Beat the heat with this tangy starter
It’s cucumber season in our part of the world. We can’t seem to harvest them fast enough in our backyard garden. And every farmers’ market is overflowing with them.
So how about turning some of those cukes into a cool, refreshing first course? One that’s brimming with flavor, but not too heavy.
Chilled Cucumber Soup is the perfect summer starter. It’s also a versatile performer—you can change up ingredients to give it a different character every time you make it (more about this in the Notes). Best of all, it takes just minutes to prepare in the food processor.
You can make it ahead of time too. In fact, the flavor improves if you allow it to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours, or even overnight. So whip up this soup—and then head to the hammock for a summertime siesta. Because, hey, soup isn’t the only thing that improves with rest.
Recipe: Chilled Cucumber Soup with Yogurt and Dill
Tangy yogurt seems to bring out the best in cucumbers. Which is why you’ll find this pairing in countless dishes served around the eastern Mediterranean. One of the more famous is Greek Tzatziki, and today’s soup is essentially a variant on that sauce.
Greek yogurt is ideal in this dish, although you can also substitute regular yogurt. We prefer full-fat yogurt, but you can use low-fat or fat-free if that’s your style.
This recipe is adapted from Judith Barrett’s Saved by Soup.
The dish takes about 15 minutes to prepare, and serves 4 to 6 as a first course. Leftovers will keep for several days if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- ~2 pounds cucumbers, either the common slicing ones or the long English variety (2 to 3 cukes, depending on size)
- ~½ medium red onion (may substitute 2 or 3 scallions; to taste)
- 1 to 2 cloves of garlic (to taste)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (to taste)
- ~2 cups plain yogurt, preferably Greek
- juice of 1 lemon (or more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- sprigs of dill or mint as garnish (optional)
- Peel the cucumbers, then cut them in half lengthwise. If you’re using the common slicing variety, scoop the seeds out of the cucumber halves with a teaspoon (discard the seeds). If using a food processor, chop the cucumbers roughly, then whirl them in the processor bowl until minced (don’t purée the cukes; the soup is better with some texture). If not using a food processor, chop the cucumbers finely. Add the minced cukes to a medium mixing bowl.
- Peel a medium red onion, then cut it in half through the poles. Chop the onion roughly and add it to the food processor bowl. Peel the garlic and add it to the bowl. Process the onion and garlic until they’re minced (again, don’t purée). If not using a food processor, mince the onion and garlic finely. Add the onion and garlic to the cucumbers in the mixing bowl.
- Wash the dill and strip the leaves from the stems. Then chop the dill finely (or whirl briefly in the food processor). Add the dill to the cucumber mixture.
- Stir the cucumber mixture briefly to combine, then add yogurt. About 2 cups of yogurt makes a fairly thick soup (which we prefer). If you want a thinner soup, add some water or milk (perhaps a cup).
- Add the lemon juice and olive oil to the cucumber mixture, then stir vigorously to combine all ingredients. Taste and add more lemon juice (or olive oil) if necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- At this point, you can chill the soup briefly and then serve it. But the soup tastes better if you refrigerate it in an airtight container for an hour or longer (even overnight) to let the flavors mingle. When ready to serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish with sprigs of dill or mint.
- This recipe works better if you peel the cucumbers, though you can leave some of the peels on if you like (they add nice color). Remember that most supermarket cukes are waxed, so you probably don’t want to eat the peels on those.
- We tend to think of cucumbers as vegetables, but they’re actually fruits (just like tomatoes). Cukes probably originated at least 3000 years ago in the Middle East or western Asia (most likely India). They eventually spread to Europe (perhaps via the Greeks or Romans) and later to North America.
- Cucumbers are sensitive to heat. So once you pick them from your garden (or bring them home from the market), you should refrigerate them immediately.
- Red onion adds nice flavor and color to this dish. But scallions or ordinary yellow or white onions work well too.
- You could probably substitute kefir for yogurt in this recipe (though we haven’t tried that).
- Fresh dill works better than dried dill in this dish, but you could use the dried version in a pinch.
- No dill on hand? Fresh mint makes a wonderful substitute.
- Or drop the dill entirely and substitute parsley or cilantro.
- If you’re using cilantro, you might want to add 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (dice them finely by hand or in the food processor).
- You could also add some chopped tomatoes to the dish (riffing off an Indian raita).
- A bit of dried cumin or coriander powder would go nicely in this soup, too. And maybe some cayenne pepper.
- You can substitute red wine vinegar for lemon juice if you wish.
- You can also add some raisins or chopped nuts to this soup (which will give it a more Middle Eastern character).
- Or stir in a bit of almond milk for yet another dimension.
- Basically, if you think a particular ingredient sounds good in this soup, it probably will be.
“Delicious,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “You’re a soup-er cook.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You might call me a consommé professional.”
“Hope you never run out of recipes,” said Mrs K R. “That would be gruel and unusual punishment.”
“Oh, ye of ladle faith,” I said. “No worries about that around here!”
“True,” said Mrs K R. “You have bouillons and bouillons.”
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