Simple, elegant and slightly old fashioned, this chilled puree of cucumbers could be just the recipe for adding a little polish to casual summertime meals. Cold and smooth, cucumber-clean with hints of garlic and green onion, it's a versatile refresher that gets zipped quick in the blender. Adapt it to whatever you have in the cupboard or refrigerator and the soup is like the perfect opening act: coolly holding it's own, setting the mood, but being a bit too humble to upstage the headliner, however loose that course may be.

The classic blend of peeled, seeded cukes and buttermilk is the purist's version, perfect before an open-faced tuna sandwich. Make the soup with yogurt instead of buttermilk, top it with a few mint leaves and toasted cumin seeds, and it will make leftover takeout tandoori or a box of Trader Joe's Punjab Choley seem inspired. Replace the mint and cumin in the same yogurt blend with a sprinkle of fresh dill; serve it with hummus, pita, kalamata olives, sliced ripe tomatoes and cubed feta, and well, it'll look like you spent the day in the kitchen.

For a non-dairy twist, the soup can even be made with unsweetened almond milk. When this extra-light version is drizzled with a little extra-virgin olive oil it becomes a sort of cucumber soup/ajo blanco hybrid. Follow this incarnation with thin slices of Serrano jam and aged chorizo, some leaves of arugula or baby gem lettuce dressed with a Sherry vinaigrette, break out the wedge of Manchego cheese, pour a little glass of tinto, and maybe the livin' really is easy.

bowl of cucumbers; Credit: J. Kelley

bowl of cucumbers; Credit: J. Kelley

Chilled Cucumber Soup

Note: Cucumbers vary in moisture content, and buttermilk, yogurt and almond milk are not equal. Start by adding only 1½ cups of buttermilk, yogurt or almond milk and add more to the soup as necessary to thin to desired consistency.

Serves: 4

3 large or 6 small cucumbers (about 2 ¼ pounds)

1 green onion, sliced

½ small garlic clove

1 ½ -to 2 cups (about) buttermilk, yogurt or unsweetened almond milk

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Optional garnishes include: chopped fresh mint or dill (about 2 tablespoons) toasted cumin seed (about 1 teaspoon), extra-virgin olive, thinly sliced green onion and yogurt or sour cream

1. Peel the cucumbers and cut them in half lengthwise. Run an upturned spoon down the center of the cucumbers to remove the seeds. Cut the cucumbers into chunks.

2. Combine the cucumbers, green onion and garlic in the blender. Add 1 ½ cups of buttermilk and salt. Puree the soup until smooth, adding additional buttermilk as necessary to thin to desired consistency. Refrigerate the soup until well chilled. (Cucumber soup can be prepared one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Whisk the soup to blend before serving.)

3. Divide the soup among bowls. Garnish as desired and serve.

Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Or follow her on her Tumblr.

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