebone corsets?
I can't answer that question. My best guess is that all those Scarlett O'Haras suffered just like the rest of us, with a dash of masochism and maybe a mint julep or two.
In truth, I don't handle the heat any more gracefully than the average person. While it's true that I have seen many a scorching, muggy day, my tolerance for them is no greater than anyone else's.
I am also quick to point out that most people in the South have air conditioning. Otherwise, the heat would be absolutely paralyzing.
Having recently moved from a humble but air-conditioned cabin to a charming but un-air-conditioned apartment, the reality of hot summer weather has hit home this year. I'm sure that people are just softer than they used to be, and that if I were really tough, the heat wouldn't faze me. As it is, the hot weather can leave me completely drained.
[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Cucumber-Yogurt Soup"]
When cooking is your job, hot weather is both a blessing and a challenge. On the one hand, the markets are bursting with gorgeous produce. On the other hand, the moment you walk in the door with your spoils, inspired and ready to create and cook, the heat that has built up inside your apartment while you were gone hits you in the face, daring you to turn on the stove.
Luckily, much of summer's bounty needs little adornment. The fruits and vegetables (and farmers) have done the hard work for you. All you need to do is get out of the way.
It's hard to argue with a plate of sliced tomatoes with olive oil and salt, or an array of trimmed vegetables with homemade buttermilk dip. And really, when you're just not feeling up to cooking, you should make no apology for presenting vegetables as they are.
One simple way to showcase summer produce with minimal fuss is to make soup. Soup is often neglected during the summer months, because the prevailing idea is that soups are warming comfort foods for the darkest days of winter. And they do excel at that. But cold soups can also be a tonic for hot weather.
[%image avocadosoup float=left width=400 caption="Cold Avocado Soup"]
The most important thing to remember when making cold soups is that you should use the freshest, most flavorful vegetables and fruits possible. There's really nowhere for subpar produce to hide in a cold soup — no sautéing with aromatics to pump up flavors, no reducing to concentrate them. You have to rely heavily on the quality of the main ingredients themselves.
Also, pay close attention to how you serve cold soups. It's always a good idea to have accoutrements — croutons, sour cream, salsa or relish, even lump crabmeat — on the table for dressing up cold soups. They add another layer of flavor and texture, and make the dish feel complete.