In our recent 100 Very Best Restaurants issue, The Washingtonian’s dining critics chose the Oval Room’s chilled cucumber soup as one of their 25 favorite dishes. With lime-jalapeño foam, red-pepper sorbet, and yellow watermelon, it’s no ordinary refresher. If you’re ambitious enough to make it at home, check out our video demo with chef Tony Conte. Just be sure you stock up on elderflower syrup and lecithin. Or keep it simple and have the soup by itself.
For the cucumber soup:
3 Kirby cucumbers, peeled and seeded
18 ounces yellow watermelon, peeled and seeded (or honeydew)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Strain and chill.
For the lime-jalapeño foam:
1 jalapeño, halved
1½ tablespoons salt
1½ cups elderflower syrup (available at Whole Foods; simple syrup—one part sugar and one part water brought to a boil, then simmered for three minutes or until the sugar is dissolved into syrup—can be substituted).
2 cups lime juice
5 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons lecithin, ground
½ cup grapeseed oil
½ cup olive oil
Puree the jalapeño, salt, elderflower syrup, and lime juice in a blender. In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and lecithin. Add it to the blender and incorporate. Transfer the purée to a pot and cook over high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Place the thickened liquid back into the blender and slowly pour in the oils to emulsify it. Pour the mixture into a siphon gun to make a foam. If you don’t have a siphon gun, chill the mixture and leave it as is.
For the red-pepper sorbet:
1¼ cups red-pepper purée
1¼ cups water
3½ tablespoons glucose powder
½ Thai chili
¼ teaspoon locust-bean gum (available at terraspice.com)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine all ingredients except the lemon juice. Pour the liquid into a pot and bring to a soft boil, or 180 degrees. Cool the mixture down. Add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spin in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
For the chili oil:
6 ancho chilies, seeds removed and toasted
8 dried chipotles, seeds removed and toasted
4 allspice berries, toasted
6 cloves, toasted
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
3 pieces mace, toasted
3 star anise, toasted
1 cinnamon stick, toasted
Salt as needed
Grapeseed oil as needed
Purée all the spices plus the salt in a blender. Cover the spices with four times their volume in grapeseed oil. Set the mixture in a pot over low heat and stir until it’s warm. Let the mixture cool. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any bits of spice.
To assemble the soup:
Diced, seeded watermelon as needed
Diced cucumber as needed
Place a small mound of diced and seeded watermelon and diced cucumber in the bowl. Cover half the bowl with lime-jalapeño foam (if you don’t have a siphon, use a spoon). Place a scoop of red-pepper sorbet in the center. Drizzle the chili oil over the foam. Pour in cucumber-watermelon purée to fill the remainder of the bowl.