- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2007

When the weather turns warm and the days are long, everyone wants to entertain outside. For one of my summer cooking classes, I offered a backyard supper menu featuring grill dishes and sides. The course was sold out within days with a waiting list so long that I had to plan another session.

Although my menu starred a number of delectable items, including barbecued pork, homemade cole slaw, and a blueberry buckle for dessert, it was the first course that received the most attention. To counter the season’s heat, I had created a chilled avocado soup topped with a fresh tomato salsa.

This soup is like guacamole in a bowl. Diced avocados are combined with onions and garlic, seasoned with lime juice and Tabasco, then simmered in stock and water. The mixture is pureed until smooth, then chilled.

The tomato salsa garnish is essential to the recipe, for it highlights the subtle taste of the avocados. Instead of bread, I used crunchy tortilla chips as a garnish to this silken green creation.

Although this soup can easily kick off a summer supper, it could also step into the role of a main course.

You could serve it as is or make it more substantial by adding a garnish of grilled skewered shrimp to each bowl. Simply marinate the fish in fresh lime juice and olive oil along with some chopped garlic and cilantro for half an hour, then thread two or three on skewers and grill until curled and pink.

My students loved the enticing blend of flavors, the contrasting textures and the vivid colors of this soup, but most of all they were delighted to add a new recipe to their backyard cooking files. They couldn’t wait to get home and serve it under open skies on their decks, patios and terraces.

Chilled avocado soup garnished with fresh tomato salsa

SALSA:

2 cups diced tomatoes (6 to 8 plum tomatoes), with seeds and membranes removed and discarded, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 cup finely chopped onion

1½ tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper (about one 3-inch pepper, with seeds and membranes discarded) (see note)

1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons grated lime zest (2 to 3 limes)

Kosher salt

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

SOUP:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups water

5 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more if needed

6 ripe medium avocados, peeled, pitted and diced with pits reserved (see note)

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce, plus extra for the garnish

Kosher salt

Tortilla chips, optional

For salsa, combine tomatoes, onion, jalapeno pepper, lime juice and zest, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium nonreactive bowl. Toss to mix. (Salsa can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

For soup, heat oil in a large, heavy nonreactive pot set over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, for about 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir and cook 1 minute more.

Add stock, 2 cups water, lime juice, avocados, ½ teaspoon Tabasco and 1 teaspoon salt; bring mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Carefully puree the warm soup in a food processor, blender or food mill, and return the soup to the pot. Or, use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot.

Don’t worry if the soup is quite thick at this point. Add reserved avocado pits, then cool, cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.

After soup is well chilled, if it is too thick, thin with cold water, using up to 1 cup or more as needed. Then taste and season with more salt and additional lime juice, if needed. (Chilled soups often need extra seasoning to intensify their flavor.)

To serve, remove and discard pits from soup. Drain the excess liquid from the salsa and stir in cilantro; season salsa with additional salt, if desired. Ladle soup into 6 bowls.

Garnish center of each serving with some salsa and a dash of Tabasco. Serve with tortilla chips, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. The tissues around your mouth, nose and eyes are sensitive to the oils of hot peppers, so if you touch any of these areas with pepper-coated fingers, you will feel an unpleasant burning sensation.

Note: When avocado pits are added to the pureed soup, they prevent the soup from turning a drab green.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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