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Staff Favorites: A Cool Bowl of Cherry Soup

Chilled Cherry Soup, thanks to Clarice. (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

I respect the Secret Recipe. When a cook turns down my request for the skinny on a certain dish, it's akin to the "Law & Order" moment Lenny used to dread: The perp calls for a lawyer. Game over.

So when one drops into my lap, first I'm grateful. Then I take quick steps to seek publication rights so that you, dear readers, get the goods, too. Great, easy recipes can raise the game of all cooks.

This recipe comes from my pal Clarice, who lives in Manhattan. Call it the classic haunted-by-taste syndrome: She remembered a first-course fruit soup she had at Tip Top, a small Hungarian restaurant on the East Side more than three decades ago; the recipes she found on the Web called for ingredients that didn't sound quite right, and all of those recipes contained too much sugar.

Several summers ago, armed with sweet cherries and sour ones, she began experimenting and got the nuance right -- even down to her preference for lemon juice over lemon zest during the simmering stage. It's simple, yet as sophisticated as the woman who created it.

To be honest, cherries have never sent me over the moon, ingredient-wise; maybe it's my own memories of run-ins with soggy pies and treacly red sauces. But Clarice's soup has shot to the top of my "must make for next summer soiree" list. The cherries are cooked for a while -- not too long -- with water, sugar, a cinnamon stick, a little of that lemon juice and a glug of red wine just at the end, which keeps it from being too sweet.

Most of the mixture is pureed, save for a handful of the cooked cherries that get tossed in for texture. I could envision shot glasses of the soup passed as an hors d'oeuvre, maybe with a few Marcona almonds or a frizzly garnish of fresh herbs. I could see presenting it as a playful cherry borscht, with a spoonful of sour cream (or in this case, creme fraiche) plopped in the center. It could be frozen like a granita, maybe; Clarice and I are both going to experiment along those lines.

Some of her friends have preferred it chunky, but I find that once the soup is smooth and chilled (and slightly thickened), its flavors seem harmonious and clean.

Clarice must have known she had something pretty good in this recipe, and I'm sure she realized what would happen once she hit the "send" button. And lucky for you and me, dear readers, she did it anyway.

-- Bonnie Benwick

Cherry Soup
4 to 6 first-course servings

Feel free to serve this soup chunky or pureed.

MAKE AHEAD: The soup needs to be refrigerated for at least several hours or overnight.

2 pounds fresh sweet or sour cherries, stemmed
2 cups water
10 teaspoons to 1/4 cup sugar (see directions)
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (may substitute 3 or 4 strips of lemon zest)
1 cup dry red wine

Wash and pit the cherries; place them in a large saucepan along with the water, sugar (if using sweet cherries, use 10 teaspoons; if using sour cherries, use 1/4 cup), cinnamon stick and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar; then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (uncovered) for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Add the wine; stir to combine. Remove from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Taste and add a small amount of sugar as needed.

Reserve a small amount of the cooked cherries, to be added later for texture. Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree the remaining cherries, or transfer them to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain, if desired. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid; add the reserved cherries.

Cover and refrigerate the soup for several hours or overnight. Serve cold.

Per serving (based on 6, using sweet cherries): 167 calories, 2 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 27 g sugar

Per serving (based on 6, using sour cherries): 153 calories, 2 g protein, 31 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 22 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  June 19, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Staff Favorites  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, cherries  
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Update from Clarice: The soup freezes well.

Posted by: benwickb | June 19, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

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