Recipe: Melissa Clark's Cantaloupe and Yogurt Soup with Toasted Cumin Salt

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I came up with this cool, refreshing soup on one of the sweatiest, stickiest, steamiest lunchtimes of summer. It was the kind of day when, despite our valiant air-conditioner’s best efforts, it was just too darn hot to do anything at all, let alone chew. Whatever I had for lunch would have to be blended into liquid submission, and my first thought was to make an icy smoothie filled with all of the gorgeous fruit I’d been carting home from the farmers’ market.

Oddly for me though, I didn’t feel like my usual honeyed ice-yogurt-fruit mix. I was having a rare savory craving, and I wanted something potato chip-salty, in sip-able form.

I briefly contemplated gazpacho. The spicy flavors seemed right, but all that vegetable peeling and chopping was just too much work.

Then I remembered another savory blender creation, a bracing Indian yogurt drink called a lassi that I absolutely love in Indian restaurants and never think to make at home. Consisting of little more than yogurt, salt, ice and sometimes lemon juice and/or cumin, it was salty, fresh tasting, filling, and extremely easy. And perfect for a summer lunch.

I whirled one together in the blender and took a taste. It was certainly zippy enough to quell my cravings, but it still needed something. Maybe it was my smoothie associations pulling hard, but it seemed to me that it could use something sweet to balance out the yogurt tanginess. I poked around in the fridge and unearthed a bowl of cut up cantaloupe that I keep around for summer snacking, and half a jalapeno left over from some recent guacamole-making, and I threw them both in the blender bowl, figuring I might as well hit a range of sweet, tart, salty, spicy flavors.

I poured it into my smoothie glass and took a sip. It was icy, earthy from the cumin, fruity, and very creamy, with a mild bite from the pepper. It was far too heady and complex to sip through a straw, so I moved it to a bowl and took up a spoon. As I swallowed it up, luxuriating in a range of nuances that tasted like so much more than the 10 minutes it took to throw together, I fantasized about serving it at my next summer dinner party as a first course, maybe fancied up in my prettiest glass bowls to show off the melon color, topped with some crunchy cumin salt.

I suppose I could have even done the same thing for lunch. Except the blender was empty and my belly was full. Happily, there were many weeks of summer left, which meant many, sticky, sweaty days, and the good liquid food that went with them.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds peeled and cubed cantaloupe (8 cups)
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 to 1 jalapeno, to taste, seeded and finely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

1. Combine cantaloupe, yogurt, jalapeno, lemon juice and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

2. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour into a mortar and pestle and add coarse sea salt. Pound the mixture a few times until the cumin seeds are lightly crushed.

3. To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls. Garnish with cumin salt.