I have fond memories of dining at the old Baur's Restaurant just south of the Statehouse back in the early 80s. Surrounded by legislators, lobbyists and journalists, Baur's was our special occasion restaurant in our early years in Springfield. I even took our young daughter there for a birthday date and ordered the chateaubriand for two with spaetzle and braised red cabbage. The owner, George Baur himself, brought the food to our table and cut my daughter's portion into bite-sized pieces.
It was at Baur's that I first had chilled soup. It was strawberry and I at first found it to be rather odd. In my mind, soup was supposed to be served hot and this seemed more like melted ice cream. But it was tasty and refreshing and I ended up ordering it whenever it was on the menu.
Though not common in our food culture, cold soups are popular in the foodways of other cultures. Russians have holodnik, a chilled beet soup that is a cousin to borscht. The Bulgarians have tarator, a cold cucumber soup. The Koreans have naengmyeon, a chilled noodle soup. Spaniards have gazpacho, a cold mixed vegetable soup. Though French-sounding, vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup) could technically be considered an American cold soup because it was invented in the early 1900s by a French chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York.
A couple of years ago I worked at Spoon and Stable, a popular restaurant in Minneapolis. Minnesota is the nation's top grower of sweet corn, so Spoon and Stable does a riff on traditional Spanish gazpacho that features local corn. Composed of sweet corn, cantaloupe, yellow tomatoes and yellow peppers, the soup is a perfect balance of sweet and savory. Many cold corn soups achieve richness through the addition of cream, but Spoon and Stable's dairy-free vegan version achieves something similar by making a stock from the cobs after the kernels are removed. Their gazpacho is a summertime menu favorite and is especially tasty topped with a little Dungeness crab.
Spoon and Stable's Sweet Corn and Melon Gazpacho
Adapted from At Home by Gavin Kaysen
Serves 2 to 4
For the gazpacho base:
2 tablespoons avocado or canola oil
6 shallots, roughly chopped
6 ears of corn, shucked and kernels cut from cobs; cobs reserved for stock.
For the gazpacho:
2 yellow bell peppers, roughly chopped
1 large cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
6 yellow tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 cup corn cob stock
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs cilantro, leaves picked
Make the gazpacho base: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and corn kernels and a pinch of salt and stir frequently until the corn has softened and the shallots turn translucent. Remove from the pan and refrigerate to chill down completely.
Make the corn cob stock: Break the reserved cobs in half, place them in a stock pot, and cover with three cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the cobs. Refrigerate to chill down.
Make the gazpacho: Set aside ¼ cup each of the bell peppers, cantaloupe and tomatoes for garnish. Put the rest in a large bowl. Add the cooked corn/shallot mixture, along with the jalapeno, and season with salt.
Working in batches, fill a blender jar not more than half full with the mixed vegetables and fruit. Add ½ cup of the corn cob stock. Starting at the lowest speed, turn the blender on, then slowly increase the speed to high. All the ingredients should blend easily. If they don't, add a bit more stock until everything turns in the machine. Continue to blend at high speed until the gazpacho is smooth. With the blender still running, slowly drizzle in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Pour the gazpacho through a mesh sieve set over a bowl. Use a ladle or rubber spatula to push the liquid through, leaving the pulp behind. Season with salt and lime juice.
To serve: Pour the soup into individual bowls and top with the reserved diced vegetables and melon. Drizzle each serving with a few drops of olive oil. Garnish with cilantro leaves.
Chilled Thai-Style Corn Soup
If you like SPICY, try this Thai-inspired rendition.
6 ears of corn, shucked, and kernels cut from cobs; cobs reserved for stock.
2 tablespoons avocado or canola oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 Thai bird chiles, seeded and thinly sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups corn cob stock
1 15-ounce can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon lime juice
Garnish suggestions: Cilantro leaves, chiffonade of Thai basil leaves, toasted coconut flakes, chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts,
Make the corn cob stock: Break the reserved cobs in half, place them in a stock pot and cover with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the cobs. Refrigerate to chill down.
Return the stock pot to the stovetop and heat the oil. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chiles, and saute until soft, but not browned. Add corn kernels and potato pieces, and saute until the corn and potatoes soften.
Add 2 cups of corn cob stock and the can of coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender all the way through.
Working in batches, ladle the soup into a blender, and blend until smooth. Season with lime juice and salt and mix to combine. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with toppings of your choice.