When summer sets in and the mercury soars, the last place most of us want to be is in the kitchen. Appetites wane, inspiration goes on vacation and getting dinner on the table can feel like a real chore. That’s where two favorite summer dishes come to the rescue: chilled soups and grilled fruit.
Both dishes are great ways to take advantage of summer’s harvest. Early June tomatoes, colorful peppers, cucumbers and fresh herbs lend themselves to beautiful chilled soups. Grilling watermelon, peaches and even mangoes brings out their natural sweetness and adds a smoky, exotic flavor perfect for desserts or salads or to accompany grilled fish or chicken.
Chilled soups are easy, fresh and healthy
“Watermelon makes an amazing chilled soup,” says Gina Bugayong, chef and owner of Fresh Café in Winter Park. She shared a recipe for a simple watermelon dill soup.
“Fresh herbs—that’s where you can really have fun with it,” says Bugayong. Mint, basil and dill add a punch of flavor to a melon or berry soup, and fennel, cilantro, parsley and tarragon add depth to a chilled soup made from grilled vegetables.
Gain inspiration at your local farmers’ market or use what you have in your garden. The fun part is experimenting. Start with a base of fruit, grilled vegetables, cucumbers or tomatoes pureed with some citrus juice, water or chicken stock.
Texture is a key element to making a successful chilled soup, and here’s where a blender or food processor comes in handy. Pureed soups have a pleasing, velvety texture without the use of heavy cream to weigh you down. Silken tofu or Greek yogurt can be used to add body to pureed vegetables, and a dollop of crème fraîche on top of a fruit soup brings the flavors together.
Edible flowers such as chive blossoms, pansies and nasturtiums used as a garnish add an elegant touch. A sprig of basil or dill, a fresh berry or a crunchy purple potato chip works nicely, too.
Chilled soups are so versatile. A chilled corn soup paired with a green salad and crusty bread makes easy work of dinner. The watermelon-dill soup featured here could be served in demitasse cups as part of a brunch menu or in a martini glass as an appetizer. Make sure to stir chilled soups before serving, as sometimes the ingredients separate.
Grilled fruit makes a savory salad or elegant dessert
Instead of grilling just the usual burgers and steaks, add festive colors and flavors to your summer barbecue by serving grilled fruit. At her restaurant The Rusty Spoon, chef and owner Kathleen Blake showcases summer fruit with menu items like grilled peaches with couscous, watercress and goat cheese. She’s also a fan of grilled watermelon, bananas, nectarines and plums. “I believe the heat intensifies the sweetness of the fruit. It also adds another dimension to fruit if it isn’t quite ripe enough,” she says.
Start with a clean grill, lightly oil the fruit with grapeseed oil and grill fruit slices or halves for one to three minutes per side over a low flame, Blake recommends. Take it off the grill just when the fruit starts to give. “You don’t want it to be too mushy or charred,” said Blake, who likes to add a touch of sea salt before grilling.
To caramelize fruit for desserts, Blake sprinkles the fruit with Sucanat, (a form of cane sugar with a molasses-like flavor) and lets it sit for a few minutes before grilling. “It’s safer to put aluminum foil down and start it on that so it doesn’t burn too quickly,” she cautions. Topped with crème fraîche or whipped cream and granola or candied nuts, grilled fruit makes a simple, satisfying dessert.
Grilled peaches, plums, mangoes or watermelon combined with butter lettuce and fresh mint or basil elevate a salad from simple to stunning. Drizzle with sherry vinaigrette or balsamic vinegar for a finishing touch. For a refreshing meatless meal, serve a grilled portobello mushroom filled with grilled fruit. Rub the mushroom with garlic powder or seasoning salt and then marinate it in Italian dressing for 30 minutes and grill for three to four minutes per side. Fill with your favorite grilled fruit.
See our recipes section for Chilled Watermelon-Dill Soup and Grilled Peach and Mozzarella Salad with White Balsamic Glaze recipes.
Creative tips for serving chilled soups:
• Hollow out 2- to 3-inch cucumber sections into little cups for serving soup.
• Serve gazpacho in shot glasses rimmed with salt and a shrimp on the side of the glass.
• Serve cool soups in mini glass cups or espresso cups as a light appetizer before dinner.
• Have a “sips” party, serving cocktails and several different chilled soups in small glasses.
• Serve a chilled fruit soup in teacups as an elegant first course for brunch.
• Serve two kinds of melon soup in one bowl (cantaloupe and honeydew, for example) for a pretty presentation.
Here are some simple ideas to spice up your barbecue menu:
• Grill pear halves and fill with vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt.
• Cut a banana in half lengthwise, brush with lime juice and sprinkle with cinnamon or chile powder before grilling.
• Serve grilled fruit kebabs drizzled with balsamic glaze for an elegant, low-fat dessert.
• Baste pineapple slices with barbecue or teriyaki sauce before grilling.
• Stuff fresh figs with gorgonzola cheese and grill 2–3 minutes.
• Sprinkle apple slices with lemon juice and cinnamon, grill for 2–3 minutes per side; add cheddar cheese and let it melt.
• Slice watermelon in 3/4-inch slices, brush with olive oil and grill for 2 minutes per side. Sprinkle with smoked sea salt and fresh ground pepper before serving.