A friend from New York who’s visiting Houston for a conference stood outside with me, waiting for the valet to bring over my car. She breathed in the air. She groaned.
“It’s just … blech.”
Of course she’s right. During this time of year we’re just walking through a dense field of blech. So, to escape the force field of humidity and relieve ourselves of that mild burning we’re constantly feeling on our necks, we cling to ice in the form of frozen desserts, frozen alcohol, crisp salads, and cold-ass beer.
And then there’s soup. Not the scolding kind that warms you while wrapped in a quilt by a fireplace, probably in a ski resort in Colorado, but cold soup whose initial shock gives way to unexpected flavor twists and, ultimately, chilled satisfaction.
Here are three cold soups just begging you out of the blech.
Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup
Posing for selfies with absurdly tall sandwiches is a fun pastime at Kenny & Ziggy’s, but the authentic Eastern European fare sprinkled throughout the delicatessen's menu reflect a strong connection to old-world traditions. Available only in summer, the deli’s signature cherry soup epitomizes that connection.
“My grandfather, who is from Budapest, he used to make it,” says Ziggy Gruber of the complex but cozy dish that skillfully negotiates the cautious balance between tart and sweet, thanks in part to cinnamon, which adds rusticity, and a drop of red wine, which lets the flavors breathe. A spoonful is rounded off by a light milkiness, only amplified after throwing in a dollop of sour cream. It’s certainly a nostalgic bowl of soup that could probably be enjoyed for dessert.
“Hungarian food is always very rich and on the sinful side,” says Gruber. “But the one thing about Hungarian food is it’s always very tasty.”
“It’s very healthy,” said the cook at Manna Noodle House, before her server presented a gargantuan silver bowl filled nearly to the brim with a pasty gray liquid. That liquid, a homemade soy milk made of black soybeans and chilled further by some well-placed ice cubes, bathes al dente memil myeon noodles in this traditional Korean summer dish.
Topping the bowl are julienne cucumbers and a tomato, but you’ll quickly forget the vegetables exist once you swirl the goods in the bowl. Put some oomph in your chopstick game and pull up a hefty tuft of noodles, then taste the salty, partially nutty coating that slides down the throat. It's a thick soup meant to savor, and don’t expect to run around after eating it, but the health benefits of this soy-forward dish can’t be denied. The soybean broth is teeming with healthy fats and fiber, and considering Koreans have extolled the benefits of these little miracle proteins for centuries, there's no reason not to dive into the cold, milky pool and indulge in this sweaty day treat.
A basic kimchi brings a piquant edge necessary to offset the density of kong-guksu, and it makes for a fine complement.
Sure, this is nothing new. The traditional Spanish soup, drank like water in the scolding Spanish summers, is the common hot weather option, playing a role for years in restaurants across this country. But the gazpacho at Andalucia has more depth, thanks to a smokiness that isn't exactly typical from the classic recipe—from the Andalusia region of Spain—of olive oil, garlic, onion, salt, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. It's more reminiscent of, well, Texas.
At Andalucia the peppers are pushed up front, their roasted flavor dominating the bowl (another not-so-traditional aspect of this dish, which in Spain may be enjoyed in a drinking glass). Also, it’s not the creamiest gazpacho, as grains - and the occasional skin - of pepper and tomato can be found in the serving. Many gazpacho recipes claim smooth is king, but consider that in its early days, before food processors, cooks had to use a mortar and pestle to break up the vegetables. There was always grain. Don't be put off by grain.
Instead, breathe in the smokiness that shines here, a reminder that even the most traditional of summer soups can be enhanced with a little Texan twang.