July 06, 2012
Welcome back to the kitchen. Friends, summer is fully upon us. Anyone whining about the cool, wet weather so far is about to get their comeuppance. When temperatures soar, it can be really hard to motivate to cook anything. Sweat drenched parents might stare groggily into the fridge, savoring the extra blast of cool air and wondering if it is a crime to serve the kids popsicles for dinner.
Or maybe you’ve spent the whole day swimming, tubing, rafting, or otherwise beating the heat in the river. Now you are wiped out and want a tasty dinner with minimal effort.
Sometimes you don’t even want to cook at all, which is when salad dinners become very attractive. So this week I am looking for a meal that won’t heat up the house any more than it is already. What to cook?
Well I have a delicious dish in mind for you. I love chilled soups in the summer. They are generally very simple, making use of just a few ingredients, and they refresh and cool from the inside out. There are lots of gazpachos and ceviches out there that I love, and I also am a fan of simple summer fruit soups (though I think they could use a different name).
But today we are going to make a summer soup base that is even more basic than that: avocado cucumber soup. Yup, it is almost as simple as it sounds. Creamy, cool, and delicious, this deceptively simple soup is a great foil for all sorts of additional flavors. And it doesn’t require any heat at all. No cooking!
I suppose to some of you this sounds sort of bland and even maybe texturally gross, but it will be zinged up with some citrus, a little green onion, and some cilantro. Believe me, simple things can be really tasty too.
We’ll serve that soup topped with some beautiful bitter greens, arugula, or watercress and a skewer of fiery grilled shrimp with a tasty hot pepper marinade. We will only have to run the grill for a few short minutes, and we’re cooking outside, so again this is perfect for a hot summer day. This dish will make for an elegant appetizer or a summer evening meal that can be whipped up in just a few minutes, but could be served at a fancy formal engagement.
We’ll start out by making the soup, because we want it to chill in the fridge. Some basic avocado cucumber soups call for literally nothing more than those two ingredients plus maybe a pinch of salt. But I think a little more flavor will be nice. So for this version we will need:
-2 or 3 large ripe avocadoes, pitted
-1 or 2 large cucumbers (or one large English cucumber), sliced in half and then again in half the long way. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. The seeds can mess up the texture of the soup. But if they are little baby cukes you can leave the seeds in. Peel the cucumbers if they are store bought, but if they are from the garden or farmers market you can probably leave the skin on.
-the juice of 1 or 2 limes (about 2 tablespoons juice)
-1 green onion, root end removed and chopped fine
-about ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a little more reserved for garnish
-1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
-big pinch salt (about ½ teaspoon)
-fresh ground black pepper to taste
-up to 1 cup cold water
Scoop out the flesh of the avocados. By the way, make sure you have nice, ripe, soft avocados, as unripe avocados have essentially no taste. But don’t use overripe avocados with browning flesh, as they can have a bitter taste.
Add the avocadoes, the cucumber pieces, the chopped green onion, lime juice (lemon is fine here too, and a splash of orange juice or fresh oranges could also be delicious), yogurt, and salt and pepper into the blender. Add a splash of the water to start blending, but don’t add all the yogurt at once.
Puree the avocado cucumber soup until all the solids chunks have blended and it is nice and creamy. Taste your creation. Does it need more citrus? More salt? How is the consistency? I like a bit of a thinner soup, so I will add some more of the water and/or more cucumber, which is mostly water.
When you’ve got this creamy, tangy, delicious soup to your liking, put it in the fridge to chill for at elast 30 minutes, covered.
While the soup is chilling, let’s make up these Fiery Grilled Skewers. Now, I am going to use habanero peppers for mine, because I love their extreme heat and citrusy flavor. But if you can’t handle mega hot foods, downgrade to jalapenos or even just a little dash of hot sauce for this recipe.
If you can find them, head on prawns are great for grilling, because they hold in their juices and are less likely to dry out. But those are tough to find around here, so look for fresh shrimp still in their shells. They will not have to marinate for very long before cooking.
For the sweet spicy marinade we will need:
-6 garlic cloves, peeled
-1/2 cup olive oil
-1/2 habanero chile, seeded and chopped
-5 tablespoons chopped cilantro, including stems
-1/4 cup fresh lime juice
-1 tablespoon honey
-Salt and freshly ground pepper
We will also need:
-16 or so jumbo shrimp, deveined
-about 16 cherry tomatoes
-1 sweet pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks
Use your blender or food processor (no need to wash the blender if it still has a little bit of the avocado soup residue in it, the flavors are complimentary). Add all the marinade ingredients into the blender and pulse chop until you have a nice paste or vinaigrette. Taste it, but be careful, the habanero is a very powerful pepper!
Toss the shrimp together with the marinade in a bowl until they are all well covered. Cover the bowl and set it in the fridge for about 20 minutes or so (up to an hour if you have time)
When the prawns are well marinated, start skewering them on bamboo skewers. Don’t forget to soak your skewers in water first so they don’t burn on the grill! I like to alternate shrimp, cherry tomato, shrimp, piece of pepper, etc. Of course other veggies would be good on these skewers too, so feel free to use what you’ve got.
Make sure your grill is well oiled, or these guys will still. Preheat the barbecue to medium high or high, and grill the spicy shrimp skewers for a couple minutes per side, until the shrimp have turned pink and have some nice char marks (about 4 minutes per side for jumbo shrimp).
While the shrimp skewers are grilling, pour out the avocado cucumber soup into individual bowls and top with a pile of baby bitter greens, arugula, or watercress. Lay one spicy shrimp skewer over each bowl and garnish with a bit more chopped cilantro. You can also garnish with more finely chopped cucumber and green onion, if you wish.
But there you have it, a beautiful, elegant, delicious dish that only required 8 minutes of sweltering cooking heat and can be prepared without too much fuss on a summer’s eve. The cool, creamy soup is a great compliment to the fiery but delicious shrimp.
I hope this recipe inspires you to think about creative summer foods. The avocado soup could be brought so many different directions, with mint or tarragon instead of cilantro for example. I even think an avocado and melon soup could be delicious for a hot day. But we will have to save that experiment for another time. For now, keep on cooking. Send me any questions, comments, or suggestions to Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.