One challenge for me in the summer is figuring out how to make sure I’m eating enough healthy vegetables. I know that sounds weird, summer is when everything is fresh and readily available, it’s also a time when it’s warm enough that I really crave lighter, fresher food.
The root of the paradox is time, helped along with a heavy dose of fire. It may not be this way for everyone, but when you live somewhere with real weather and only twelve weeks of summer, you spend the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day doing everything you can to be outside all the time and to make sure you’re getting all the summer activities checked off.
This means meals usually start with whatever is available to throw on the grill (which checks off being outside and using fire) and they need to be quick – it’s that damn time thing. The issue with fresh vegetables isn’t that vegetables are hard to make, it’s that when you’re throwing together meals on the grill, it’s so much easier to grab some chips or homemade potato salad, which are already to go and work so well with whatever I’m grilling.
The winter, of course, is completely different, most of what I cook for quick meals in the winter is based around root vegetables, where you make a soup or stew on the weekend and then eat it all week long. Summer vegetables have such a short shelf life that it seems like they’re always going bad before they get used.
As someone who is well aware of most of my, shall we say, inconsistencies; I started spending time a few summers ago looking around for summer side dishes that would help me eat healthier and could last all week long. Over time I’ve developed a few pasta salads that work well, but my favorite is gazpacho – something I would never have guessed would be one of my favorite dishes in a million years.
Growing up, I couldn’t stand tomato soup, let alone thin, runny tomato soup, which is essentially what gazpacho is if you serve it cold. There’s still a part of me that thinks of gazpacho in the same way as the crowd at Homer’s BBBQ when Lisa brings out a big bowl and is laughed out of the room and told to “go back to Russia.”
When you start looking around at recipes, it’s pretty easy to see that this dish was developed by people living in a hot climate with lots and lots of fresh tomatoes ripening all at once. And while I do make it occasionally with fresh tomatoes, my gardening skills are such that those rare creatures aren’t used for soup, where there is so little difference in the final product between fresh and canned.
What Makes this Gazpacho Special
There are a few things that I think really separate this gazpacho from a lot of the other recipes I’ve tried.
It starts with the addition of bread soaked in water. This helps add body and some thickness to the soup, which improves the texture and helps make it more filling. I usually make it with whatever bread I have in the house.
I’ve learned the hard way that you need to let all the ingredients spend time soaking together before being blended. It’s kind of like a hot tub; you can’t expect to get to the good stuff until everyone’s had a chance to get to know each other.
Also, buy a stick blender. You can make this soup or any other blended soup by pouring it in batches into a regular blender, blending it, then pouring soup all over everywhere, but you don’t have to. Immersion blenders start around $30, with plenty of good ones for $50 to $60. I have one I bought years ago and love; it’s one of those kitchen gadgets that does one job very, very well and makes your life significantly easier when you need that job done.
There are a few other additions to this recipe that make a big difference. The first is the addition of sherry vinegar. Most gazpacho recipes I’ve read about or tried use balsamic or a variety of other types of vinegar. I’ve done some testing with batches of this soup using almost every vinegar in the house, and nothing works as well as sherry vinegar. There’s something about the combination of flavor and acidity that works well with the other ingredients in this recipe.
The second is adding smoked paprika. This is something relatively new for me; I had a batch that I screwed up by adding an extra Anaheim pepper and not let everything sit together before blending that had this really strong vegetable flavor that was off-putting, it almost tasted like I was sucking on a mushed up green pepper.
So I started looking around at other recipes to see what I could do to make the soup edible and saw a lot of recipes using smoked paprika, which makes sense because they both have their roots in Spanish cuisine. What I found was in addition to making that batch edible that it added a very nice layer of complexity to my regular recipe.
The last addition is the spring water. When you make your first batch, make sure to taste the soup after you’ve blended it, but before you add the spring water. I was surprised at how big a difference it made in helping to smooth everything out, adding an almost silky note to the texture.
What I love about this soup is it takes around thirty minutes to throw together, it’s hearty enough that it can work by itself as a lunch or dinner, and it’s versatile enough that it works as a side to almost everything coming off the grill, and to paraphrase 2001, it’s full of vegetables.