Food and Drink: Chill out with a cool soup: The traditional winter warmer can be just as satisfying if delivered cold on a summer's day - and there's no need even to switch on the stove

I'VE JUST heard the weather report and it bodes well, with promises of fine weather in the near future. Now I don't feel quite so ridiculous writing an article about chilled soups while swaddled in a winter jumper.

I've had rather a good time of it recently, weather- and soup-wise. A couple of days in Lisbon served to remind me how very welcome the classic Iberian chilled soup, gazpacho, can be when the sun beats down. Though usually associated with Spain, gazpacho is also a great favourite in southern Portugal.

I've also just returned from a spell as guest cook at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Hard work, but fun, and with the not inconsiderable perk of board and lodging at Ballymaloe House Hotel. Every evening there are at least two soups on the menu, if not three, and I have rarely tasted

better.

Gathering a collection of chilled soups, I realised that the ones I would be likely to make were those that require virtually no cooking. This rules out Vichysoisse (such an elegant name for potato and leek soup) and other equally delicious soups that are simmered before liquidising and chilling. On a sunny day I'd rather limit my kitchen activities to the minimum - chopping, liquidising, stirring, tasting and finito.

If you are inclined towards a hot stove, then you'll find many soups normally served steaming hot are just as good cold. On the whole, I think it is better to substitute oil for butter.

Simmered or not, one indisputable fact is that chilling mutes flavour. Choose your ingredients well: take the best and the freshest - fully-ripened tomatoes or avocados, home-

made stock, creamy yoghurt, and so on. Before chilling, balance out the flavourings to give a rounded taste (a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of wine vinegar can often work wonders to heighten flavour), and make sure that the seasoning is sprightly, though not overwhelming. Try the soup just before serving and make last minute adjustments.

The process of chilling will also thicken up the consistency. Some soups are meant to be lightly jellied. Otherwise, dilute as much as you will, taking care not to thin the flavour.

Cooked chilled soups can be made at least 24 hours in advance and usually freeze very well, but 'raw' soups are best eaten on the day they are made, especially if they contain onion which has a tendency to ferment. If needs must, omit the onion.

Gazpacho Andaluz

The classic 'liquidised salad', open to endless variation. In some recipes, water is replaced with tomato juice to intensify the flavour and colour. Prepare as many garnishes as you have time for, and pass them around so each diner can embellish their own bowl.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs (675g) ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded, chopped

3/4 cucumber, peeled and roughly

chopped

1 large green pepper, deseeded and

roughly chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 1/2 -2 tbs red wine vinegar

4 tbs olive oil

4oz (110g) fresh white breadcrumbs

1-2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

salt and pepper

Garnish: diced, deseeded tomato

diced cucumber, red onion, green

pepper

diced cured ham such as jamon serrano (from Spain), presunto (from Portugal), prosciutto (from Italy)

diced egg

Preparation: Put all the ingredients in a liquidiser with a generous cupful of iced water. If you use a processor, a small slurp of water will be enough. Liquidise to a fairly smooth sludge (you may have to do this in two batches). Gradually stir in enough water to give a soupy consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and/ or vinegar to highlight the flavours. A pinch of sugar may help.

Chill, and adjust seasoning again just before serving. Pass garnishes around once the soup is served.

Ajo blanco con uvas

This 'white gazpacho' comes from the Malaga area. It's the most bizarre sounding concoction - garlic and grapes - but it works . . . as long as you're partial to garlic. Pale and cool at first glance, it packs a punch, so serve in small quantities. Don't be tempted to omit the grapes as their sweet juiciness is quite essential. One variation replaces them with raisins plumped up in Malaga wine, but fresh grapes are far nicer.

Unblanched almonds are not only cheaper than blanched ones, but usually have a better flavour. To skin, cover with boiling water, leave for a minute or two, drain, and run under the cold tap.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 1-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2oz (55g) blanched whole almonds, roughly chopped

2oz (55g) fresh white breadcrumbs

1-2tbs red wine or sherry vinegar

2tbs olive oil

1 pint water

8oz seedless white grapes (muscatel if you can get them), peeled and halved

salt

Preparation: Place garlic (be warned - one clove alone is enough to give a noticeable kick), almonds and breadcrumbs in the processor with the vinegar, olive oil and a little salt. Process, adding a few tablespoons of water, until you have a paste. Keep the motor running and trickle in the rest of the water. Transfer to a soup tureen and stir in the grapes. Chill for at least an hour before serving. Stir, then taste and adjust seasoning, adding a touch more vinegar if necessary.

Tzatziki soupa

The liquid version of the Greek yoghurt and cucumber dip, tzatziki.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 1 cucumber

1 pint (600ml) Greek yoghurt

1-2 cloves garlic

finely grated zest 1 lemon

3tbs chopped fresh mint

lemon juice

salt and pepper

Preparation: Grate the cucumber coarsely, peel and all. Beat the yoghurt with 5fl oz (150 ml) water. Stir in the cucumber, garlic, lemon zest, chopped mint and salt and pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Chill for at least an hour, stir, then taste and adjust seasonings. If it seems too thick add a little water.

Ballymaloe avocado soup

This is a good soup for using up avocados that are a little overripe. As soon as you have made it, cover with clingfilm and chill. The soup is rich and very thick, so a little goes a long way.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 12oz tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped

1/2 small onion

1 very ripe large avocado

2tsp lemon juice

8fl oz (225 ml) chicken stock

4fl oz (110 ml) good French dressing

salt and pepper

To serve: 1 tomato or half red pepper

Preparation: Liquidise tomatoes, seeds and and all, then sieve. Measure out 4fl oz. Grate the onion on a very fine grater and scrape up enough pulp to measure half a teaspoon. Peel the avocado and discard the stone. Place tomato juice, onion and avocado in a liquidiser or processor with all the remaining ingredients and whizz until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Divide into small bowls and chill.

To serve, decorate each bowl with fine shreds of red pepper, or deseeded tomatoes cut into shapes.

Canteloupe soup

This is an old favourite that I'd quite forgotten until a few weeks ago, when I revived it for a demonstration. It proved a huge hit. Though there's no reason why you shouldn't serve a fruit soup at the beginning of a meal, I think this one slots in better as pudding, accompanied by a few almond biscuits.

Don't be tempted to substitute green-fleshed melons for the cantaloupe or charantais. You really do need orange-fleshed fruit for this one.

Serves 4 generously

Ingredients: 2 oranges

2 limes

4oz (110g) sugar

2 small-medium canteloupe or

charantais melons

4fl oz single cream

scant 1oz (25g) toasted hazlenuts,

chopped

Preparation: Pare the zest from one orange and one lime and shred finely. Blanch in boiling water for one minute, drain, run under the cold tap, and drain again. Cover and set aside. Squeeze the juice from both oranges and limes and place in a pan with the sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool.

Halve the melons and discard the seeds. Scoop out the flesh, taking care not to pierce the skins. Liquidise with the citrus syrup, then stir in the cream. Chill for at least half an hour. To serve, sit the melon halves snugly in two bowls and ladle in the soup. Scatter with hazlenuts and reserved zest.

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