Chill Out

5 cool soups celebrate spring’s freshest ingredients.

Green pea and watercress soup.

Food by Chef J. Frank, photos and styling by Fred + Elliot 

By the time spring and early summer’s warmth arrives, we all want to chill out in the kitchen. It’s time for a break from simmering casseroles and bubbling stockpots turning out rich saucy dinners. But bidding farewell to more complex cooking doesn’t mean abandoning elegance. Chilled soups are the perfect showcase for spring’s crisp flavors and bright colors. It’s time to revisit this culinary classic. 

Vichyssoise, France’s satiny smooth potato-leek soup has long held the standard for posh chilled soups. But when Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso released the Silver Palate cookbook in 1982, their gazpacho recipe revolutionized nouvelle cuisine for home cooks. This earthy, garlicky gazpacho started appearing at gourmet dinner parties, and chefs experimented with other cold fruit-based soups. Chilled soups showed up on menus as refreshing first-course “amuse-bouches” and as palate cleansers. 

Today’s chilled soups feature hyper-fresh garden-to-table produce. Where the long slow winter braise is designed to break down fibers in meat and root vegetables, the short cooking time for a cold soup preserves the color, flavor and texture of a perfectly ripe tomato or pea tendril. 

Chilled soup demands the freshest, ripest ingredients, so choose perfect produce and treat it kindly. Foods served cold tend to have a more muted flavor than those served warm, so don’t be afraid to top them off with powerful garnishes—fresh herbs, flavored salts, chili paste or a squeeze of lime. 

It must be said that not every diner expects a chilled soup. It can be a shock to sit down to a bowl of something creamy, and presumably warm, only to be surprised by something cool and tingly. The solution is to create the right expectation up front. We eat with our eyes first, so serve a chilled soup in an appropriate setting that highlights its fresh nature. 

Forget the rule that says you need to eat soup from a bowl with a spoon. Instead, try serving a chilled soup in a champagne flute to sip as a sophisticated starter. Pour a dessert soup into a footed compote or antique coupe cocktail glass and scoop it up with tiny demitasse or cream spoons. Surprise guests with gazpacho served in bowls nestled into beds of plated crushed ice. Test a few options beforehand to see which works best. 

We’ve created a collection of colorful and creative soups that can satisfy a family looking for a quick, light dinner, but can also surprise guests at a sophisticated dinner party or brunch. We revisit the beloved gazpacho that started it all—but with a twist. Then we branch out with vivid green watercress and peas, and include an Asian-inspired coconut cream and carrot blend. Finish any spring or summer meal with our creamy blackberry dessert soup. As elegant takes on flavorful  classics, these soups are sure to keep you cool


Green Pea & Watercress Soup


4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup celery, chopped
1 medium shallot, peeled and chopped
2 8-ounce packages of watercress
1 9-ounce package of frozen or fresh green peas
½ cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons crème fraîche for garnish
lemon olive oil for garnish (lemon olive oil can be purchased online or at specialty groceries)

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, salt and potato to a boil. Cook the potato until soft. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil to medium-high and gently sauté the celery and shallot. Increase the heat to high and add the watercress, peas and parsley and sauté for slightly less than a minute. Add the boiling water and potato to the watercress mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Purée in a blender or with an immersion blender on high speed until smooth, then chill. Taste and season with salt and pepper and add the butter. Garnish with a dab of crème fraîche and drizzle of lemon olive oil.

Serves 6-8


Carrot, Coconut & Lime Soup


3 ½ cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
5 cups carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped or grated
1 can coconut cream
1 ½ limes, juiced
salt to taste
cilantro for garnish
Sambal chili paste for garnish

Heat the stock in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, in a larger saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the shallot and ginger for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add carrots and cook 5-6 minutes. Add the hot stock to the carrots and simmer another 5-6 minutes. Add coconut cream then simmer another 2-3 minutes. Add lime juice and salt. Cool slightly and purée. Garnish with cilantro and Sambal. Can be served warm or chilled.

Serves 6-8


Sugar Snap Pea with MacadamiaNuts & Ginger Soup


3 pints water
3 tablespoons salt 
¾ cup potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil12/3 cups fresh sugar snap peas, cleaned
chopped macadamia nuts for garnish
chopped candied ginger for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, salt and potato to a boil. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat and quickly sauté the sugar snap peas. Add the boiling liquid to the snaps and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Cool the soup and purée in a blender or with an immersion blender. Chill the soup thoroughly before serving and garnish with the nuts and ginger.

Serves 6-8


Watermelon Gazpacho


6 cups watermelon, cubed
1 large tomato, cubed
1 cup each red and yellow peppers, medium diced
2 celery stalks (inner ribs), roughly chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup red onion, roughly chopped
½ jalapeño, cut lengthwise (leave in seeds for more heat)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lime juice
salt to taste
fresh mint, basil and celery leaves for garnish
crumbled feta cheese for garnish

Using the meat grinder attachment on a mixer, grind all the fruits and vegetables with medium-sized cutter. Alternatively, use a food processor and process the ingredients together until the mixture is soupy with small chunks of vegetable. Pour into a container and add oil, vinegar, lime juice and salt. Garnish with fresh herbs and feta cheese if desired.

Serves 6-8


Blackberry Soup with Lemon Olive Oil Cake Crouton & Sweet Corn Ice Cream


4 cups blackberries
2 cups water
1 cup crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur)
½ lemon, juiced
1 2-inch strip of orange zest
1 clove
1 stick cinnamon
¼ cup cream

In a medium saucepan, simmer all ingredients except cream until the berries are very soft. Discard the clove, cinnamon and orange. Purèe the soup and pass through a fine sieve to remove all seeds. Chill. Before serving, mix cream in well then pour the soup into a decorative pitcher. In individual serving bowls, place a lemon olive oil cake crouton on the bottom and add a quenelle or scoop of sweet corn ice cream on top. Present the bowls and then pour the soup into each bowl at the table. 


For the lemon olive oil cake:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
3 lemons, zested and juiced
¾ cups extra virgin olive oil
5 eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan. Sift the flour with the baking powder and set aside. Combine lemon zest, juice and olive oil in a measuring cup. In the bowl of a mixer blend the eggs and salt, mixing slowly for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue mixing for 2 minutes. Slowly add the sifted ingredients, then the liquids and vanilla and mix until just combined—do not overmix. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean when inserted. Cool and slice for croutons (slices can be toasted if you prefer a crisp consistency). 


For the sweet corn ice cream:
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups half and half
5 ears of corn, shucked and cut off the cob (reserve the cobs)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
8 egg yolks

Combine all the liquids in a large stockpot. Add the corn cobs and the kernels to the liquid with the salt. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let steep for 1 hour. Discard the cobs, purée the mixture until smooth, strain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, whisk the sugar and vanilla into the eggs, mixing thoroughly. Place over low heat and, while whisking, slowly pour 1 cup of the hot corn liquid into the yolk mixture. Simmer over low heat, stirring continuously, while adding the remaining corn liquid. Cook until the custard has thickened slightly and coats the back of a spoon. Chill the custard, and then process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Serves 6-8


This article originally appeared in our June 2017 issue.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum