august 30, 2013
Sometimes it’s too darn hot to cook. You’re famished but a hot meal doesn’t appeal. A visit to the Saturday farmer’s market fills you with resolve to turn your purchases into something besides the obvious chopped salad of colorful, crunchy bits. There’s your pile – now what?
How about chilled soup? Made on the weekend, and at the ready all week long, cucumber vichyssoise can complement your grilled dinner, take center stage as a light supper or pair with cooked shrimp or crab for a more substantial repast.
If you are a vegetable gardener, you may wonder how to best conquer the ever-growing pile of cucumbers on the windowsill; like zucchini, prolific cucumbers can become unwieldy and potentially tough batons if you are not diligent in your picking.
As a young cook in my parents’ kitchen, I came across a recipe for German braised cucumbers and vowed to stick with raw after the dish was served. Pickled or crisp raw cukes – a delight. Mushy and cooked – not so delightful. But the marriage of classic vichyssoise elements (leek, potato, stock and cream) with cucumber makes for a velvety smooth addition to your summer repertoire of recipes. Use bits of raw cucumber for a contrasting garnish and the “wow” factor.
My farmer’s market foray yielded Tomten Farm red potatoes from Little House Green Grocery, Hanover county cucumbers from Pole Green Produce and tender leeks from Byrd Farm at the St. Stephen’s Farmer’s Market here in Richmond.
The soup can be made ahead and enjoyed all week; so, you do need to cook initially, but the rest is easy. Having made friends with my stick blender, or immersion blender (see previous posts for butternut squash soup with apple cider and chipotle spice and tomato orange soup about the beauty of this invaluable kitchen tool), I no longer decorate my kitchen walls with pureed anything. You may be friends with your food processor or blender, but these devices see me approach with soups in hand and snicker with contempt.
Use your favorite puree method and be rewarded with a refreshing summer soup that will make your guests swoon (especially if you serve tiny first course servings in demitasse cups with a pretty garnish). The soup needs to be made ahead, chilled at least four hours (ideally overnight so it will thicken beautifully), then adjusted for seasoning; food served cold needs more salt for flavor than food served warm. A little trouble in the beginning, but worth the effort and a terrific way to take advantage of bountiful summer produce.
makes 5 cups, or 4-6 servings
2 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
2 T unsalted butter
3 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped coarsely, about 1.75 lb*
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed, about 12 ounces
2.5 cups best quality chicken (use vegetable stock for vegetarian version) stock, preferably organic
1/4 cup heavy cream
fine sea salt and finely ground white pepper
optional garnish: thin slices of cucumber, sour cream
*cook’s note: use a vegetable peeler, then cut cukes lengthwise, using a narrow teaspoon to scoop out seeds
- In heavy 2 quart saucepan, cook leeks and butter over medium to medium low heat with pinches of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes.
- Add potatoes, cucumbers and stock, bring to boil, then simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Add cream.
- When cool enough to handle, carefully puree with immersion blender or food processor/blender, using spatula to uncover any solid bits left in the mix.
- Chill soup at least four hours or overnight; it will thicken nicely.
- Prior to serving, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired.
- Soup will last in refrigerator for 5-7 days and does not freeze well.