summer soups

When Shakespeare wrote about summer,  "Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines," he was obviously thinking of August in Jerusalem.

The end of summer means hot days and cool evenings, fruit hanging on trees in the wadi, and super-fragrant herbs, which attract busy bees and mating butterflies. These make morning walks with the dogs, before it gets tooo hot, an utter delight. But as for capturing these lucky to be alive moments, armed only with a phone… well, as you can see, in the first photo there’s only rosemary and lavender, the butterflies have moved on and the bees are totally camouflaged, and in the second pic you can see 2 straw-coloured butterflies resting on 2 flowers – but only if you really concentrate. Squinting helps.

Still, even without a close-up of the butterfly it was one of those ‘isn’t life good’ moments … Another one was discovering a local yoga class, in someone's house, an atmospheric room with great tiles and a stellar view. 

Life is good when you have a dog. And you manage to get out early-ish, while it's still cool. Mia agrees, on both counts.

Life is good when you have a dog. And you manage to get out early-ish, while it's still cool. Mia agrees, on both counts.

BLENDER

Another thing making life good is getting a new blender, which has been a long time coming. My food processor is the first one I bought while I was at university. (!) I can’t even bring myself to tell you how very long ago that was, and all credit to Moulinex that it’s still working, but a replacement's been needed for a while.

I spent too long umming and ahing. I wanted a Vitamix, but they're very expensive here. (You can’t buy them reconditioned in Israel, and new you’re forking out USD $1,000 for the most basic model.) Then I started reading about the Optimum, a blender designed in Australia and manufactured in China, which was coming out ahead of Vitamix on all the blender websites – yes, there are such things :-)

So Reader, I bought it! I don’t know which is 'Best in Show', but the Optimum G2.6 Extreme has a 10 year warranty, a touch screen, 6 pre-sets, and is dishwasher safe; and while not exactly low cost, it is several hundred dollars cheaper than the Vitamix. Will give you a review when I’ve used it for a bit longer.

The first thing you make in a blender is smoothies. The next thing is soup.

Here are recipes for 2 summer soups, from 2 different Food is Love grandmothers. One recipe is Hungarian and the other Greek and both are simple to make, delicious and refreshing.

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agi adler

This is a Hungarian recipe from Sydney grandmother and Holocaust survivor Agi Adler. Followers of this blog will remember her World War Two survival story, and how at the end of the war, she was still living in her home in Budapest, but her mother, father, brother and grandmother were dead. That apartment was her only source of stability. She was a 16 year old, totally alone, trying to fashion a new life. Yet despite all this, looking back, Agi believes she was lucky. This is something other grandmothers in this project also say, after recounting their harrowing experiences. 

“I wasn’t taken to a concentration camp of any kind, nor transported to another country. I wasn’t forced to work, forced to march, forced into a gas chamber, nor did I see others forced to do the same,” says Agi. 

Perspective is everything, which is part of the lesson this generation of remarkable women can teach us.

Agi Adler showing her grandchildren her old recipe books. 

Agi Adler showing her grandchildren her old recipe books. 

SOUR CHERRY SOUP

We’ve prepared many dishes from Agi's kitchen here at Food is Love, and this is one of the best; traditional, delicious and simple to make. Agi’s mother used to prepare this in Budapest in summer, as fruit soups, tangy with sour cherries or plums, were popular across Eastern and Central Europe.

It’s so easy it involves almost no work at all. This is because sour cherries don't grow here, so we don’t have to pick and de-seed them. Instead we buy a jar of European sour cherries – usually, for some reason, sourced from Poland - and throw them in the blender. (Did I mention that I have a new blender?) Just 2 ingredients; 3 if you add the spices. No cooking. It also means that this summer specialty can be made all year round.

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Agi's Sour Cherry Soup

Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

  •   3 jars (700 g) sour cherries in juice
  •   12 oz sour cream, or sweet cream
  •   Optional spices – cinnamon and cloves

If you were making this from scratch ie with fresh sour cherries, you would cook them with cinnamon sticks and cloves. Since we aren’t doing that, you can add ground spices to the finished product – about half a teaspoon cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon cloves.

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METHOD

1. Drain the jars, reserving the juice. You will use it. Keep back half a jar of cherries to add to the bowls when you serve.

2. In food processor, blend the contents of 2 ½ jars of cherries, adding some of the reserved juice, till smooth. You may need to do this in batches. Add spices, if using. Add the remaining juice slowly, till it’s the consistency you like. (Remember that it will get thinner again when you add the cream or sour cream.)

