One of the most annoyingly precious beliefs that so many of us have about cooking is that delicious food only comes from the best produce. Not that I’m advocating you cook with sub-standard or rotten stuff, but don’t let lack of availability of the best hold you back. There have always been foods that have been made with scraps, so what’s a slightly sad-looking carrot or spinach that is starting to wilt? Earlier this week, I found myself confronted with bits and bobs of veggies that had once been whole and glorious and I used these, along with some tomatoes that were starting to go soft, to make a chilled gazpacho that, I kid you not, floored me. I say this as someone who, not long ago, insisted that soup isn’t “real food” because it offered nothing to sink one’s teeth into.
If you’re a soup hater too, this gazpacho may change your mind. It’s bright and refreshing and far, far more flavourful than the cloyingly sweet, cornstarch-thickened restaurant soups that probably scarred you in childhood as they did me.
A couple of other factors, of course, also played a role here. First, thanks to the heat, I recoiled from the idea of yet another hot meal. I needed something that would cool me . Second, this Andalusian soup takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. There’s no cooking involved. All you have to do is take all your raw ingredients and blend them together, and then chill the soup until it’s time to eat. This gap between preparing and eating is crucial, by the way. You don’t just let the gazpacho sit in the fridge because cold soup is so refreshing, but because while it sits there, the flavours of the different vegetables come together in a convincing enough way that you don’t think you’re just drinking liquified salad. You’re taking cooking heat and all its flavour-melding magic out of the equation, but you do still need to make sure that the soup is tasty and letting it sit — ideally in a refrigerator — takes care of that.
Here’s how I made my gazpacho.
*1 – Onion (traditionally, the sweeter Spanish onion is used, but the more pungent red pyaaz widely available in India also works)
*2 – Large cloves of garlic (the idea is to get a garlicky hit that doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds)
*½ – Cucumber (slit it and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds)
*4 – Tomatoes (these are the base of the soup, but you must remember that gazpacho is not just another tomato soup. The flavours of the other vegetables need to shine through)
*¼ – Yellow bell pepper and ½ green bell pepper (yellow or red are preferred because these are sweeter, but in a pinch, you can also use a green bell pepper, like I did)
*2 tbsp – Olive oil (extra virgin olive oil is great if you have it, but don’t sweat it if you don’t)
*1 tbsp – Balsamic vinegar (sherry or red wine vinegar is usually recommended. If you have no vinegar at all, then use lime juice)
*Salt to taste
Roughly chop all the vegetables, with the onion and garlic, and blend them together. You may need to use water or ice (the second option is better). I like my soup to have a little texture, so I took out half the soup when it had reached the right consistency for me and then blended the remaining soup with the oil to get a creamier texture.
Many consider a slice of bread — usually soaked in water to make it easier to blend — an important part of the gazpacho, although there are those who claim that this turns it into a whole other kind of soup known as salmorejo.
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Personally, I don’t like the idea of bread in my soup (unless it’s as croutons) so I avoided it, although bread blended in this way makes the soup thicker and creamier, so definitely add a slice of bread if that’s what you want. I then combined the two halves of my soup, stirred in the vinegar and salt, and popped the whole thing in the fridge for two hours.
It was finally served in chilled mugs, garnished with some fresh mint leaves, croutons and a swirl of sour dahi that had been beaten to silky smooth thickness.
[The Back Burner is a biweekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]