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Eat This Tonight: Cold soups and crisp salads

Chill out, lighten up

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Last weekend was spent gorging on piles of hotdogs, burgers, barbecue, and potato salad. If you're like us, you're probably still stuffed beyond belief after the three-day Fourth of July holiday. It's a good time to chill out with some nice cold soups and fresh salads. We found some fresh choices around town that are worth seeking out.

G&M/Fast and French has a cucumber gazpacho that makes use of some of the summer's best ingredients. Tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green peppers, dry seasoning, and olive oil are marinated for a day and then combined with garlic, onion, dill, plain nonfat yogurt, milk, and sour cream. For a sweeter option, try the the cold melon pineapple soup made with coconut milk, ripe melon, pineapple, and nutmeg. "It's very mellow, kind of sweet almost like a dessert than a meal," says Manager/Chef Mark Jenkins. Pair either soup with the Bucheron Salad, which has crisp green leaf lettuce topped with white button mushrooms, almonds, raisins, goat cheese, and a sesame lemon dressing that ties it all together.

Cypress' bright cantaloupe soup compresses local melons in vacuum, purées them, and compresses them again for an intense flavor. The purée is topped with basil ricotta, fresh diced compressed melon, diced cucumber, a bit of watercress, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. "You get the nice cantaloupe flavor accented with the salt from the ricotta, slightly seasoned, and a nice creaminess," says Executive Chef Craig Deihl. "The crunch from the cucumber gives it texture and freshness." To go with this soup, Deihl suggests the tomato and mozzarella salad, which combines heirloom tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic, and hand-pulled mozzarella, finished with a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked pepper.

For another shot at melon soup, stop by the Glass Onion and try their version of chilled cantaloupe soup made with cantaloupes from Sam Ambrose. They sweat some onions with peeled, seeded tomatoes, and then add chopped cantaloupe meat and cook it until it breaks down. Chef Charles Vincent then finishes the dish with some white wine and cream. "The flavor is bright, fresh, and simply beautiful," says co-owner Sarah O'Kelley. It pairs wonderfully with their straight-from-the-garden salad, which is featured daily. It's base is local Bibb lettuce from either Kurios Farms or Sweet Bay that is tossed with a Creole mustard vinaigrette and garnished with whatever is local and in season such as heirloom cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, or their housemade pickled okra and green beans.

Five Loaves Café has a cucumber and red pepper chilled soup. Chef Trey Stabler says a yogurt base gives the soup a creamy texture without the heavy cream taste. Cucumbers, red peppers, cilantro, and various spices are combined, blended, and chilled. "It's kind of sweet," says Stabler. "A little bit of savory, very light and cool on the tongue." The arugula salad is a nice pairing with the cucumber soup. Peppery arugula leaves are topped with roasted beets, candied walnuts, carrots, and goat cheese.

Cork Bistro has a chilled watermelon tomato gazpacho starting Saturday. The watermelon and tomatoes are purchased locally from the Park Circle Farmer's Market, and the dish is served with a watermelon crème fraiche. "A very light and smooth soup," says Executive Chef Eric Brownlee. "The sweetness of the watermelon and acidity of the tomato kind of balance each other out. It is more on the watermelon side, perfect for a warm summer evening." To go along with this soup, Brownlee suggests the baby spinach salad, which is served with fresh strawberries, goat cheese, caramelized onions, and a warm bacon balsamic dressing.

At Eurasia in Mt. Pleasant, Sous Chef Robert Knox says they have two cold soups. First is their Bloody Mary Gazpacho with Anaheim peppers, banana peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, red wine vinegar, herbs, housemade worcestershire sauce, halved heirloom cherry tomatoes for texture, and a celery leaf garnish. "The red wine vinegar adds an acidic note to it," says Knox. "And the Worcestershire brings out the spicy notes." Their second cold soup is a chilled tomato and thyme soup. They use fresh heirloom tomatoes when they are in season and vine ripe tomatoes otherwise. Also in the soup are sautéed onions and carrots, shallots, chicken stock, garlic, and, of course, thyme. Once puréed and chilled, the soup is dotted with croutons, fresh thyme, and a touch of sea salt. A nice salad pairing is the caprese salad. Baby arugula leaves are tossed with red wine vinegar, blanched haricot verts, heirloom cherry tomatoes, finely chopped egg, olive oil, artichoke, and some of their housemade mozzarella cheese. "It's a nice, refreshing salad," says Knox. "It's especially a good accompaniment with the gazpacho because the tomatoes carry over."

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