3. You can stop here, when the soup is a dark purple red and refrigerate for as long as it suits you – half an hour or all day. Add the cream or sour cream just before you serve. It will turn a beautiful pinky-browny-mauve.

Put a few whole cherries in each bowl, pour in soup and serve.

TIP: If you want a dairy free version, try replacing the sour cream with coconut cream. 

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JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN

Easy-peasy, even in the old food processor. Almost no effort at all in the new blender. Really good, and although it is a sweet first course, it doesn't feel like it, perhaps because the taste is tangy and also complex. Mine came out just like Agi's, so that was very reassuring.

VERDICT:  Easy and delicious, a definite for a summer dinner party. 

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ROSA BAGHDADLI

This cold cucumber soup is a Greek recipe from Israeli grandmother Rosa Baghdadli. With walnuts garlic and yoghurt, it’s like tsatsiki turned into soup. It’s refreshing and everyone asks for seconds!

Rosa was a child in Greece during World War Two. She was just 5 years old when her mother agreed to be separated from her 3 oldest children, hoping that this would help them to survive the Nazis. Rosa's mother was right, her children did escape but it meant a long separation; Rosa and her older brother and sister spent 2 years in Displaced Persons camps in Cyprus, taken twice on failed attempts to reach Palestine by boat. On their third attempt in 1946, a ship carrying Jewish children, mostly War orphans, did sail into the harbour at Haifa. There most had to be fostered until their parents returned -- if they returned. Rosa's description of standing on a stage, waiting to be chosen by strangers who would foster them, is heart-rending.

It's a remarkable story because everyone did survive -- Rosa (who became Shoshana) and her brother and sister in Palestine; and also her parents back in Greece. There are not many Jewish families who can tell a story like that after World War Two; certainly not in Greece where the Nazis murdered 90 per cent of the Jewish population. But for a series of complex reasons, the family was not reunited till 9 years after the War. Rosa remembers herself aged 14, running desperately through a camp for new migrants searching for her parents. "I went from tent to tent, calling out my family name, "Nahmani", until I found them," says Rosa. 

When they were reunited, Rosa had been apart from her parents longer than she'd lived with them. She had also forgotten Greek and couldn’t  speak to them. She re-learnt her mother tongue, as well as her mother’s Greek recipes, by spending time in the kitchen with her. And that's the food she cooks to this day for her extended family in Israel.

One more thought re perspective. When Rosa first told me this story, I asked if she were in any way angry with her mother, either for the perceived rejection or for the long separation. I am after all a child of my own generation. Rosa looked at me almost as if she didn't understand the question, before replying, "No, I'm not angry with my mother, why should I be? She did what she had to, and she came when she could." 

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Cold Cucumber and Walnut soup

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS - PASTE

  •  1 garlic clove
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  •  2 slices of bread (soaked in water for 10 minutes)
  •  125 g / 1 cup walnuts
  •  ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  •  ¼ cup olive oil

INGREDIENTS - SOUP

  •   2 cups plain whole milk yogurt – sheep’s milk is best
  •   4-6 Lebanese cucumbers 
  •   1 bunch coriander
  •   ½ bunch mint
  •   2 cups cold water – or more if you like it thinner
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METHOD

1.   Wring out the bread you’ve soaked in water. In a blender or food processor, crush the bread with garlic and salt. Pulse briefly and add walnuts and coriander seeds. Pulse again. Add olive oil. Pulse again. You are making a paste, but don't let the walnuts become completely crushed.

2.   Transfer the paste to a bowl and add the yoghurt. Whisk till mixed. You can prepare it to this stage and leave it in the fridge if you want to serve it the next day. An hour before you are ready to serve, grate in the cucumbers. It should be the consistency of a dip. To turn it into soup, add cold water. Don’t add the water all at once. Do it a half a cup at a time, till it reaches a consistency you like. Return to the fridge.

3. To serve, finely chop the coriander and mint, and add to the soup. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or a tablespoon of lemon juice. Garnish with a few chopped walnuts and a splash of olive oil.

JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN 

This soup is also easy and really delicious. Beware of the garlic; since you are not cooking the soup, it stays in the mix raw. I have made this soup twice now and the first time it was perfect, the second time, with the same amount of garlic, it was very garlicky. So if your garlic is young and strong-tasting, half a clove may be enough. The quality of the yoghurt also makes a difference. With good Greek yoghurt, it's unbeatable! 

VERDICT: Delicious and healthy. A fanstatic summer soup. 

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Good news: We are putting together a Food is Love book, gathering all the stories, recipes and photos from this project in one place. It is a surprising amount of work, but remains wonderful and fulfilling. You should be able to hold it in your hands next year! Watch this space for more updates, especially about pre-ordering.