Saturday, June 15, 2024

Sweet, savory, spicy: explore gazpacho’s many flavor options

The other day I was at the mercado, noticing the glorious array of summer veggies and thinking about making gazpacho. Then it occurred to me that gazpacho is basically salsa whirred in a blender.

Further research revealed that the original gazpacho was quite different than the type we enjoy today. Tomatoes weren’t added until the early 19th century, and bread — mashed, soaked, crumbed — was a foundation of the dish. In fact, the word gazpacho is derived from the Arabic for soaked bread.

History tells us that gazpacho most likely originated in the Iberian peninsula, perhaps carried by the Romans. Although traditionally eaten as a cold soup of raw vegetables blended with stale bread, vinegar, salt and olive oil, variations abound.

One of the most interesting is the traditional gaspacho made in Morelia, Michoacán, basically a fruit soup with a few unusual twists. Small minced cubes of mango, jicama, papaya, pineapple, watermelon and onion, layered with cotija cheese and chile powder, are then doused with orange juice and eaten with a spoon — kind of like a sweet pico de gallo. Apparently, this curious dish was a hangover remedy created in the 1960s by a greengrocer named José Alfredo Ferrer Ortíz, known as “the pioneer of gazpacho.” It was originally made solely with jicama, cotija cheese, a few drops of vinegar and chile powder.

The more common gazpacho (unless you live in Morelia!) is tomato-based and includes a variety of raw chopped veggies in season: cucumbers, onions, parsley and other fresh herbs, garlic, avocado, celery, bell peppers and, of course, the juiciest tomatoes you can find.

grape-almond gazpacho
This creamy take on gazpacho uses yogurt and cream cheese for richness and grapes for just a touch of sweetness.

The freshness of the ingredients is crucial; straight from the garden is the best. Before blenders, fresh garlic was pounded into a paste in a mortar and pestle and then olive oil, soaked stale bread, a few drops of vinegar and salt were added to make a paste. This formed the foundation of the soup.

Vibrant fresh flavors are the crux of gazpacho. Besides the best, freshest, ripest vegetables, fruits and herbs, a good, flavorful extra-virgin olive oil, kosher or sea salt, fresh-ground black pepper and the best-quality vinegar you can find will all make a difference to the finished product.

Classic Gazpacho

  • 6 oz. any kind of bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-to 2-inch chunks
  • 3 lbs. very ripe tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 green or red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
  • Chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, cilantro or oregano for serving

Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, celery and bell pepper into one-inch chunks. Place bread in bottom of a large bowl. Add half the tomatoes in an even layer on top and season generously with salt and pepper.

Add cucumbers, onion, peppers, celery and garlic. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Add remaining tomatoes, and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Drizzle oil and vinegar over top. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Gently toss all ingredients with a wooden spoon. Transfer half, including the liquid at the bottom of bowl, to a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth. Press mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl. Repeat with remaining soup.

Season to taste with more salt, pepper and vinegar.

Serve immediately, garnished with chopped herbs and drizzled with olive oil, or chill for up to three days before serving.

Traditional Morelian Gaspacho

  • 1 cup jicama
  • 1 cup mango
  • 1 cup pineapple
  • 1 cup watermelon
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3-4 limes, juiced
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 cup cotija cheese
  • ½ cup onions, finely chopped

Chop all fruit into tiny cubes. In a large bowl, combine chopped fruits, onion and the orange and lime juices. Refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, sprinkle individual cups or bowls with cheese, chili powder and salt.

Quick and spicy gazpacho
Quick and spicy gazpacho, with only three steps, lives up to its name and makes it easy to get your veggies.

Cantaloupe Gazpacho

  • 1 medium cantaloupe (peeled, seeded, chopped)
  • 1 small cucumber (peeled, chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup water
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh mint leaves

Purée cantaloupe, cucumber, onion and water in a blender till smooth. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill. Garnish each serving with mint leaves.

Green Grape and Almond Gazpacho

  • 5½ cups seedless green grapes
  • 1 cup chopped, peeled cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup plain regular yogurt
  • ¼ cup toasted sliced almonds
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup buttermilk*
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp. ground arbol chile powder
  • Garnish: fresh herbs like dill, parsley, cilantro, basil

* Can’t find buttermilk? Mix 1 tsp. white vinegar into a scant ¼ cup of regular milk; let sit five minutes.

Combine everything except the dill in a blender or food processor. Purée until mostly smooth with a few small pieces remaining.

Cover and refrigerate until cold. Serve topped with minced fresh herbs.

Quick and Spicy Gazpacho

  • 4 stalks celery
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 3 yellow bell peppers
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 3-4 avocados, sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • ½ red onion
  • ½ lb. shrimp, grilled or sautéed
  • 46 oz. bottle tomato-vegetable juice cocktail (like V-8)
  • 2 (32 oz.) bottles tomato and clam juice cocktail
  • 12 oz. bottle hot pepper sauce (such as Cholula)
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil

Dice celery, peppers, cucumbers, all onions. Combine all ingredients except avocados and shrimp in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate at least six hours to blend flavors.

Serve topped with shrimp and avocado slices, drizzled with olive oil.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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