Chill out on Mother's Day with this tomato soup

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Let’s face it, folks—- mothers do not get their due respect.  Most of us could never do enough for our mothers to pay off our debts to them.  The first mature goal I’ve ever had was to stop causing my mother grief.  The second was to make her proud.  These days, I try to feed her well when we see one another.

My mother’s sense of thrift and concern for nutrition meant that she cooked almost all of the family and holiday meals.  Those numbers add up fast.  I figure I owe her at least 10,000 meals by now.  If we can’t pay back the quantity of our mothers’ contributions, we can at least try to offer them quality food.

Many people resort to restaurants.  The National Restaurant Association reports that among those who celebrate with a special meal, a full 62% do so at restaurants.  So if you dare to be different, don’t book a reservation.  Fire up the kitchen.

Cooking a Mother’s Day meal is like making her a greeting card: the quality of the sentiment will always outshine the quality of the product itself.  It was in that spirit that I planned a special meal for my mother.  The menu was a cut-and-paste collage of different cooking styles, but each was meant to appeal to my mother’s tastes in a four-course backyard celebration.

One of the best highlights of the meal was the first course, a chilled tomato soup with grilled shrimp and asparagus.  I served it with a light punch I made for the occasion.

Pineapple-mango sparkling punch with mint

Put a generous handful of mint leaves in the bottom of a large pitcher.  Fill pitcher half way full of ice and muddle with the mint.  Fill 2/3 with seltzer or club soda.  Fill 1/3 with pineapple-mango juice.  Add the juice of one lime.  Feel free to garnish with fresh mango and/or pineapple.  Also feel free to spike with vodka or light rum.

I usually double or triple the following tomato soup recipe because it is so good, healthy, and easy to make.  It is great served hot or chilled.  To make the dish old school, lose the toppings and serve it warm with a grilled cheese sandwich.  I served it chilled to befit my sunny backyard and added a couple extra toppings.  I tossed a pound of jumbo shrimp with three tablespoons olive oil, the juice of a lime, and a tablespoon of seasoned salt.  I repeated the process with about a pound of asparagus with the bottom third trimmed off.  After grilling the shrimp and asparagus on a greased grill, I doused them with more lime juice and added portions to the bowls of soup.  I even garnished them with the thin leaves from the society garlic plants my mother and I had planted in the yard.

Chilled tomato soup with grilled shrimp and asparagus

¼ cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

Generous pinch of cayenne pepper

3 bay leaves

2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes

1 tablespoon brown sugar

3 slices bread, torn into pieces

2 cups low sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth

2 tablespoons brandy

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh basil (optional)

Cook onion and garlic in a sauce pan with half of the oil and the cayenne.  Sautee and stir until onions 3-5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, juices and all, and mash them up a bit to break them open.  Stir in the bread and sugar and boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook five minutes.  Remove bay leaves and add the rest of the oil.  With an immersion blender or food processor and blend until smooth, about two minutes.  Stir in the broth and brandy.  Boil lightly and add salt and pepper to taste.  I like to add some basil at this point, just enough to taste.

America's test kitchen supplied the foundation for the soup recipe.  I doubled the seasoning and added the toppings.

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