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Originally published Friday, August 2, 2013 at 12:30 PM

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Cool-as-a-cucumber soup: It's like having dessert first

Nancy Leson adores cold soup, especially when there's fruit involved.

Seattle Times food writer

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WHEN IT'S TOO warm for hot soup and I'm too tired to stand at the stove, no big deal: I'm still up for a soupçon of "Soup's on!"

I come by it naturally. My grandmother used to head to the fridge, grab a bottle of borscht marked "Manischewitz," spill the scarlet beet soup into her favorite coffee mug, add sour cream and say, "Want some?"

I didn't. But that doesn't mean I don't like cold soup. I love the stuff. Especially when there's fruit involved.

Exhibit One: Chilled cantaloupe soup. That recipe resides in my little black book of handwritten favorites, whose entries — spanning decades — are the culinary equivalent of my teenage diary (add food smudges, subtract the drama). Feel free to add it to your book:

In a blender, purée 6 cups of ripe cantaloupe. Pour the fruit into a large bowl. Whisk in 1 cup heavy cream, then 1 ½ cups of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Add 1/4 cup honey (less if the melon is particularly sweet), a dash of cinnamon, another of Grand Marnier. Chill 2 hours.

Got peaches? Don't want dairy? Try this recipe, courtesy of Whole Foods, which encourages you to cut an X on the bottom end of each peach and blanch it for 20 seconds in boiling water for easy peeling. I say pish posh: Instead, peel, pit, slice and purée 6 large ripe peaches. Add 2 cups water, 1 cup apple juice, 1/4 cup honey and the juice and zest of a lime. Blend until smooth, season with salt and pepper; chill for 2 hours.

This time last year I got an invite from a professional acquaintance who'd won at auction a dinner for eight. That kind invitation won me a cold soup recipe worth adding to my little black book.

Now, before you envision, say, Canlis chef Jason Franey preparing his chilled peach soup with goat cheese (the one you may have clipped from Food & Wine magazine after it dubbed him a "Best New Chef"), know this: The auction was a church fundraiser, the cooks were fellow churchgoers and, along with my husband, I was dining in their home with three couples we'd never met. So you can imagine how Mac squirmed when, as dessert was being served, I poked my head into the kitchen and asked, "Is there any soup left?"

That elegant first course, described as "grape and cucumber gazpacho," was sweet, tart and refreshing on that warm August night. The sweet came from green grapes, the tart thanks to yogurt and vinegar, and the flecks of green from unpeeled cucumber, green onion and fresh dill. With half-and-half and cream cheese adding rich to richer, this dish, for me, beats a bowl of ice cream.

Prepped in about 15 minutes, the recipe is easily doubled for a crowd, may be made with fresh mint (if you don't like dill) and has become as much a staple in my fridge as my grandmother's bottled borscht was in hers.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

Dill-icious Green Grape and Cucumber Gazpacho

Makes 1 quart

1 pound seedless green grapes

2 cups diced English cucumber (unpeeled)

2 scallions, green parts only, chopped

¼ cup fresh dill, chopped

2 ounces cream cheese

¾ cup half-and-half

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt

1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons good olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

In a blender, combine the grapes, cucumber, onion, dill, cream cheese, half-and-half, yogurt, vinegar, olive oil and salt. Blend to a smooth purée. Salt to taste. Chill for two hours. Serve cold.

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