Air conditioning has done away with many winter-into-summer transitions. Not many people reverse their ceiling fans, throw lightweight slipcovers on their furniture or exchange Orientals for sisal rugs anymore. But almost everyone makes a seasonal food switch.
Pasta salads replace pot roasts. Apple crisps disappear in favor of fresh fruit. And, in some households, cold soups substitute for winter's hot and hearty recipes.
Maybe you've never quite gotten the hang of blenders, don't have time to cut up a lot of vegetables, but still love the idea of a cold soup.
The same folks who prepare and package every other type of takeout fare--gourmet stores, specialty stores and your neighborhood grocery stores--have discovered that cold soup has a following. (It's also a great way to put some of that ripe produce to use.)
So we stopped in at some of the usual spots one morning and took away what was being offered that day. Here's what we found, store by store.
DEAN & DELUCA
The gazpacho, one of three cold soups available daily, is the thick variety with just the right amount of spice and kick. "I think in the summer you want a little bit of spice with things," says executive chef Eloise Sanchez. You can taste the basil, the plum tomatoes and the hint of olive oil, but no one ingredient overpowers the mix. A top-notch gazpacho.
We weren't as wild about the Cucumber Dill Mint or the Southwestern Vichyssoise, which were both on the grainy side. The vichyssoise had an odd taste, but nothing you would instantly recognize as being Southwestern. And the cucumber soup was so thick we were tempted to dip a cracker in it.
(Cold soups, $3.50 per 12-ounce cup or $9 a quart, are available in both the cafe and the prepared foods section of Dean & DeLuca, 3276 M St. NW.)
Picture a spicy salsa packed with oversized chunks of vegetables. Now imagine that pureed into a mushy sludge and laced with a slightly artificial hickory smoke flavor. Not a great gazpacho.
(Available in 15-ounce containers, $3.29, and 30-ounce containers, $5.69, at Fresh Fields stores.)
The price was right for Giant's gazpacho ($2.99 per pound), but there wasn't much else going for this bright red blend. The sweetness was overwhelming enough to send us straight to the list of ingredients to hunt down the culprit. It was honey, which tasted odd in a cold soup.
(Gazpacho, $2.99 per pound, is sold at all Giant stores that offer prepared foods.)
Executive Chef David Fye likes gazpacho the way it's made in Spain--a tomato base garnished with vegetables--so expect the classic, somewhat thinner variety here, available every day in the store's refrigerator case. The Cucumber and Yogurt Soup With Fresh Dill is another classic that Fye makes on the "lite" side with low-fat yogurt, 2 percent milk and a touch of olive oil. Our portion was a little light on the dill and bereft of salt and pepper but otherwise refreshing and perfectly polite. The Tomato-Basil Soup, a cooked soup that can be served hot or cold, was a little thin and without much flavor. Stick to the gazpacho if it's tomatoes and herbs you're looking for.
(All cold soups are $4 per pound and available in 12-ounce, single-serving containers for about $3 each. At all Marvelous Market stores.)
SUTTON PLACE GOURMET
Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho and Cantaloupe With Mint Soup were the two soups of the day on our visit. Sutton's gazpacho is of the thick, stand-a-spoon-up-in-it variety--more a Worcestershire sauce-colored concoction of pureed vegetables than a bright red, tomato-based broth studded with summer veggies. But the smoky flavor of the grilled peppers, zucchini and tomatoes gave the blend a nice touch. On the other hand, Cantaloupe With Mint was a sweet, cloying soup whose chalky residue--and pastel hue-- conjured up Pepto-Bismol. Better to eat this fruit in its natural state.
(Cold soups, $3.99 per pound, at all Sutton Place Gourmet stores.)