Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quick & Easy Gazpacho



This Cool & Refreshing Vegan Favorite Delivers Big Flavor

Late summer brings stifling heat, but it’s also a time when many vegetables are at their peak.  In August, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers all enter their prime.

Combine them with garlic, onion, olive oil, and wine vinegar and you have gazpacho — the liquid salad that doubles as a soup.  Its crisp coolness and rich, satisfying flavor is a great way to beat the heat.

Best of all, this Spanish classic can be served either as a first course or as a light luncheon or supper entrée.

Gazpacho in white bowl on black background, overhead view
Recipe: Gazpacho

Many recipes for gazpacho call for blending all ingredients into a smooth puree. I prefer a chunkier texture, so I dice my vegetables instead. The best “chunky” recipe I’ve seen is in James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking. My recipe is adapted from his.

This recipe yields about 3 quarts, enough for 12 first-course servings or 6 main-course servings. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days in a tightly sealed, airtight container. (The soup will still be “good” for up to a week, but the quality will diminish). I don’t suggest freezing.

Ingredients

Gazpacho is best with peak-ripe tomatoes. But canned will work quite well if your market doesn’t have up-to-snuff tomatoes on the day you want to make this dish.
  • 3 pounds fresh tomatoes or 2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 small green pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced (about ½ - ¾ cup; or to taste)
  • 2 - 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced (to taste; omit if you dislike the flavor of raw garlic)
  • 1 - 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely diced (optional)
  • 2 - 3 cups tomato juice or 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (tomato juice works better with fresh tomatoes; see notes)
  • ~1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)
  • ~3 tablespoons wine vinegar (to taste; I prefer red wine vinegar for this dish)
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon Tabasco (optional; diners may also add to taste at the dinner table)
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • homemade croutons or minced parsley for garnish (optional)

cucumbers on cutting board being seeded with teaspoon
Removing seeds from cucumbers
Procedure
  1. If using fresh tomatoes, blanch them in a pot of boiling water. Fill a 4- or 6-quart pot ¾ of the way with water. Plop each tomato into the water for 30 seconds. Then pull the tomato out of the water with tongs and remove skin (it will peel right off). Dice the tomatoes (if you wish, you can first put the tomatoes into a bowl of cold water to cool).
  2. Peel cucumbers, cut lengthwise, and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds (see picture above). Chop into small dice.
  3. Wash green pepper, stem, and remove seeds and white ribs. Chop into small dice.
  4. Peel onion and garlic and chop fine (you may want to use a mini food processor)
  5. Wash jalapeño peppers and cut lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds (be careful , the oil on these is hot; keep fingers away from your eyes). Chop into small dice (you may want to use a mini food processor). Wash your hands with soap and water to remove the hot jalapeño oil from your skin.
  6. To a large bowl, add tomatoes (if using canned, open them at this point and dump into the bowl), and diced cucumbers, green pepper, onion, garlic, and optional jalapeño peppers. Add tomato juice or crushed tomatoes (see notes).
  7. When you make this dish, you are essentially making a very liquid tomato tossed salad. Think salad as you add olive oil and wine vinegar, along with optional Tabasco and salt and pepper. Mix together well. Adjust olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings so that you have a nice balance of flavors (i.e., something that tastes good to you).
  8. Place the mixture in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (4 or 5 is better; you want this soup to be cold).
  9. When ready to serve, stir the mixture (to reincorporate some of the oil that will have risen to the surface) and ladle into soup bowls or cups. Garnish with homemade croutons or chopped parsley. Most people will want to adjust the seasonings to their individual palates, so provide salt, pepper, and Tabasco.

Gazpacho in white bowl with spoon and napkin, yellow background

Notes
  • Canned or fresh tomatoes? Fresh tomatoes are at their peak for only a month or two out of the year, so most of the time canned tomatoes are the better choice. Canned tomatoes are picked and processed at peak ripeness, so they usually have better flavor than fresh tomatoes that are out of season — and, to be honest, even many tomatoes that are “in season.” Canned tomatoes produce a flavor that is less “bright” or “light” — but one that is good nevertheless.
  • Add tomato juice or crushed tomatoes to make the mixture more liquid. Which one should you choose? It depends on whether you want a thicker or thinner soup. I like a thicker texture, so I generally use crushed tomatoes.
  • If the soup is still too thick for your taste and you’re out of tomato juice or crushed tomatoes, add water. The flavor will be a bit less intense, but still good.
  • Feel free to adjust the quantities (and even the mix) of vegetables to suit your own taste. I really like green pepper, so I tend to add quite a bit — in fact, often twice the amount I specify in the recipe. Substitute red or yellow peppers if you like (yellow would add a particularly nice touch of color to the dish).
  • This recipe has a definite ping to it, but most people won’t find it particularly hot or spicy. I like spicy, so I usually add more Tabasco and jalapeño pepper than I specify here. Omit both if you don’t like spicy, or adjust quantities to suit your taste.
  • If you want a smooth soup, you can puree this mixture in a blender or food processor. (Originally, gazpacho was made by pounding the vegetables in a mortar and pestle. I suggest that you eschew authenticity and use modern machines.)
  • When serving, you may want to add a small “float” of olive oil to the top of each bowl (a teaspoon or two). The flavor boost is wonderful.
  • Speaking of olive oil, this is a recipe where it pays to use the best extra virgin in your cupboard. Likewise, good wine vinegar really enhances the dish.

Gazpacho in white bowl on wood surface with dinner rolls and Tabasco bottle

A Soup with History

Gazpacho has been around for centuries, according to Wikipedia. It probably originated in Spain, or was introduced there by the Moors. Although gazpacho has many variants, it is almost always made of raw vegetables and served chilled (a very few versions are heated).

Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz, author of The Food of Spain & Portugal, speculates that gazpacho originally was a bread-based soup containing oil, vinegar, onion, garlic, water, and cucumber — with tomatoes and peppers added only after the Spanish brought them back from the New World.

A bread-based beginning for gazpacho would make sense. Many traditional soups originally used stale bread — often in vast quantities — as a foundation. It was a cheap and easy way to add more calories to the diets of people who spent much of their life outdoors tilling the soil or doing other hard, manual labor. Almost all contemporary versions of these soups drop the bread, creating lighter dishes more in keeping with our current eating habits.

I thought of developing a bread-based version of gazpacho, just for historical research. When I floated the idea past Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, she was quite enthusiastic. To be truly historic, she reminded me, I’d need to use a mortar and pestle. And just to be sure all those extra calories wouldn’t increase my belt size, she began drawing up a long list of outdoor projects for my attention.

On second thought, who needs all that bread when you have a crouton garnish?

You may also be interested in reading about:
Homemade Croutons
Peach Salsa

Salade Niçoise
Cold Tuna Pasta Salad
Split Pea Soup with Bacon 

2 comments:

  1. love this recipe! Pretty pics too. hope u submit to http://www.FindingVegan.com !! ~kathy

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Kathy, thanks for the comment. I'll definitely check out Finding Vegan. Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete