Dancing Tomatoes

Most every culture has its retinue of cold soups to chase away the heat of summer, from the beloved gazpacho of Spain and Mexico, to vegetable-rich Russian Okrochka with its garnish of hard cooked eggs, to the famed Vichyssoise of New York.

Who Wants Hot When it is Hot?

It makes sense.  When it is hot outdoors, who wants to eat hot food?  I don’t, opting for all kinds of lightly chilled dishes that don’t really change the temperature, but make things seem cooler nonetheless. 

Extraordinaire with EAse

The soup here is part of my collection, a spring and early summer dish that cools and excites, makes a meal beautiful and offers that little “extraordinaire,” with ease.   And, you can serve this as either a first course or a dessert.  

Fruit Soup for a First Course

Fruit soup for a first course?  Mais oui.  The French have a firm belief that serving fruit at the beginning of a meal is good for the health. It detoxifies and aids digestion,  my brilliant homeopath agrees. 

Try it

Urban legend, you say?  Perhaps, but try it as a first course. With its vivid red color, its chunks of rhubarb and shards of strawberry, its underlying poetry of lemon verbena, I guarantee it will wake up your taste buds and get them ready for what is to follow.

It's a Simple Matter of Hot Pepper

How to make this soup a first course? Simple.  Add a birds’ eye pepper or two when you are dissolving the sugar and infusing the lemon verbena.  OR, sprinkle a bit of cayenne or piment d’Espelette over it right before serving.

Or Just Enjoy for Dessert

If you’re having none of that, just settle in and enjoy this for dessert.  It’s gorgeous either way.  And since it needs time to chill before serving, you prepare the whole thing ahead of time.  I suggest about three hours.  If you want to do the rhubarb part the day before, of course you can, then add the strawberries right before serving.

Best Right now

Today, you can make this soup from April to the end of June, and again in the early fall.  This is new.  When my grandmother made use of these fruits together, though, her window was perhaps one month.  The extended season is due to botanical tinkering and climate change, which allows the strawberry season to continue through summer.  But rhubarb stubbornly sticks with spring and fall so jump in, take advantage, and make this lovely soup.


Course: Dessert, First Course
Cuisine: French
Keyword: bird's beak pepper, cayenne, lemon verbena, rhubarb, strawberries


  • 3 cups;750ml water
  • ½ to ¾ cup;100-150g vanilla sugar
  • ¼ cup loosely packed dried lemon verbena if using fresh, use ½ cup leaves
  • 2 bird’s beak peppers or other dried hot pepper, optional
  • 1/2 vanilla bean slit down the center
  • 4 stalks rhubarb cut into ¼-inch squares
  • 1 cup: 150g Strawberries hulled, sliced into 6 lengthwise pieces
  • Piment d’Espelette or cayenne - optional


  • Whisk together the water and the sugar in a large saucepan. Add the lemon verbena (if using dried, put it in a tea ball or small cheesecloth bag), the vanilla bean and the birds’ beak peppers (if using) and place the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and when the mixture boils reduce the heat so it is simmering and simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to be sure the sugar is dissolved.
  • Return the liquids to a gentle boil over medium-high heat and add the rhubarb. Cook until it is crisp-tender, which can range from 2 to 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in the strawberries and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.
  • If you’ve used dried lemon verbena, remove the tea ball. And if you’ve included dried hot peppers, remove these as well.
  • To serve, ladle the soup into small bowls, garnish with fresh lemon verbena leaves.

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