Being a brave soul in the kitchen often means an attitude adjustment, letting go of every preconception in order to approach something new with an open mind. I guess being brave in general requires a certain amount of faith and a willingness to learn and grow, doesn’t it? Such was the case years ago when I first dared to serve a cold soup to my family. My 90-year-old grandmother looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. My daughter (then about eight) simply stated: “I’m not eating that.” And, Don? Well, Don gave me one of those “please don’t put us through this” looks and then stared silently at the table. Oh, come on! It was vichyssoise, for goodness sake!
Eventually, I won them over. Not with vichyssoise, but with gazpacho. It seems that it is easier to accept cold tomatoes and cucumbers than cold potatoes and leeks. Whatever.
Over the years, my gazpacho has gone from exotic meal-night experiment to summer staple, inspired by many of my very favorite chefs such as Mollie Katzen, Didi Emmons and Deborah Madison and the fabulous produce at my farmer’s market. Gazpacho is a great dish to keep you cool on hot days and one of the best ways to celebrate the heirloom vegetables from local farms as the summer begins to wind down. Besides, it couldn’t be easier to make—chop, add, puree and chill. It serves as a delicious and healthy low-cal meal and a perfect make-ahead party food. Pass the margaritas!
- Four cups tomato juice (You can make your own tomato juice from fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes, or use your own vegetable stock for a slightly different take on this classic, or rely on a commercial brand—I’ll put in my plug for RW Knudsen’ Low Sodium Very Veggie Organic Juice. It comes in a glass bottle—not plastic—contains less salt so you have more flavor control, and is made by a reputable company you can trust.)
- One medium red onion, or yellow depending on your taste preference and availability
- Two to three cups freshly-diced tomatoes (I try to use a mix of several varieties, including heirloom Cherokees, green zebras and golden striped Germans. The riper your tomatoes, the better your soup.)
- One large cucumber, seeded and diced
- Two large bell peppers, ideally one green and one red, seeded and chopped.
- One hot pepper such as jalapeno or serrano or habanero, depending on your desire for heat (Leave in the seeds if you want a lot of heat or throw in half a minced ghost pepper, if you dare.)
- The juice of one lemon and one lime
- Three to four cloves minced garlic
- One teaspoon raw honey (Processed will also work.)
- Two tablespoons red wine vinegar
- One teaspoon ground cumin
- One tablespoon Mexico Spice Mix (My spice mix comes from New Mexico from a little guy right off the side of the road at the Rio Grande Gorge Flea Market. Not much compares unless you go to a high-end spice shop and ask for a southwest blend or some true chili powder. Look for brands without added salt such as Penzys.)
- One quarter- cup fresh cilantro, minced
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- Garnish: diced avocado and sour cream (optional)
- Combine all ingredients except the avocado and sour cream in a big bowl. Transfer in batches to your blender and puree. Return puree to a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Chill for at least two hours. It is better if it sits all day or even overnight.
Note that the prep time does not include the time it will take to chill the soup. You really want the soup cold and the flavors well married. Overnight is ideal. Want a chunkier soup? Puree only half the veggies and add back into the bowl.
Lest We Lose Our Edge on Bravery….
I have made my gazpacho so many times, I don’t even bother consulting my recipe notes any longer. It really is a very traditional version of the summertime classic, and, as my step-sister Barb likes to say: it’s just a big bowl of vitamins on your table.
But, there is always room to shake things up, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s time to put an edge on this dish by thinking outside the soup bowl. If you’re up for something new, take a look at these yummy recipes from Delicious Living Magazine. Evan Treadwell’s Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho is perfect for August when melons are super ripe and sweet. And what about Carrot Gazpacho? This past week, I found super-ripe tomatoes and homegrown carrots side by side at the market–perfect timing! These recipes mean healthy meals and excellent use of in-season, local produce. I hope you’ll try one and let me know how you liked them.
Got your own favorite gazpacho recipe—share! Next week, let’s continue this chilly conversation with my friend Henry…. who’s just as cool as a cucumber.