Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Comfort

Winter is the time for comfort food. It’s the time for thick stews and spicy chili and roasts resting in their juices. It’s the time for wrapping yourself in a blanket, flipping on the tv, and eating holiday cookies in a gnarly sweater. Some people do this all year long, but they are probably very depressed.

Summer is supposed to be the time to shed all that extra clothing, baggage, or weight. We eat light foods like salads and seafood and fruit desserts. But what about when you have a car accident on a sunny day, or your summer fling breaks your heart, or the A/C stops working during a heat wave? Life is frustrating all the time, with no concern for the season. It’s not only the weather we seek comfort from in our food.

But food is not my primary source of comfort. My first love is reading. When I’m tired, when I’m stressed, when I’m lonely, there’s no better cure than to curl up in bed with a book. But I also realize that reading and eating are closely linked in my mind. Some people can’t use the bathroom without a magazine in hand, but I can’t enjoy my dinner or even a five minute breakfast without some reading material on the table. I used to read a book at the dinner table as a child, baffling and annoying my parents who love to talk. It was meant to be a compliment to the food. The better my mom’s cooking, the more I wanted to read while I ate it.

Seeking comfort on a cold, rainy day in June, I went to a used book sale. Wandering through stacks of books under a giant tent, I remembered long summer days in grade school where I had nothing to do all day but watch The Price is Right and I Love Lucy, and read piles of books – mysteries mostly. Now I was more interested in the cookbook section. Typically at these things you’ll find a variety of diet cookbooks, microwave cookbooks, and issues of Bon Appetit from 1983. Occasionally you’ll find something unique - like an African cookbook.

For $3, I bought a cookbook with recipes like beef tripe soup and clam and peanut stew, neither of which I plan to make. But I also came across a recipe for a cold cucumber soup. It was nothing more than a potato soup cooked, then pureed and chilled with some chopped cucumber stirred in, and a dash of pepper sauce. Summer is the only time of year I would want to eat cold soup.

When I made the soup, I was expecting something as simple as the recipe sounded, and I was a bit skeptical about chunks of cucumber in my potato soup. So I was surprised when I found myself licking my bowl (I don’t do this in public, I promise). The crunchy cucumber played off nicely against the creamy potato, and the cold soup was well heated by the pepper sauce.

This, then, is summer comfort. A good book, or a good cookbook, a cold, spicy, hearty soup, and the ability to lick your bowl clean without anyone watching.

Cold Cucumber Soup
Yields 2 quarts

1 cup white onions, chopped finely
2 oz. butter
1 cup peeled and cubed white potatoes (1/2 inch cubes)
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
a few drops Tabasco (more if you like it spicy)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 cup fat free plain yogurt
2 cups peeled and diced cucumbers

In a 3 quart saucepan, saute the onions in butter. Add potatoes, salt, white pepper, tabasco, and chicken stock. Cook until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Puree with immersion blender, or transfer to blender or food processor to puree until smooth. Return soup to pan. Add yogurt and cucumbers and stir to combine. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed. Chill 2 to 3 hours before serving.

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