Sour Cherry Soup (Meggyleves)
Chilled fruit soup might sound a bit strange, but it is a really wonderful way to start a meal with something fresh. While researching Hungarian Jewish cuisine, I came across these chilled fruit soups. My parents made a dairy-free version of this soup for my Bat Mitzvah luncheon, which I all but forgot about until now. When I saw a jar of sour cherries in juice at Borderless European Market last week, I knew it was time to try my hand at a refreshing, aromatic sour cherry soup. The recipes I found for meggyleves were mostly basic, just cherries, sugar, and sour cream. I saw one on Food 52 that had a long list of savory and aromatic ingredients, included a dashi base—intriguing (and something I will probably try out), but not quite what I was craving when I pictures my Bat Mitzvah soup. Because the broth it mostly based on the juice that the cherries are preserved in, elaborating on the recipe was pretty easy.
My version falls somewhere between sweet and savory and is very aromatic. I borrowed my spice mix from the flavors of pho, chai, and mulled wine.
This recipe makes 3-4 small bowls of soup. You can find morello cherries at Russian markets. Trader Joe's has them too.
1 jar of sour cherries (morello cherries) in juice (not syrup)
1/8 cup semi-sweet red wine, sherry, or shaoxing wine
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 black cardamom pod
1 dried medium-hot chili (kashmiri, hatch, dried thai chilies all work)
1/4 cup red currents or lingonberries (you will probably need to buy them frozen and defrost), or another sour agent such as lemon or pomegranate juice (optional)
1 tsp sumac
1 tbsp buckwheat honey (or other flavorful honey)
smetana or creme fraiche to garnish
fresh dill or fennel fronts to garnish
Strain the juice from the morello cherries into a medium saucepan. Return the strained cherries to the refrigerator. Add the semi-sweet wine and 1.5 cups of water to the saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as the liquid boils, turn down to a simmer. Add all of the aromatic spices and a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Taste the broth to see what the balance of sweet, sour, and spicy is. If it lacks sweetness, add the honey now.
When the broth flavors seem balanced, remove from the heat. Let steep for about 10 minutes, then remove whole spices from the broth. Add the red currents, lingonberries, or sour fruit juice. Taste the broth and add more sour flavor or honey to your liking. Let the broth come to room temperature, then cool in the refrigerator for a few hours.
To serve, pour ~1/2 cup soup per person. Divide the reserved morello cherries evenly between the bowls. Garnish with a generous scoop of smetana and the fresh dill or fennel fronds.