Vern’s Cooking & Tidbits: Cool Crappie Soups for the Good Ol’ Hot Summertime

by Vernon Summerlin

            Cerviche, gazpacho and vichyssoise are soups (continued from last month’s recipes) designed especially for summer because they are served cold.

            Ceviche is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime and spiced with ají or chilies. Additional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt and cilantro may also be added. Ceviche is usually accompanied by side dishes that complement fish flavors, such as sweet potato, lettuce, corn, avocado or plantain. Because the dish is not cooked with heat, it must be prepared fresh to minimize the risk of food poisoning.

            An early form of cerviche, thought to have been developed nearly 2,000 years ago, became today’s soup when Moorish women from Granada, who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors and colonizers, came to Americas, bringing citrus fruits (limes and lemons). This dish eventually evolved into what now is considered ceviche.

            Ceviche is a popular international dish prepared in a variety of ways throughout the Americas, reaching the United States in the 1980s. Ceviche is not native to Mexico, despite the fact that it has been a part of traditional Mexican coastal cuisine for centuries.

            This recipe is a terrific way to enjoy a cold soup of crappie.

Crappie Cerviche

            1 pound crappie, cut to bite-sized pieces

            8 limes, juiced

            2 tomatoes, diced

            5 green onions, minced

            2 stalks celery, sliced

            1/2 green bell pepper, minced

            1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

            freshly ground black pepper

            1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

            1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse crappie and place in a medium sized bowl. Pour lime juice over the fish to completely cover the fish. Chill the lime juice and crappie for 4 hours or until fish pieces are opaque (you cannot see through them). Remove 1/2 of the lime juice from the bowl and add remainder of ingredients to the crappie/lime juice mixture. Stir gently. Serve chilled.

Cerviche (compliments of chef Emeril Lagasse)

            12 ounces very fresh (sushi-grade) white-fleshed ocean fish, such as grouper, wahoo, sea   bass, or red snapper – or fresh crappie.

            1/3 cup fresh lime juice

            3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

            3 tablespoons pineapple juice

            1 1/2 tablespoons finely diced Serrano pepper

            2 tablespoons finely diced yellow bell pepper

            2 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper

            1 1/2 tablespoons minced red onion

            1 teaspoon minced garlic

            2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

            1 tablespoon good quality extra-virgin olive oil

            1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

            8 (3-inch) plantain chips

            Lime wedges, for serving

Cut the fish into 1/4-inch pieces. Place in a glass dish with the lime juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, peppers, onions and garlic, tossing to coat the fish pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the cilantro, olive oil and salt. Fold gently to mix. Serve with garnish of fried plantain chips and lime wedges. (To serve it fancy like Emeril does, put the soup in champagne glasses.)

Watermelon Gazpacho is refreshing and cool. Gazpacho soups are usually made of raw vegetables and served cold, customarily with a tomato base. Its origin is the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. Gazpacho is eaten particularly during the hot summer.

            6 cups cubed seeded watermelon

            2 English (hothouse style) cucumbers, chopped

            2 red bell peppers, chopped

            1 onion, chopped

            1/2 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

            1/4 cup lemon juice

            2 tablespoons olive oil

            3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

            2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

            3 tablespoons honey

            1/2 cup pineapple juice

            20 small mint leaves

Reserve 20 small pieces of watermelon for garnish. Working in batches, place the remaining watermelon, the cucumbers, red bell peppers, onion, jalapeno pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, 3 tablespoons of fresh mint, ginger, honey and pineapple juice into a blender, and blend for about 30 seconds per batch. The mixture should be well blended but retain some texture. Pour into a large pitcher or bowl and refrigerate 1 hour. Serve in bowls and garnish each bowl with a couple of chunks of the retained watermelon and 2 small mint leaves.

Vichyssoise is a thick soup made of puréed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock. It is traditionally served cold but can be eaten hot.

            1 tablespoon butter

            3 leeks, bulb only, sliced into rings

            1 onion, sliced

            5 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

            salt and pepper to taste

            1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

            1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

            1 bay leaf

            5 cups chicken broth

            1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

In a large stock pot melt butter over low heat. Add leeks and onion, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add thyme, marjoram, bay leaf and stir well. Cover pot and continue to cook for 12 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook partially covered for 30 minutes. Puree soup in blender or food processor and chill. Before serving, add the cream. If you are serving this soup warm you need to reheat the soup slowly so that the cream does not change consistency.

Fish and Vegetable Gazpacho

            12 ounces crappie fillets, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

            3 cups water

            1 14 1/2-ounce can vegetable or reduced-sodium chicken broth

            1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

            1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

            Several dashes of hot pepper sauce

            1 10-ounce can tomatoes with jalapeno peppers

            1 cup small cucumber, chopped

            1 cup small yellow summer squash or zucchini, chopped

            1 cup tomatoes, chopped

            1/4 cup green onions, sliced

Cut fillets into 1/2-inch pieces. In a medium saucepan bring water to boiling; add fish. Cover and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Drain fish, cover and chill.

In a medium saucepan combine broth, cumin, garlic powder and hot pepper sauce. Bring mixture to boiling. Remove from heat. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in tomatoes with jalapeno peppers, cucumber, yellow summer squash or zucchini, plum tomatoes and green onions. Cover and chill for 4 to 12 hours. Before serving, stir chilled fish into vegetable mixture. Makes 4 to 6 servings.