When "it's 110 degrees outside," Merrie Bechtold hopes her soup comes to mind.
Served cold, the summer soups at Spoons in downtown Medford took more than rising mercury to catch on. Bechtold plied her regular customers last summer with all the genre's classics — borscht, vichyssoise and pureed pea with mint — all to no avail.
"They didn't sell well, even the gazpacho," says Bechtold, blaming unfamiliarity with the concept of chilled soup.
Not to be deterred, Bechtold served up her more successful samples even earlier this year, when the temperature spiked around Mother's Day. After last summer's chilly reception, the weekly lineup of gazpacho, citrus-scented cucumber, carrot-ginger-mango, watermelon and avocado-tomato enjoys a steady following. The format also fits into Bechtold's commitment to a regular rotation of vegan soups, and four of the five are raw.
"It can't be meat-based; it has to be veggie-based," says Bechtold of making cold soups tasty.
Because cold numbs the palate, Bechtold heightens the flavor profile of chilled soups with ginger, jalapeno, cilantro and lime — but no garlic, which doesn't play well in these recipes.
"Lime brightens everything I'm doing this summer," she says. "They're also sweet and savory."
In addition to acid, heavier doses of salt and pepper go well in chilled soups, which also should be reevaluated for texture before serving. Some vegetables exude liquid, thinning the soup after it's thoroughly chilled. Bechtold uses an immersion blender to achieve a fine consistency.
"It's like a big vegetable or fruit Slurpee," she says.
Because the pureed soups are so light, Bechtold pairs them with heavier sides, like pasta salad. Her lunch counter in the Woolworth Building still serves hot soups for summer, along with salads. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
For fancier meals, such as dinner next door at Capers, cold soups work best as appetizers, says Bechtold, who also operates the adjacent restaurant. And unlike the versions at Spoons, which isn't licensed for alcohol, the cold soups at Capers stand to get a little more zing from spirits, she says.
"I want to put tequila in the watermelon soup," she says.
Prosecco enhances this rhubarb soup, which could be served as a starter to grilled salmon with salsa verde, roasted new potatoes, steamed green beans and a fruity Oregon pinot noir.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.