Chilled soups have more going for them than mere retro charm. Temperature-cooling, unfussy, as soothing for the cook as the eater, they make the perfect, light summer starter. The pink in this particular soup comes from beets, toned down with sour cream and further harmoniously soured by lime; the spices are ground cumin and coriander; the final, velvety emulsion is the purest puce. You don’t have to serve this, pitchers alongside one another, with the pea and mint soup that follows, but the combination, a glowering take on fifties rose-and-eau-de-nil, is irresistible.
I agree that making vats of stock may not be quite the thing when having to cook for a large number of people in high summer, but believe me I am not suggesting you do any such thing. A good make of fresh chicken stock in a tub will do fine here, as would good canned or chicken bouillon or vegetable stock powder. The idea is anyway not to get you slaving over a hot stove right now. You know that song, Summertime, and the cooking is easy . . .
OK yes, beets take a long time to roast properly, but they taste so good when intensified thus by the oven (not that you have to do anything to them while they cook), and that’s the extent of the cooking thereafter. In other words, this is a low-effort enterprise.
- 2 large or 3 medium raw beets
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 7 cups heated chicken or vegetable stock
- Salt and pepper
- 2 scallions, halved lengthwise
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wrap each beet in foil and bake for one and a half to two hours until tender. Unwrap partly and leave for a while until bearable to touch. And I’d put on rubber gloves for this, too, or you’ll have a touch of the Lady Macbeth’s about you after. Gingerly peel them—when they’re this well cooked the skin should rub off easily—and then cut them into chunks. Put them in the food processor with the juice of the lime, the cumin and coriander and blitz to a pulp while pouring the stock down the funnel. You may want to wear an apron for this (or stand well back). Indeed, you may feel happier doing this in two batches. Taste for salt and pepper, blitz again and then pour into a large pitcher. Add the split scallions and leave to cool before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for up to three days.
Just before you want to eat this, pick out the scallions and, to make for a desirably creamy base, blitz again while adding the sour cream (¾ cup first, then see if you want the rest). Decant back into the pitcher (for easier pouring) then duly pour into waiting teacups. If you’re using more capacious soup bowls in place of the cups, you may find you feed only six from this.
This recipe serves 8, and includes 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per serving.