Modern Gazpacho

Gazpacho is a refreshing cold soup, sometimes called liquid salad, the traditional field worker's specialty of Andalusia, the Southern region of Spain that encompasses Sevilla, Gibraltar, and Jerez, the famous sherry wine district.

Women in the wine district begin with week old bread, some water, garlic, olive oil, and salt, and they pound it into a paste in the bottom of an eathenware mortar with a wooden pestle. Then in go fresh tomatoes, perhaps some sweet bell peppers, a splash of sherry vinegar, some ice, and lunch is served for the harvesting crew.

Here's a modern version inspired partially by the original recipe and partially by Mollie Katzen's recipe in the original Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. This landmark cookbook was created by Katzen with help from her partners at the Moosewood Restaurant in the Dewitt Building in downtown Ithaca, NY in 1977. It has since gone on to become one of the best selling cookbooks of all time, and certainly the best selling vegetarian cookbook of all time.

The Moosewood was a far out hippie dippie vegetarian collective founded in 1973 with about 20 owners who all vote about everything. I remember once in the early 1980s trying to plan a dinner there with about 20 wine loving friends touring the Finger Lakes wine region. Moosewood didn't have a wine license, and they had to meet to decide if they could handle this large a crowd, if it would be fair to their walk-in customers to give us about half the seats, and if we would get drunk and rowdy and destroy the place. It took them a week to decide, and the final answer was "go somewhere else." Arrrrggghhh!

They eventually had a messy blowup with Katzen, a founder and guiding light whose handlettered cookbook put them on the map. Katzen left and has gone on to fame as a teacher, PBS cooking show host, and author of additional vegetarian cookbooks. Her first book remains one of my top five faves and our copy is well worn.

In honor of gazpacho's Spanish origins, serve it with a dry sherry such as a fino or manzanilla, well chilled, and grilled garlic bread.

Recipe

Makes. 2 large bowls

Preparation time. 20 minutes, let it chill an hour or two to marry the flavors

Ingredients

5 large tomatoes or 4 cups tomato juice

1 (6") cucumber

1 sweet red bell pepper

1 green jalapeno pepper

2 scallions

1 clove garlic

1 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon honey

Salt & pepper

4 large fresh basil leaves

2 teaspoons high quality extra virgin olive oil

croutons

About the tomatoes. If you cannot find really fresh ripe tomatoes, use tomato juice.

About the yogurt. Do not use vanilla or flavored yogurt.

Optional. Katzen's recipe included "several" fresh raw mushrooms thinly sliced. They don't work for me. What does work for me is 6 grilled shrimp or scallops. She garnishes with watercress. I like the basil better. You might want to garnish with chunks of avocado and sprinkle a crumbly cheese like feta on top.

Method

1) Cut the stem end off the tomatoes and, standing over the trash can, squeeze out the seeds. Chop the rest into bite size chunks. Peel the cuke, slice in half lengthwise, with a teaspoon scoop out the seeds and discard them. Core, seed, and chop the bell pepper. Ditto for the jalapeno, but chop this into small bits. Chop the scallion. Mince the garlic as small as possible.

2) In a bowl with a lid, mix the yogurt, honey, S&P, thoroughly, and then add the chopped vegetables. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two to chill and for the flavors to marry. Do not keep it in the fridge more than 6 hours or so or the tomatoes and cukes will get mushy.

3) Just before serving, taste it and adjust the salt and pepper. Take the basil leaves and roll them into a cigar. Then chop the cigar widthwise making thin streamers called chiffonade. When you serve, scoop the soup into bowls, and top with the basil and croutons. Then drizzle a thin stream of fresh olive oil across the top, about a teaspoon per bowl.

grape harvester in jerez

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