Chilled zucchini-fennel soup with cashews and fresh basil

For every season there is a soup, and my go-to this summer has been a cool and creamy blend of zucchini and fennel brightened up with the summery flavor and fragrance of fresh basil and the zip of sherry vinegar. There’s nothing better than a cup of this chilled green goodness on a blazing July afternoon; it also makes for a light and easy starter for a barbecue or relaxed Sunday supper. And even better — it’s gorgeously creamy yet entirely dairy-free: a quarter-cup of raw cashews blended in with the veggies and broth creates a luxurious texture without the need to add butter or heavy cream.

This soup is another example of the amazing utility of cashews in the plant-focused kitchen (for a sweet and fruity example, check this out). From soups to sauces, puddings, and pies, these versatile little nuts are a great way to create the satisfying creamy and silky texture that we normally associate with dairy, without any need to add ingredients like heavy cream, sour cream or butter. I don’t have anything against high-quality, preferably grass-fed, dairy products, but I do like to lighten things up during summer, and reducing dairy is one way to do that.

Sherry vinegar is a key ingredient in many cold tomato gazpacho recipes, and here it adds a perfect hit of acidity to brighten up the mellow vegetal flavors of the steamed zucchini and fennel. And basil – well, this time of year it’s probably overflowing in your garden, or at your local farmers’ market, so it’s really the perfect time to use it in everything. If you happen to have a boatload of fresh mint on your hands, feel free to use that in place of or in addition to the basil.

Chilled zucchini-fennel soup with cashews and fresh basil
Dairy-free, Gluten- & Grain-free, Vegan
I’ve made this soup with soaked cashews and dry, unsoaked cashews, and it works well both ways. Soak the cashews before proceeding with the recipe if you prefer.

Yield: approximately 3 cups

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
1 small fennel bulb, outer layer and core removed, chopped
1 scallion, sliced
1/2 small garlic clove
1/4 cup raw cashews (optional to soak them in water for 1-2 hours and drain, discarding soaking water)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon Celtic or kosher salt

garnishes:
thinly sliced chives or scallion tops
small basil leaves

In a saucepan combine zucchini, fennel, and 1-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover pan. Steam until zucchini is just tender when pierced with a knife, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Transfer vegetables and their cooking liquid to a blender. Add scallion, garlic, cashews, vinegar, olive oil, basil, and salt. Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt or vinegar, if desired.

Transfer soup to a glass container and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Stir soup before transferring to serving cups or bowls, add garnishes and serve.

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