I have often wondered why cold soups aren’t more popular in India. They certainly suit our climate, they are by and large pretty healthy, easy to make and easy to down.
In Goa, you have the popular sol kadi, which is actually a cold savoury drink made with the souring agent kokum, green chilli, sometimes a hint of garlic and coconut milk. It is traditionally served along with fish curries to help digestion and to cool the system.The only difference I can see between this and a cold soup is that it is served in a glass as opposed to a bowl. The Maharashtrians have their saar. My husband’s grandmother gave her family recipe for Tomato Saar to Madhur Jaffrey, which is in her book (duly credited), A Taste of India. It is just a concoction of pureed fresh tomatoes, coconut milk and seasoning, to be eaten like a kadi. In summer, she often used to serve it at room temperature with rice on the side, much like a cold soup. The Gujaratis have their kadi made with yogurt and so on. Summer in India is full of savoury drinks which are served cold—aam panna, jeera pani, chaas, various lassis. Many of them have something sour as their base.
I have a resourceful friend, who happens to be a great cook. He was in New York helping with an AIDS programme some years ago, when his funds ran out, but not his will to stay. He managed to find work, giving Indian cookery classes in an evening college, but had to structure the meal European style, with a starter, main course and dessert. He went region by region. When he came to the Konkan coast, he couldn’t think of a starter and eventually came up with the brilliant idea of serving sol kadi in a soup plate. He called it consommé froid de la Konkan, which sounds quite fancy with a French accent.
In Europe, especially in countries of the Mediterranean, cold soups are also something of a tradition. It’s all about cooling. I have even had a fantastic cold version of the Russian winter warmer, borscht, a hearty beetroot soup, served cold with ripe cherries and sour cream. Vichyssoise, a cold leek and potato soup, is quite sublime served chilled and completely pureed and sieved to a velvet consistency. Cold soups have started reappearing on trendy menus in restaurants abroad, so I guess they are “in” again. Beetroot, tomato and asparagus, all take very well to chilled soups. Gazpacho, the famous cold soup from the south of Spain, has many sisters all over the place, the base being pureed tomatoes, olive oil, red wine vinegar, cucumber, garlic, onion and peppers. The city of Cordoba has given birth to a fantastic soup called Salmoreja (pronounced salmoreka), which is simply pureed tomatoes thickened with white bread soaked in olive oil (which produces a really creamy consistency), a dash of sherry vinegar and garlic.
Spain is also home to another simple but stunning soup made with garlic, thickened with almonds and enlivened with grapes. The almond is a key ingredient of the Spanish diet, and probably the most versatile as it features in every aspect of Spanish cooking. Here it adds both flavour and body.
Chilled Garlic and Almond Soup with Grapes
A tasty cold soup for summer, which can be served in glasses or in bowls
8 slices of day-old white bread, crusts removed
1 cup blanched almonds
2-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A pinch of salt
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar
600ml iced water
250gm white/red grapes, halved
Soak the bread in water, then squeeze it gently. Grind the almonds in a blender until smooth, adding a little of the bread to the almonds to stop them turning oily. Add the garlic, salt and olive oil and blend to make a smooth cream.
Add the remaining bread in pieces with the vinegar and enough iced water to blend smoothly. Chill for at least two hours, then dilute with iced water. Float the half grapes on top before serving.
(Write to Karen Anand at email@example.com)