Spanish Gazpacho, a Harmonious Orchestra of Flavors

Gazpacho: Salad in a Soup!
Gazpacho soup can be found everywhere in Spain. Mike and I were lucky enough to spend a whole month there in 2003, and we had some pretty fabulous Gazpacho. This is one of those soups that people argue about incessantly, based on how their mother or grandmother made it. Puree it or hand-chop? Spicy or “au natural”? With or without bread? But one thing that all variations have in common: it MUST be ice cold.

The home of the famous cold vegetable soup known as Gazpacho is Spain’s southern region of Andalusia; it is Andalusia’s best-known dish. It probably originated during the Middle Ages, when Spain was part of the Islamic world. Gazpacho is sometimes thought of as a liquid salad; indeed, it is served as a first course and is traditionally made with ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic and bread moistened with water that is blended with olive oil, vinegar, and ice water and served cold. I have eliminated the bread from my recipe to make it gluten-free.

If you’re ever going to visit Spain, I’d recommend one book that will take you to tucked-away places and give you the “flavor” of the many regions of this warm and welcoming country. It is Penelope Casas’ Discovering Spain. Penelope is a chef and cookbook author who married a Spaniard. I have a ton of notes in the book, and every time I page through it I long to go back.

Many of you know that my paternal grandmother was born in Spain, and I happily and proudly embrace my Spanish Basque roots. Mike and I visited the town where Bernardina Arano [Power] was born, a tiny village called Berriatua. I still have family there: passionate, energetic, hard-working and loving people who welcomed us with open arms. We started in Barcelona, made our way via Sos del Rey Católico to Hondarribia and San Sebastian (“Donostia” in Basque) on the coast, traveled to see my family, then drove to the northwest corner of the country to Santiago de Compostela, seeing Leon and Santillana del Mar along the way. After spending 2 week-ends with my family, we started down the center of the country toward Madrid, stopping in Segovia which has to be one of my favorite places. We took side trips to Avila and Salamanca before our last stop in Madrid. Our only foray to southern Spain was on the high speed train to Sevilla where it poured incessantly. But we did have some wonderful food there! Now you understand why we had to go on a weight-loss program!! Holy cow! But boy did we have fun!

This is my recipe, created by trial and error over the course of several summers in New Jersey. When the Jersey Tomatoes (the BEST in the world, trust me!) are ripe, it’s time to make the Gazpacho. One time when Mike and I hosted a BBQ at our house in Woodinville, WA for our AT&T Wireless colleagues, I had a bushel of Jersey tomatoes shipped out from Jersey, and I made homemade gazpacho, and I served sliced tomatoes with fresh basil and fresh mozzarella, topped with Balsamic Vinegar and a high quality Olive Oil.

You can top the Gazpacho with any number of garnishes, but I’d limit it to no more than 4 or 5. I serve croutons on the side. I’ve also served this with grilled shrimp, chopped green or black olives, toasted pine nuts, or finely chopped hard boiled egg. My version includes avocados, which are plentiful here in California. I’ve eliminated the olive oil, but adding about 1/4 cup will give the soup a little heft (plus it’s so healthy for you!).

Mama Luisa’s Gazpacho

4 to 6 cups V-8
1 Tbls. Worcestershire Sauce
¼ cup lemon juice

3-4 cucumbers (preferably English), peeled and seeded
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups celery (6 stalks), diced
6 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
½ cup scallions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño or Serrano chile, finely diced
**I recommend wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands from the chile!
½ cup red wine vinegar

4 avocados, cut into chunks
Sun-dried tomato / Basil croutons

Combine V-8, Worcestershire Sauce and Lemon Juice. Chop all vegetables except for avocado, and add to V-8 mixture. Chill overnight, then season with salt & pepper. Slice avocados, and cut into chunks. Add to Gazpacho at the end. Add some ice cubes to make sure that it’s REALLY COLD. Serve in bowls, and top with a few croutons. (You might want to top each bowl with avocado instead of mixing it in.) Put some Tabasco Sauce out for people who like it spicier.

In the winter, I’ve used 1 can of good-quality tomatoes, blended and strained, in place of the fresh tomatoes. If you can’t get decent-tasting fresh tomatoes, don’t use fresh; canned is a better choice.

This takes about 2 hours (with Mike’s help) to chop, PLUS chilling time. This tastes even better chilled overnight. (Add avocado at the end.) Add more Worcestershire, or even a little Tabasco sauce if you want it a little spicier.

¡Buen Provecho!

(Mama Luisa)

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