I’m really into cold soups this summer. It’s like mainlining vegetables. And my latest love, kvass (yes, yes, a recipe soon forthcoming, I promise), is making them all the better. Kvass, a fermented drink made from bread, beets, or fruits, sours up a sweet soup and gives it depth.
This melon-cucumber soup, when done with a meltingly ripe melon from Eastern Oregon, will be too sweet, so you need the balancing agents: kvass, cucumber, green pepper, salt. Be careful with your garden cucumbers — they can be bitter in this hot, dry weather. Taste each one before using.
Shiso is an herb everyone should grow, both the green and purple kinds. Its flavor is a little like basil, a little like tarragon, a little like holy basil, a little like mint. The purple stuff provides a great dye for pickles, and dried, produces a traditional topping for Japanese rice. The green stuff can be salted to preserve and used fresh on seafood and, as you shall see, in cold soups.
Melon Cucumber Soup with Shiso
- 1 honeydew or other pretty green-fleshed melon
- 3-4 medium pickling cucumbers or one firm, medium-sized cucumber
- 1/2 cup kvass, should you be lucky enough to have it, or hefeweizen or other light-flavored beer
- 1/2 stale dinner roll or a slice of white bread
- a pinch or two of salt
- 1/4 cup any chopped green or banana pepper
- 1-2 tablespoons tarragon
- 5-6 green shiso (perilla) leaves, plus more for garnish, optional
- crème fraîche for garnish, optional
Wash and peel melon, cut into chunks. Peel and seed cucumber only if using one of those grocery store kinds with leathery skin and big seeds. Tear bread into pieces and soak in kvass. Add to food processor bowl or blender melon, chunks of cucumber, kvass/bread, salt, peppers, tarragon, and shiso. Blend until as smooth as possible. You might try pressing through a food mill or chinois after this step, if you and your guests are fancy.
Refrigerate for several hours, up to overnight but not more, to blend flavors. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of shiso in each bowl.