August 07, 2011
Sour Cherry Soup (Hideg Meggyleves)
When I was visiting Hungary in 1995, I fell in love with Sour Cherry Soup. It was late July, and it was about 40℃, and I was playing air-conditioning bingo on my excursions around Budapest. I ate a lot of ice cream, and tried to figure out ways to stay cool.
Fortunately for me, I was able to connect with a former co-worker and his wife, both Hungarian Canadians, who had come home for a visit at the same time I was there. With the bonus of interpreters of both language and culture, I found myself in destinations I might not have otherwise found (caving, for example, and also some peculiarly situated wine bars), and eating and drinking things that might not have otherwise caught my eye. Sour cherry soup was a revelation for not only deliciousness, but also for its cooling properties. It was served primarily as an appetizer course, but I imagine it would do just fine for dessert, as it is on the sweet side.
I am sad to report that I misplaced my original recipe for Meggyleves - I've been making it ever since I got back to Canada, although not necessarily frequently. I've consulted the internet extensively, and cobbled together from (prompted) memory just how the version that I first made goes. I do put in less sugar these days - and I may like it all the more. I'm pretty happy with this version, so it's going in the black binder, so I don't lose it again.
You do need good sour cherries, Morellos for preference. Fresh, also, for preference. I'm given to understand that pitting or not pitting is up to the cook, but I generally pit mine (unless the cherries are likely to fall apart). When I saw these at the Farmers' Market last week, I knew just what to do:
Serves 6 - 8 as an appetizer
1 lb. fresh morello cherries, pitted
1 cup good red wine*
3 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
2 clove buds
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached flour, shaken with 1/3 cup water
3 - 4 strips of lemon zest
1/2 cup whipping cream
Bring the cherries, half the wine, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, lemon zest, and water to a boil, and allow to simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Add the slurry of flour and water, and stir through, heating until the soup just starts to boil a little (this will thicken the texture slightly). Add the rest of the wine, bring back to a gentle simmer, and let cook over a gentle heat for another 20 minutes.
Remove the spices and lemon zest, and allow the soup to cool before refrigerating. You can force-cool it by adding an ice pack (sealed in a bag) straight into the soup. This works even faster along with a cold water bath, and moving the soup out of the cooking pot to a large bowl or soups tureen.
Once the soup is cool enough, refrigerate until quite cold.
Stir in the cream, and serve. If you like, you can also add a splash of brandy or sherry before serving. In the picture above, I've sprinkled the soup with cinnamon, but frankly, it doesn't need it.
I'm told by a Romanian-born co-worker that a similar soup is also made using tart apples. I can only imagine how good that must be - in fact, I may need to try it. I think I would use Granny Smiths and a crisp white wine with floral notes, which would make it a little bit similar to a pork tenderloin dish from Normandy.
* A brief note about the wine: You don't want a tannic Shiraz here, or a jammy Merlot. Go for brighter wines, such as a nice Zinfandel (such as Cline or Ravenswood), a Chianti, Barbera d'Alba, or Carmenere. You don't need a fancy wine, but you want one that you will enjoy, because the flavour comes through quite strongly.