Summer presents unique challenges—and opportunities—for foodies. The abundance of juicy produce makes salads and smoothies feel like the “natural” thing to do; and while a slice of heirloom tomato with oregano and salt is nothing short of divine, it’s important to recognize the larger patterns of energy and elements at play this time of year and honor the best ways to make nature’s gifts work for us.
Ayurveda describes summer as pitta season—the time of year predominant in fire and water elements. This results in a natural increase in energy and vitality, but for the most part, that energy is directed outward. As we use our bodies to swim and hike and play and travel, and our internal thermostat is on overdrive to keep us cool, sending excess heat out through the skin via sweat, there’s not much left over inside to do things like cook our food (or process emotions—watch out for summer hanger/melt downs!).
In other words, our digestive fire (agni) is lowest during the summer. Throwing raw produce into a body with low agni won’t result in optimal digestion and nutrition. The more salads you eat in summer (and, the more you combine salads with things like iced coffee, spicy margaritas and hard seltzers, chips and guac, and grilled meats), the more likely the body will accumulate āma (metabolic waste). Skin rashes/irritations, irregular elimination, and those awful summer colds (or, later on, aggravated fall allergies) are all SOS signals from the body that it’s being given too much to digest.
All you need to do to avoid this situation is spend a few minutes cooking your food. If eating a hot meal doesn’t appeal, just let it cool down to room temp (or tuck it in the fridge for a few hours), and your body will still digest the food better than if it wasn’t cooked.
This summer soup is a perfect example of how easy it is to get the most of your summer vegetables. A quick sautee in cooling spices and ghee—which also give agni a little spark—helps break down bitter and hydrating zucchini and cucumber. Red lentils also offer a light and tasty source of energy in the form of carbs; summer is THE season for the sweet taste in the form of whole-food/complex carbs, since like plants we use up all that good sunshine to produce the fuel we need to maintain our body systems in the heat. Lentils and other legumes add just enough protein to the mix, since we’re not looking to build too much in the summer (for all my macro people, think: carbs and fat are your fuel, protein is your building blocks)
Plus, all these ingredients are full of soluble fiber—the kind we want to consume regularly for a healthy gut microbiome (also known as “prebiotics”). Fiber is important all year ‘round, but it’s easy to focus on in summer because it’s literally everywhere—the fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts and seeds (the garnish in this recipe) that are especially balancing to pitta. It’s also interesting to consider as a dietary support because fiber is not actually something that’s feeding us. Rather, fiber maintains the digestive and immune systems indirectly; the soluble kind, which feeds the good bacteria in the gut, helps improve digestive function, whereas the insoluble kind passes through the GI, scrubbing the intestines of any accumulated gunk while providing bulk to the stool for healthy elimination.
In pitta season, we want ALL of this to be running smoothly. Bowel movements are one of the main ways the body eliminates heat; and having a strong cohort of healthy bacteria is like a boost for agni when it’s naturally a little low. Plus, fiber sets us up for more strength and resilience come fall; if we’re doing all we can to maintain agni and immunity in summer, then we’re not at a disadvantage when fall and winter comes around and we’re exposed to more pathogens.
Technically, you could leave this recipe as-is, if blending feels like one too many steps. But there’s something about the smooth, easy-breezy consistency that feels very summer; blending + cooking together also helps to break down the cell walls of the veggies and lentils, making the fiber and nutrients easier to digest.
Like most of my recipes, this is a rough guide when it comes to ingredients—feel free to use more or less of anything, or experiment with other summer goodies like tomatoes, eggplant, all varieties of summer squash, greens, and herbs.
Cool as a Cucumber Summer Soup
- 1 teaspoon ghee or coconut oil
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground bay leaf or 1 whole bay leaf
- Pinch ground cloves
- ½ cup red lentils
- 2 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 zucchini chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 cucumber chopped (about 2 cups)
- 4 stalks celery chopped
- Fresh chopped dill to taste
- Lemon juice
- Pumpkin seeds to serve
- Pickled daikon radish to serve
- Warm a large pot over low heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the ghee, coriander, turmeric, bay leaf, and cloves. Stir to coat the spices in the ghee, and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Add the lentils to the pot. Stir to coat in the spices. Add the water, salt, and vegetables.
- Raise the heat to medium and loosely cover the pot. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are soft (no al dente here!).
- Use an immersion blender (or high-speed blender) to puree the vegetables and lentils until smooth. (Add additional water if it’s all cooked out.) Stir in the chopped dill and lemon juice. Taste to adjust the spices.
- Divide the soup into bowls. Serve warm or room temperature, with pumpkin seeds and/or radish if using. Consume leftovers within 1 day.