Cool down with cold soup

When the daily high tops 95 degrees for weeks on end, few dishes are more refreshing than cold soups.

Just as steamy soups provide warmth and comfort on chilly winter nights, cold soups can be equally effective in hitting the spot on a sweltering summer day.

If cold soups are not in your culinary repertoire, you’re missing out. Cold soups, especially those indigenous to warm, Southern climates, are typically light and fresh, and made with bright, colorful seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Many cold soups don’t require anything more than a blender or food processor to prepare and most are really good for you because they’re made with water-packed, nutrient-rich melons, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

When preparing cold soups, it’s important to be aware that cold dulls the taste buds so you’ll need more spices and seasonings than you would with a hot soup or dish. You’ll also want to taste the soup at the correct serving temperature, according to the 2008 edition of “The CIA Cookbook.”

“Some soups are at their best and ready to serve as soon as they are prepared,” the book states. “Other soups develop more complex and satisfying flavors if they are allowed to mellow in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.”

One of the fun things about cold soups is that you can get really creative with the way you serve them.

Use fresh herbs or edible flowers for an eye-catching garnish, or experiment by using the ingredients in the soup as a serving vessel. Scoop out a cantaloupe to make a bowl for serving melon soup, for instance, or hollow out the end of a cucumber to make a shot glass for a Chilled Cucumber Soup.

Perhaps the best known cold soup is Vichyssoise, a potato and leek soup that was popularized by French chef Louis Diat at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York in 1917. Indeed, so popular has his creation become, Diat has been coined “the father of cold soups,” according to Allison Rittman, a chef and food writer in Austin, Texas.

But while Vichyssoise is popular and delicious, it doesn’t really qualify as refreshing on a hot summer day. It seems a more appropriate summer soup for those whose idea of balmy is 80 degrees and overcast.

For those of us who live in the tropics, fruit- and vegetable-based soups are the best choices for cold soups, at least in the summer. That’s why the recipes included here are all made with fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits.

The recipe for Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho is one of my favorite soups of all time, and comes from a 1990 cookbook called “The Thrill of the Grill” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby.

As the authors point out, gazpacho was originally a bread porridge, not the tomato-vegetable dish it is known as today. In this version, day-old bread is puréed and added to a base of tomato juice - piquant Clamato juice, actually - that is chock-full of chunky, grilled vegetables.

It makes a stunning first course for a summer dinner party, and is a nice antecedent to grilled shrimp or steaks. But it’s hearty enough to serve on its own for lunch or a light supper .

If the thought of firing up the grill is too much to bear, roast the veggies instead. Just be careful not to overcook them.

The Grilled Chilled Tomato Soup is another favorite from that same, sublime cookbook. (Chris Schlesinger, incidentally, is the son of famed historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.) The soup gets its body and flavor from the smoky, grilled tomatoes. I find Roma tomatoes, or a similar variety, work best for a dish like this.

The Chilled Cucumber Soup recipe is the product of several cucumber soup recipes I found and combined. It’s particularly light and refreshing, a fun color, too, and gets a little added bite from the jalapeño.

The Chilled Avocado Soup is perhaps the simplest of all to prepare. It’s topped with fresh Pico de Gallo and is very mild, so adjust the spices and seasonings according to your taste.

As for the Peach Soup, Corinne Cook shared this recipe and says it’s one of her favorites. It comes from Baton Rouge native Alice Greer, and is a lovely dessert soup made with puréed peaches, fruit juices and sour cream.