The roster of cold soups on restaurant menus used to be confined to a few stalwarts — think vichyssoise, borscht, and gazpacho — but while those classics are still kicking, chefs are getting creative with hot soup’s summer counterpart, especially here in the Coachella Valley, where temps can hit … well, you know. Palm Springs Life chatted with some area chefs about how they’re using fresh and seasonal produce with a little imagination and a gaggle of garnishes to create elegant, interesting, and colorful cool-you-down dishes.
They think seasonally
“We like to try to get as many ingredients as possible from the local farmers. I usually try to talk to the vendor who provides us with our vegetables and see what’s good quality in the market,” says Jae Ho Bang, executive chef at Morgan’s in the desert, La Quinta Resort & Club’s signature restaurant.
Morgan’s features a farmers’ market soup of the day that changes during the week and, in summer, is nearly always chilled.
The artful plating of chilled soups at Morgan’s in the desert at La Quinta Resort & Club.
One of Bang’s favorites is an heirloom carrot soup, which combines orange carrots (sourced from Madison Street Produce in Indio, just down the road from the resort) with leek, white onion, ginger, and both the zest and juice of an orange, which complements the root vegetable’s underlying citrus flavors. “If you get really good orange carrots you already get hints of orange from them,” he says.
Some of the other chilled soups Morgan’s has been featuring this summer include cauliflower; broccoli and jalapeño; and a recipe showcasing one of the valley’s most notable summer crops — sweet corn. “It’s one of the customer favorites this time of year,” Bang says.
At farm-to-table-focused Workshop Kitchen + Bar in Palm Springs, executive chef and co-owner Michael Beckman has concocted summer in a bowl with his chilled Gaya melon, cucumber, and avocado soup utilizing produce sourced almost entirely from the Palm Springs Farmers’ Market. He picks up the Gayas — which have pale green flesh, a crisp texture, and a clean flavor that’s a few notches below honeydew on the sweet meter — from vendor Ha’s Apple Farm out of Kern County. Nevertheless, he will happily improvise when they’re not available.
“We play around with whatever is best at the market,” says Beckman, adding that he might use a Hami variety from Redlands-based T&D Farms in place of the Gaya, since its sweetness is cut by the cucumber, avocado, and fresh herbs. “They’re all pretty much equal parts of the soup,” he notes. “Cucumbers are mostly water so that’s kind of the backbone. The avocado gives richness and fat and I also add some Thai basil that has this almost licoricey, anise factor to it, so with the melon it’s a nice balance of ingredients.”
They give familiar recipes a new spin
Chuck Courtney, executive chef at eclectic Palm Springs eatery Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, grew up in Los Angeles and has lived in every state on the West Coast, including Alaska. He credits that background with shaping the cooking style he dubs West Coast–modern American, which merges a variety of cultural influences.
An aerial view of the Chilled soup of cucumber, avocado, green melon/Tomato Gazpacho with curry-marinated lobster, pickled chili, and cherry tomato at Workshop Kitchen + Bar.
The chilled cucumber–lemon verbena gazpacho on the restaurant’s summer menu plays to that multicultural sensibility, getting an injection of Latin flavors with the addition of cilantro and jalapeño.
“To me gazpacho is a Southern California staple. It’s simple,” Courtney explains, “but I like to throw a twist in.” In this case, he swaps tomato out for cucumber and adds the aromatic herb lemon verbena into the mix. “Other than that, it’s not too far away from a gazpacho with the garlic and onion. And that lemon verbena just has this beautiful lemony scent. The fragrance is just amazing.”
Bang, meanwhile, likes to experiment with different fruits as the base of his gazpachos, using green grapes or even apricots, an idea he says he picked up in Italy, where cold fruit soups are a go-to item during the Mediterranean summers.
They stick with straightforward
While Courtney blends a handful of ingredients into his cucumber gazpacho, the chef has kept other cold soup recipes even more minimalist in the past, including a cantaloupe version.
