I’m not one to complain too much about the summer heat, I just don’t want to cook in it.
But when the temperature in the house reached 86 degrees, I decided it was time to cool things down with a chilled soup. The good news about these scorchingly long days is that our garden is packed with the perfect ingredient for a summer soup: plump tomatoes.
The only problem was convincing my husband to give up some of his harvest for gazpacho. When I suggested it, he disparagingly referred to it as “salsa soup.”
I wanted to change his mind, but I’ve tasted some sorry cold soups, too. I started to cast around for the perfect recipe, but I knew in my heart that wasn’t what would make this dish.
Here’s the secret: It’s the ingredients.
Don’t waste your time and tastebuds on second-rate produce for gazpacho. You want the sweet juicy taste of ripe garden tomatoes, cool cucumber and zingy peppers to shine. It will only be as good as your worst ingredient. If you’re not growing tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and onions in your backyard, it’s time to hit the farmers market. Honor the farmers for a season of hard work with your grocery dollars.
Once I’d wrenched away enough of the red and yellow globes from my tomato-stingy spouse, I was confident I could make a soup to win him over. Instead of digging deep for a recipe, I tried to find the simplest one out there and Alton Brown delivered it.
I altered things a bit. I wanted the soup to be mostly pureed, with just a little bit of texture, so I took the whole soup for a spin through the food processor. Also, I had one jar of frozen tomato sauce from last season, and I substituted that for the tomato juice.
I learned long ago that roasting and grinding your own spices is another secret to great cooking, so I took the time to toast the cumin seeds and crush them with the mortar and pestle. Boil water to blanch the tomatoes while the house is still cool in the morning. It’s a little messy to seed and chop the tomatoes, but you’ll be finished early in the day and it gives the soup plenty of time to chill.
This recipe provided the perfect summer soup. It’s light and delicious and makes a lovely meal for an array of dietary needs and preferences – vegan, vegetarian and gluten free. Serve a nice baguette alongside. Add cooked shrimp or crab if you like. Or, grill chicken or a steak for any meat-eaters in your life and serve the gazpacho alongside. Substitute cilantro for basil if you prefer. Slice avocados to garnish for a dose of heart-healthy fats. There are more than a dozen ideas for modifications in the comments section for the online recipe.
It was a winner at our house.
From Alton Brown via www.foodnetwork.com
1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade
Fill a 6-quart pot halfway with water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, about 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.
Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeño, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Transfer 1 ½ cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Yield: 4 servings
Note: Some brands of Worchestershire sauce, including Lea and Perrins, contain anchovies and may not be appropriate for vegetarians. Vegetarian Worchestershire sauces are available; be sure to check labels.