Geez, it’s hot. Maybe my age has me feeling the summer is hotter every year, or perhaps the thermometer is consistently rising. The heat is getting to my brain, I think, as I am finding trouble concentrating on simple tasks after mowing the lawn. It used to be a blessing to sit down to a hot meal, but in these humid times why not consider a cold meal? Salad and gazpacho may be the route when the temps stretch skyward.
I first made gazpacho in my mid 20s when I discovered a recipe in a Tabasco cookbook. I still have it somewhere around here. I remember it being cooked and then chilled overnight. That isn’t always the case, but it did yield good enough results that I became a fan.
Taking a look at gazpacho recipes, one will find several variations, but the most common is tomato based. With Spanish/Portuguese origins, most of these contain a mixture of raw vegetables and herbs that have been pummeled with a mortar and pestle and thinned down to desired consistency with cold water, salt and vinegar or white wine. The soup will often contain day-old bread soaked in the soup for texture, and the modern version often will be served with croutons.
Meat is rarely added so this can be a vegan’s dream come true when well executed, but there are certain regions that may add cold chopped ham at the end. I’m not putting up barriers as to what gazpacho is or isn’t with one exception: it must be palatably cold.
I am of the mind that soup, hot or cold, should be served year round. If you think I am giving up gumbo because it’s July, then you’ve lost your marbles. Soup will be a steady part of my diet no matter the season, but let’s enjoy something cooler for a change.
Gazpacho should be the least intimidating soup you’ll ever make. Rather than spitting out a recipe, start by thinking of flavors you enjoy together. Our discussion today will have a tomato foundation. Imagine what goes with tomatoes.
Tomatoes and cucumbers pair well. When I think of cucumber and tomato salad I immediately turn my attention to red onion. With that in mind I think of garlic and possibly olives. Caprese salad wouldn’t be great without fresh basil, and with basil and the garlic I can’t see not adding pine nuts and a little olive oil. See the thread?
In the old days the veggies were crushed by hand. Since Ben Franklin (or was it Muddy Waters?) discovered electricity we’ve found ways to power through the process with less elbow grease.
Some folks dump the veggies into a blender. Some prefer the control of a pulsing blade attached to a food processor. I go straight for the immersion blender. I feel with the immersion blender I have more control over how much processing I am actually doing and can concentrate on or avoid certain spots of the soup pot.
If you are immersion-blender poor I suggest you make the investment. You can find them from $13 to $50 at just about any home furnishing store. I’ve had the same cheap one for over a decade, with zero problems.
Your decision is how you want the soup to feel. Are you in the mood for chunky veggies with a cold-broth background? How about a creamy soup with pulp-like ingredients? Some of you may be in the mood for a smooth version that would go straight through a sieve. The immersion blender could do all three of those.
Salty and sweet
If you are going totally raw I would suggest a couple of things. First, it’s good to have some kind of fat to soften the crisper veggies. Quality olive oil is key, Spanish if you can get it. It can range from a full-bodied taste to enhance the flavor or a lighter choice to remain neutral but still do the trick.
Secondly, you will need a generous amount of salt. Tomatoes beg for it. Cucumbers beg for it. Don’t overdo it but you may need a little more if you are accustomed to cooking with animal fat.
Sweetness is another factor with all this veggie attention. Cooked carrots or sweet potatoes can balance it out, as can straight sugar. Some people add fruit to the mix. But my favorite sweetener in this situation is, hands-down, roasted red peppers.
With a gas range, I hold whole red bell peppers over a high flame until they are blistered. If I am slave to an electric range I cut the peppers in half and broil them, skin side up, in the oven. Either way, once the exterior is charred I place them in a large zip-close bag and allow them to cool in the refrigerator. Once cool, the skin slides off with ease. This is my favorite gazpacho ingredient!
Finishing it off
From garnishes to additions, you can really make your soup pop with some simple items you likely have on hand. A squirt of lemon juice can have a nice effect (or perhaps lemon pepper), and lime and cilantro add a more Spanish flair (don’t forget the cumin).
Cheese is a great (or grate, wink wink) topping. Mozzarella, Monterey Jack and most goat cheese can change the direction you are headed if you were using my above suggestions. Sour cream is another topping to consider.
Croutons, tortilla chips, pita wedges or popcorn add needed crunch, and you will have yourself a crowd pleaser!