The heat goes on: Fight back, with Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup with Radish Garnish

by Marion on July 18, 2012

Cucumber, avocado, potato, buttermilk, Greek yogurt, half and half, chicken stock and lime juice create a cool, creamy, tangy, refreshing summer soup. Recipe below.

Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot. Dry. Hot. Right now is a breezy, refreshing 98. We are crawling around on the surface of the planet like miserable bugs.

As Terry has sometimes mentioned, I used to address weather like this by making cold cucumber soup. The trigger for this was the legendary cold cucumber bisque we would have at the former Balaban’s in St. Louis. My versions varied tremendously, and they were always interesting, but they were never like Balaban’s. That recipe was a closely guarded secret—one of those instances when everyone who worked there would get all coy and diffident if you asked about the ingredients. “Oh, I don’t know, some people think it has summer savory in it,” they would say in a demure tone. “I’ve heard it might have yogurt in it.” Sometimes they would turn it into a question: “Sour cream?”

Like most people, I prefer getting a straight answer, even if the answer is “I’m not allowed to tell you,” so the Balaban’s cucumber bisque experience also included a faint annoyance factor. But, mmmmmm, cold cucumber soup, so for years I kept trying and trying to duplicate it. In the process, I made a great variety of cucumber soups. Then I just kind of stopped making them at all.

But then came this summer. Farmer’s markets full of cukes, but the kitchen so miserable. For several weeks, I’ve been trying to make a no-cook cucumber soup. Some tasty things have come out of that, but not any that are souplike. They are more like refreshing savory smoothies. Delicious, but to my mind not a soup.

Over the weekend, Terry was out of town, and I embarked on a stubborn frenzy of experiments. To get that souplike consistency, I had to give up on no cooking. After a couple of misses, one near-hit involving mint and dill, and one really ghastly disaster, I got to this: A suave, mild chilly mix of cucumber and avocado, garnished with crisp little chunks of radish.

This soup starts out hot, with a little cooking, on top of the stove, and then some cool-down time in the fridge, and then some zipping around in the food processor. Don’t omit the radish garnish—the cold crunchiness is an essential part of this recipe. The dusting of sumac, with its lemony freshness, is also indispensable.

If you have been canceling your barbecue get-togethers due to the weather, try this for company. It would be a nice little starter for four, followed by a simple fish and a leafy salad, or a good part of lunch for two, with a light sandwich.

Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup with Radish Garnish
Four starter servings (or two greedy ones)

1 cup chicken stock
10 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes
10 ounces cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks (see Kitchen Notes)
Flesh of one ripe avocado
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or use 1 cup of buttermilk or Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup radish cut into 1/2-inch rounds, then into quarters and halves
powdered sumac

First, prepare the cucumber and radish, and put them in the refrigerator so they get nice and cold.

Peel the potato, rinse and dice it, and put it in a saucepan with the chicken stock. Cook until the potato is very soft. This will go faster if you cut the potato into small pieces. This ends the heating portion of your soup making.

Pour the potato and stock into a container and refrigerate until completely chilled.

To assemble, pour the potato and stock mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Add the lime juice, cucumber, avocado and the dairy products (give the buttermilk a good shake before measuring it). Add a dash of salt, then process until completely smooth, for at least three minutes.

If the soup seems too thick (too much like a dip, say), cautiously add a little icy water until the soup is the texture you prefer.

Ladle into chilled soup plates or bowls that complement the elegant pale green color. Then add the radish garnish and, finally, sprinkle a pinch of powdered sumac over each bowl and serve.

Kitchen Notes

To peel or not to peel. If you use unwaxed cucumbers, you can leave about half the peel on, which will contribute to the pretty color.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

altadenahiker July 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm

No humidity and it’s July in Chicago? How weird is that. Almost as weird as a July with thunderstorms in Los Angeles.

The soup sounds so refreshing — can’t wait to try it.

kitchenriffs July 18, 2012 at 4:55 pm

It’s been really, really dry in St. Louis, too. Nice soup – really like the inclusion of radish. I just don’t cook enough with radishes, and they have terrific flavor. Minimal cooking (like this soup) is OK in this weather. It’s heavy duty baking, roasting, long simmered stuff that doesn’t appeal to me. Thanks for the recipe.

Ana y Blanca July 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm

The soup sounds delicious!

Carol July 19, 2012 at 12:44 am

This is the first recipe I’ve seen listing sumac as an ingredient. ‘Must have had a rush of blood to the head because I bought some recently @ William Sonoma because it sounded, well, woodsy. What do you like about sumac?

Marion July 19, 2012 at 2:54 am

Altadenahiker, Inorite? But today made up for it all by being super extra humid. I hope you like the soup – we await your comments.

Kitchenriffs, you are welcome. I am also experimenting with radish in cold soups and will report here if anything become postworthy.

Ana y Blanca, thanks and welcome! I love the banner on your blog – that tart is beautiful and I can’t wait to try your crema fria de calabaza recipe.

Carol, I like the lemony pop sumac brings. All winter I was using it in lentil soups for that purpose and adding it to hummus. Lately I’ve been thinking ahead to the cooler weather (assuming we get some again one day) when we can try it in roasts or braises. Also, “a rush of blood to the head” – hahaha!

Also, as I write this, it is RAINING.

Elle H July 20, 2012 at 12:07 am

go to Sauce Magazine, July 19, 2011 issue recipe/story Herbie’s Vintage Cucumber Bisque and see if this is what you are looking for – googled and got this, and your earlier request for the Balaban’s recipe is listed. Happy searching.

Mimi July 20, 2012 at 1:10 am

I like the radish garnish idea.

I have never tried sumac. Where do I find it?

Marion July 20, 2012 at 4:25 am

Thank you, Elle! That does indeed look like it. Not what I would have expected but very 70s!

Mimi, you may find sumac at Middle Eastern markets, or from The Spice House or Penzey’s, available on line. I do hope you try it.

Valentina July 22, 2012 at 7:02 am

what a beautiful soup. cooling indeed!

Marion July 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Thanks, Valentina!

Ingrid @ Jammy Chicken July 24, 2012 at 2:52 am

I have sumac in the cabinet just waiting for a dish to try it in. This may be the one. I disagree, though, on the bugs. They look like they’re having a great time out there in the heat. But you did make me laugh out loud (more like a snort, really) – thank you!

Vegan July 29, 2012 at 9:50 am

The smooth texture of avocado gives chilled soup a thick consistency, making heavy or sour cream unnecessary. I love that this recipe doesn’t call for unusual ingredients.a

Alanna @ Kitchen Parade August 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Hi Terry — I’m doing a story about Steve McIntyre and the new Balabans in Chesterfield, by accident we stopped in for dinner last night and I tried the cucumber bisque for the first time. I had to figure it out — I got the chicken stock right (taste and mouthfeel) and the parsley right (color) but was way off on the richness. Just now I came across this recipe, it might move you closer – if you’re still in the hunt!

Stovetops & Stilettos December 28, 2012 at 6:26 am

I really loved your post!! The cucumber soup reminds me so much of a Russian soup that my friend and I tried out recently.The soup is called Okroshka and it’s a summertime soup in Russia. It’s made with sour milk or kefir along with vegetables like cucumber,red radishes,green onions and dill. Check out the post on our blog! We’re ecperimenting with world cuisine now and we’re blogging about all our experiences :

Thanks! Happy holidays! :)

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