I should dedicate this, the second summer appetizer in my series of summer appetizers with obscure ingredients, to the folks at Hentze farm, where I bought the blushing, lovely apricots and the already-pitted sour cherries, submerged in their juice. It made my life so easy, and easy livin’ is what summer is supposed to be about, right?
Sour cherries and apricots whisper Hungary to me. My trip to Budapest in 2006 for a conference was one of the highlights of my life. If my soul had a foreign home, it would be Hungary. Of course, I’d soon die and have to be buried in a piano box because I would eat so much, but I’d die happy. At one restaurant, I ordered sour cherry soup (meggy leves), thinking it would be a light starter. Of course, being Hungary, it was thickened with sour cream and topped with whipped cream. And every bite was delicious.
My version of the soup is lighter and appropriate for a July grilled meal. The soup is still rich, but unless you want to serve it as a dessert (which you absolutely can), forgo the whipped cream and replace the sour cream with thinner, lighter crème fraîche. Noris Dairy makes a delicious, slightly runny “sour cream” that is basically crème fraîche, so I use that. You might try lightening up your sour cream with a bit of heavy cream if you can’t find crème fraîche. If you can’t find that, you certainly won’t be able to find Hungarian apricot brandy, which is not imported much in the States, so substitute cherry brandy. Or make your own apricot liqueur!
Using fresh sour cherries and apricots make this soup extraordinary. It’s better to substitute fresh Bing or other cherries than to use frozen or canned sour cherries, since this is all about fresh summer produce. I don’t bother peeling the apricots, but it might make the texture more elegant.
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or dessert
2 cups pitted sour cherries
3 cups cherry juice
½ cup fruity red wine, such as Merlot
1 cup quartered fresh apricots
1 T. sugar
½ cup crème fraîche
1 T. powdered sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3-4 whole cloves
1 T. apricot brandy (Hungarian barack palinka) or cherry brandy
Pour juice and wine into pot, add cherries, apricots, and sugar. Place spices in small cheesecloth bag and tie with kitchen twine. Submerge in juice.
Simmer cherries and apricots just long enough to soften them up, about 5-10 minutes.
Mix crème fraîche and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Remove soup from heat and remove spice bag.
Scoop out about half of the cherries and apricots and puree in the food processor, then return to soup pot.
Quickly whisk in crème fraîche until thoroughly mixed, and add brandy.
Pour into small serving bowls and chill for several hours before serving.