Ladled with love: Mark Hix's fresh, vibrant and healthy soups

Warm or chilled, soup makes guests at summer dinner parties feel cherished, says our man in the kitchen.
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A light, refreshing, summery soup is a great start to a lunch or dinner party. The secret of a good summer soup, whether it's a lightly cooked pea or a healthy raw blend such as a gazpacho, is that the end result is zingingly fresh in taste and thrillingly vibrant in colour. That means your raw ingredients must have a great flavour to begin with and the garnish – whether it be a well-flavoured crunchy croûton or some crisped-up halloumi – should complement it. Also, if you are making a chilled soup where the ingredients need cooking, then the cooling-down process needs to be quick so that you still capture that freshness of flavour; I keep a few ice packs in my freezer that I throw into a bowl of water for that purpose.

Minted cucumber soup with fried halloumi

Serves 4

Over the years I've adapted my chilled cucumber soup recipes – I used to blend the cucumbers from raw, but now I favour slightly cooking them as I have done here, which tends to extract a little more flavour.

1 small leek, thinly sliced and washed
1tbsp olive oil
2 cucumbers
600ml vegetable stock
A small handful of mint leaves, washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
125-150g halloumi
½tbsp olive oil

Cut a quarter off one of the cucumbers, halve it lengthways, scoop out and discard the seeds and finely dice the flesh; reserve for the garnish. Gently cook the leek in the olive oil, in a covered pan, for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then roughly chop the remaining cucumbers and mint, add to the stock and simmer for 2 minutes and remove from the heat. Blend in a liquidiser until very smooth. Strain through a medium-meshed sieve (a fine mesh will trap too many bits) into a bowl set over some iced water to cool it quickly and prevent discolouring. Season.

Cut the halloumi into 1cm dice and dry on some kitchen paper. Heat the olive oil – preferably in a non-stick pan – and fry the halloumi on a high heat until golden, then remove from the pan and drain on some kitchen paper. To serve, pour the soup into bowls, then scatter over the cucumber and halloumi.

Cherry soup with vanilla ice-cream

Serves 4

There's nothing wrong with a delicious chilled cherry soup – served with ice-cream, it makes a really refreshing end to a meal.

500g cherries, stoned
150ml water
150g granulated sugar
4 balls of good-quality vanilla ice-cream or a sorbet or ice-cream of your choice

Bring the water to the boil; stir in the sugar until dissolved, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Reserve about 15-20 cherries (leave them whole if small or halve them if large) and put to one side. Blend the rest in a liquidiser until smooth and add enough of the sugar syrup to sweeten, then chill in the fridge or even give it a blast in the freezer if you are in a hurry. Once it's ice cold pour into soup plates, scatter the cherries in and place a ball of ice-cream in the centre.

New potato soup with cumin and crispy bacon

Serves 4-6

This is a soupy version of one of my favourite potato dishes – the Bavarian potato salad. It's an addictive kind of dish, thanks in part to the spicy flavours of cumin combined with a nice crunch of bacon on top.

2 onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped

2tsp cumin seeds
1tbsp olive oil
100ml good-quality white wine vinegar
1.2ltrs chicken or vegetable stock
500g large new potatoes, peeled and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp chopped parsley
6 rashers of streaky bacon, grilled until crisp

Gently cook the onion and cumin in the olive oil for about 2-3 minutes until soft and then add the vinegar and reduce completely.

Add the chicken or vegetable stock and potatoes, season and simmer for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are f just falling apart. Blend a quarter of the soup in a liquidiser and add back to the soup with the parsley. Chop the crispy bacon as finely as you like, reheat the soup and season if necessary.

Pour the soup into warmed serving bowls and scatter the bacon on top.

Celery and blue cheese soup

Serves 6-8

1 small head of celery, stalk removed and leaves reserved
1 medium leek, roughly chopped and washed
1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
½tbsp plain flour
2ltrs vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

150g soft blue cheese mixed with a couple of tablespoons of single cream

Reserve about 2 or 3 of the centre stems of celery and cut them into ½cm dice. Blanch for 2-3 minutes in lightly salted water until tender, then drain.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the rest of the celery, also reserving the leaves. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan; gently cook the leeks and celery for 3-4 minutes with a lid on until they soften.

Stir in the flour, then gradually add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Season and simmer gently for 30 minutes, add the leaves, remove from the heat and blend in a liquidiser until smooth.

Strain through a sieve and leave to cool, then chill in the refrigerator.

To serve, re-season to taste and stir in the diced celery. Pour into soup bowls and spoon blobs of the blue cheese into the soup.