Liquid assets: Hix's cool summer soups

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Chill out with this colourful selection of cool summer soups, says Mark Hix

Cold soups in the summer are often overlooked but they make a refreshing dinner party starter. In the following recipes I have tried to combine the flavours, textures and colours of summer so that you can suitably impress your dinner guests without too much fuss.

But what might look striking to the eye may disappoint the palate, so making a cold soup flavoursome is of the utmost importance. A good blender is also a crucial piece of kit if you want to create a silky-smooth soup: among the best makes are KitchenAid, Magimix and Waring.

There are no hard and fast rules for cold soups, except to keep it all as simple as possible and resist the temptation of adding too many elements. You can have fun with classic combinations such as salmon and cucumber or, as I've done below, create a soup based on a bloody Mary!

Summer squash soup with goat's curd

Serves 4

There are some interesting members of the squash family around in the summer that are great for making a colourful soup. They all have unusual names that are difficult to remember but the important thing is to buy squashes with flavour and colour for the soup base. An orange fleshed squash, such as butternut, is a safe buy and is available for most of the year.

Some of the smaller squashes, such as patty pans and green and yellow courgettes, are good for the garnish along with some of the squash you have used for the soup base.

Any good quality cheese shop, such as Neal's Yard Dairy, will sell goat's curd, which has a really neutral flavour compared with more mature goat's cheese.

1 small leek, chopped, washed and drained
1tbsp olive oil
1kg orange flesh of summer squash, such as onion squash or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped (reserve some chunks for the garnish)
500ml vegetable stock (a good quality cube will do)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

A selection of small squashes, including the above, or green and/or yellow courgettes
1tbsp pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
A tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil
4 small spoonfuls of goat's curd or fromage frais

Gently cook the leek in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the squash and stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, then simmer for 20 minutes. Blend the soup in a liquidiser until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve if necessary, season if required and refrigerate for a few hours until chilled.

Meanwhile, peel the small squashes for the garnish and cut into even-sized pieces and do the same with the courgette if using. You should ideally try to have different shapes like wedges, chunks etc. Cook them in boiling salted water until tender, then drain and cool.

To serve, pour the soups into large, chilled soup bowls or soup plates about 2-3cm deep, arrange the squashes in the centre and spoon some goat's curd on top. Spoon over a little olive oil and scatter the pumpkin seeds over.

Chilled cucumber soup with Braden Rost

Serves 4

Cucumber consists mostly of water, so it needs gentle and brief cooking to help it blend smoothly and bring out the flavours and to help prevent it separating once it's blended and chilled.

You can buy Braden Rost or "hot smoked" salmon from good delis or fishmongers, or you could just use poached salmon instead.

1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
1tbsp olive oil
2 cucumbers, roughly chopped (reserve a quarter of one for garnish)
600ml vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish

The quarter cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds scooped out and sliced on the angle
80-100g Braden Rost, broken into chunks
A few sprigs of fennel or dill
A spoonful of olive oil

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 add the cucumber 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 to taste. Meanwhile, blanch the slices of cucumber in a little boiling, salted water for 30 seconds and drain and refresh under cold water. To serve, mix the cucumber and salmon together, pour the soup into large chilled soup bowls about 2-3cm deep and arrange the salmon and cucumber in the centre. Scatter the dill over and spoon a little olive oil around.

Spiced tomato soup with horseradish

Serves 4

This is a version of a bloody Mary that makes a great soup to start off a Sunday brunch. A few tomato growers around the country are growing old heritage varieties of tomatoes, which make fantastic salads and fun soups such as this one. You can use over-ripe tomatoes for the base and a selection of coloured or heritage tomatoes for the garnish.

250g ripe red tomatoes, halved and deseeded
250g ripe cherry tomatoes
150ml tomato juice
Half clove of garlic, peeled and blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes
A few drops of Tabasco to taste
1-2tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish

60–70g mixed tomatoes (Heritage, red and yellow cherry, plum, etc)
About 20–30g freshly grated horseradish
2tbsp olive oil

Put the ripe tomatoes in a liquidiser with the cherry tomatoes, tomato juice and garlic. Blend until smooth, then pass through a fine sieve into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to taste, then chill in the fridge for an hour or two, or the freezer for 20-30 minutes if you're in a hurry.

To serve, pour into large, chilled soup bowls or soup plates. Cut the mixed tomatoes into even-sized chunks and arrange in the centre. Scatter the grated horseradish on top and drizzle with the olive oil.

Beetroot soup with fried halloumi and mint

Serves 4

Beetroot is one of my favourite chilled soups; it's got such a great flavour and colour, and always goes down well with dinner guests. I've added a bit of a Mediterranean twist here by frying cubes of halloumi like croutons and using white beetroot to garnish. You could use a selection of coloured beetroots.

1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1tbsp vegetable or olive oil
400g medium beetroot cooked in their skins for 1 hour, or until tender, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of balsamic vinegar to taste

To serve

150g or more of halloumi, cut into 1cm dice
A couple of white or golden beets, cooked, peeled and cut into wedges
A few small mint leaves, washed
1tbsp olive oil

Gently cook the onion in the oil in a covered pan for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, season with a little salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the beetroot, remove from the heat and blend in a liquidiser until smooth, then strain through a fine meshed sieve and re-season if necessary. Cool the soup down, then refrigerate for a few hours until well chilled or put it into the freezer if you're in a rush.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in, preferably, a non-stick frying pan and fry the pieces of halloumi on a fairly high heat for a few minutes, turning them occasionally until they are evenly coloured all over. Remove from the pan and drain on some kitchen paper.

Once the soup has chilled, check and re-season if necessary as the flavour changes a little once it has cooled down, then stir in the balsamic vinegar to taste.

To serve, cut the yellow beets into chunks or wedges. Pour the soup into large, chilled bowls or soup plates, arrange the beets in the middle and scatter the halloumi and mint leaves over; drizzle with olive oil.

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