“It was probably one of the recipes I’ve gotten the most requests from customers for and it was kind of embarrassing because it was just cantaloupe and crème fraîche and that’s it,” he laughs. “But you have to have really good, sweet, almost overly ripe cantaloupe and you whip in crème fraîche. If you use good ingredients, that’s all you need. It works.”
At Morgan’s, Bang says that while he puts a lot of thought into his cold soups, the ultimate goal is not to detract from the main ingredient. Case in point: his chilled puree-of-cauliflower soup. “I like to keep it as white as possible … so I stay away from any other vegetables that can ruin that white color,” he says. Even the pale green hue of a leek is considered off-limits lest it spoil the snowy color. Instead, Bang uses the leek’s white portion near its base, garlic, and white onion in supporting roles. “It’s as simple as it gets, and then just a touch of olive oil to make it silky.”
The Technicolor hues of chilled soups become the perfect canvas for piquant and pretty extras. The soups give chefs a chance to juxtapose the simplicity of a soup’s base with additional textures, colors, and flavors.
Beckman offers advice for those ready to tackle a cold soup at home: “If you get a good blender and buy the best ingredients you can afford and have time to find, you’re all set.” When it comes to certain vegetables, Beckman insists on including very little else as he did earlier this summer with a chilled soup of kohlrabi (a thick-skinned bulbous veggie that translates to “cabbage turnip” in German). “I’m a real purist about it. Kohlrabi has a nice pop to it, almost like a radish, and it’s got a little bit of the pungency similar to broccoli stems, but it’s bright white and really pretty,” he explains, adding that he simply chops the kohlrabi up, simmers it with a little water, incorporates a bit of butter and blends it. The result? “Just beautiful and straightforward kohlrabi.”
They garnish with gusto
The Technicolor hues of chilled soups become a canvas for piquant extras. The soups give chefs a chance to juxtapose the simplicity of a soup’s base with additional textures, colors, and flavors in order to tie the whole thing together just before the bowl hits the table.
Eight4Nine’s gazpacho, for example, gets finished with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and lemon verbena, diced avocado, and a drizzle of Arbequina olive oil. Chef Bang, who has a penchant for using infused and flavored oils, finishes off that carrot soup with a deep-green chive oil as well as a fragrant fried ginger chip. He also might utilize jammy caramelized shallots or herbaceous micro celery greens to top his chilled creations.
Beckman gives the kohlrabi soup a quick hit of bold flavors by finishing it with a mixture of chopped rosemary, olive oil, and fresh cherries. As for the current melon soup, he goes for a foursome: topping it with peppery radish and watercress, a smattering of the Thai basil, and delicate lobster meat he tosses with curry and olive oil. “The curry in the lobster ties everything together. And the color, it just really pops.”
Eight4Nine cucumber-lemon verbena gapacho gets a kick with the addition of jalapeño peppers.
Cucumber–Lemon Verbena Gazpacho
2 English cucumbers, peeled and chopped (approximately 4 cups chopped)
1 pasilla pepper, cored, seeded, deribbed, and chopped
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 jalapeño chili, stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deribbed (use disposable gloves)
1 small handful Italian parsley, large stems removed
1 small handful lemon verbena leaves (can substitute 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 cup cucumber juice, plus additional if needed (can substitute vegetable stock)
¼ cup cold-pressed olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Several drops of Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
Put the cucumber, pasilla pepper, green onions, jalapeño, parsley, lemon verbena, and garlic into a blender and liquefy. Add the cucumber juice, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, Tabasco, and salt. Pulse to combine. Taste and adjust the balance of salt and lemon juice if needed. Adjust the thickness of the soup by adding a little more cucumber juice (or veg stock) if needed. Chill for at least two hours and serve in a chilled bowl.
For the garnish: Diced avocado mixed with lime juice, finely chopped lemon verbena, olive oil, and sea salt to taste.