You hear cucumber-yogurt soup, and you might think of slim-waisted, still-hungry women sipping delicate spoonfuls. Diana Henry's version in A Change of Appetite is less 'ladies who lunch' and more Elaine Stritch singing "Ladies Who Lunch": ballsy, dynamic, and unexpectedly complex. Really, the cucumbers and summer herbs are the only light things about this soup. Bread, walnuts, yogurt and lavish olive oil give it tremendous body, while no small amount of garlic and scallions adds punch. She uses strong chicken stock to up the flavor even more, and finishes with the zing of lemon and white balsamic. It's kicky and rich. A small bowlful is all I could eat at a sitting, not because I aspire to small-waistedness myself, but because that s*** (soup—jeez) is intense!
Why I picked this recipe: It's hot (have I mentioned that before?), and a no-cook, chilled soup sounds perfect all the time.
What worked: Once you get your ingredients ready, the soup is a cinch to make—just throw everything into the blender. I love all the vibrancy of flavor, and it lends itself well to personalization: change the herbs, the nuts, the garnish, or swap out the chicken broth and go vegetarian.
What didn't: My garlic was particularly strong, so 4 cloves were too much. I also wanted to eat a huge bowl as my dinner main, but it was just so rich! And the rose petal garnish is very beautiful, but unless you absolutely trust that your neighbors' roses are pesticide-free, they may be hard to find. (Okay, I have to mention, the measurement of the bread drives me a little batty—1 3/4 slices? It assumes a standard-sized bread slice to an accuracy that is not realistic. Am I being too neurotic?)
Suggested tweaks: I'd start with 2 cloves of garlic and add more as you see fit. Similarly, to lighten it up, I suggest using less olive oil and adding more to taste, and/or using low-fat yogurt instead of full-fat. As for those romantic rose petals, if you can't find them, skip them, and stare dreamily into the distance thinking of what your soup could have looked like as you slurp away.
- Yield:Serves 8
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:30 minutes
- For the Soup
- 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped, plus matchsticks of cucumber to serve
- 1 cup walnuts, plus extra chopped walnuts to serve
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 6 scallions, chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
- 3 tablespoons chopped dill leaves, plus extra to serve
- Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
- Leaves from 5 sprigs of tarragon
- 1 3/4 slices stale white country-style bread, crusts removed, torn
- 1 cup strong chicken stock
- 1 cup Turkish yogurt (or Greek, Turkish is thinner)
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, or to taste
- Salt and black pepper
- To Serve
- Handful of raisins (optional)
- Pink or red rose petals
If you will be serving the soup with raisins, put them in a small bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Let stand for 30 minutes to plump them up, then drain.
Put all the ingredients for the soup into a blender, in batches if necessary, and process. You will have to stop every so often and move the ingredients around so that all of them get to be near the blade. Taste for seasoning; this soup needs really careful adjusting. You may find you need a drop more lemon juice or white balsamic or extra virgin oil instead of salt or black pepper.
Chill well, then serve in small bowls, with the raisins (if using), chopped walnuts, cucumber matchsticks, dill, and rose petals.
Try a heartier version: Cucumber soup is wonderfully adaptable and can be dressed in all kinds of ways. Instead of rose petals and walnuts, top this with spoonfuls of salmon tartare or flaked hot-smoked salmon, or even with chopped, still-warm hard-boiled egg and sautéed shrimp. You could also try replacing the dill in the recipe with basil, and the walnuts with almonds, to make a more Italian soup. Top with finely chopped tomatoes and torn basil leaves mixed into a vinaigrette, or almond and basil gremolata.