Summer in the southwestern United States can be hellishly hot, no question. There are times when you donít even want to eat hot food. In fact, you donít even want a salad. Instead, nothing less than a liquid salad will suffice to cool you down. Gazpacho is such a thing, a soup served cold (but not iced) and filled with chopped vegetables and herbs. Traditionally it has a tomato juice base, but there are many modern variations on the recipe that omit tomatoes and substitute ingredients like meat stock and seafood to bring the gazpacho closer to a regular hot soup. By contrast, some gazpachos are made with weird stuff such as watermelon and grapes to make the soup more of a fruit dessert.
From where did gazpacho originate? From so far back in the mists of time that no one is certain who gets credit for its invention, though it did eventually end up in Spain from where it trickled over to the New World (specifically the American southwest) via the conquistadors. Back in ancient times, you used to have to pound those tomatoes up with a mortar and pestle to start your gazpacho soup. Now, you can use your food processor or blender to get the consistency just the way you like it. One common mistake is to over-blend and end up with a too-smooth and frothy puree of vegetable water. Ideally you want some thickness to the tomato soup base with lumps of partially chopped vegetables so you can distinguish each taste.
Classic Andalusian gazpacho contains tomatoes for the base, which you strain through a sieve to get rid of the seeds. It also contains cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic, olive oil, water, and salt. You thicken the base with a paste made from cubes of stale bread soaked in vinegar. Things like cucumbers and tomatoes are always peeled, cored, and seeded. But I don't think we need to go to these draconian lengths with our gazpacho because I like peels and seeds. The following gazpacho recipe is a quick and easy start for beginners, or anyone who would rather spend less time in the kitchen and more in the swimming pool.
EASY GAZPACHO (4 to 6 servings)
Total Time: about 20 to 30 minutes to make.
Note: The longer you can let gazpacho sit, the more intense the flavors, so let it chill in the refrigerator a minimum of three hours before serving. If you make the gazpacho the day before serving and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight, then you should add the minced garlic later, like a few hours before serving, so it wonít overwhelm the other flavors.
2 red bell peppers (and these you will have to core and remove the seeds)
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups of low sodium tomato juice
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Note: Do not refrigerate your tomatoes because it kills the flavor. If you donít have access to sun-ripened tomatoes from the garden, then use store-bought tomatoes but keep them on your kitchen counter and use within four days.
Start your gazpacho by dicing the tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, and cucumber into 1-inch cubes. Pulse the vegetables in your food processor until coarsely chopped. Remember not to get too overzealous with your processing. You want to stop processing while you still have thickness and texture in your gazpacho.
Place all your chopped vegetables in a large bowl and include the rest of your ingredients: your tomato juice, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and salt. Mix well. Cover the bowl and put it in your refrigerator to chill before serving. You can garnish your gazpacho with all sorts of exotic things such as a slice of lime, chopped or sliced avocado, mint leaves, cilantro leaves, chopped cucumber, and minced purple onions.