My love affair with gazpacho

My first freelance article for the News & Observer was a year in the making. I am passionate about gazpacho and wrote about my love affair with the cold Spanish soup.
I have a love affair with gazpacho that started when I was a child. In the 1970s, my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Spain and brought me along. My father was born there, and the trip marked his first return since he left as a young boy. In preparation, my mom read James Michener’s “Iberia” and soon recreated his recipe for authentic gazpacho.

His classic version, popular throughout the Southern region of Andalucía, featured juicy, vine- ripened tomatoes, crusty, stale bread, cucumber, red bell pepper, a lot of good Spanish olive oil, top shelf sherry vinegar and, of course, salt and pepper. To top it off, my mother would coat days-old French or Italian bakery bread with a garlic-infused oil, then toast the morsels on low heat in the oven until they were crunchy, golden brown. My mouth waters just thinking about those garlicky croutons floating in the well-chilled soup.

Fast forward to today and I still make that soup several times during a hot summer. It’s the perfect way to consume the overabundance of lush, juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers (yes, even a jalapeno or two) that may be growing in your garden or tempting you at the local farmers market.

As my go-to lunch staple, I will often enhance my gazpacho with protein in the form of diced avocado, a dollop of Greek yogurt or sprinkling of feta, grilled shrimp or smoky sausage (how much you add is really a personal preference). Depending on what I have on hand, I may pair it with a light sandwich, salad, quiche or my personal favorite, a cold wedge of potato and onion omelet, better known as a Spanish tortilla.

Since I’m not one to leave well enough alone, and time is always of the essence, I’ve created many adaptions of this traditional cold soup to suit my taste buds. For example, while many feel adding bread to thicken the classic Spanish gazpacho is a must-have, I leave it out. I also don’t feel it’s necessary to skin the tomatoes or remove their seedy pulp. I throw it all in a blender and let the whirring blades do their work. Some people also like a few chunky vegetables in their soup. For me, it depends. In this version, I prefer the smooth, silky texture created by the olive oil.

I’ve also expanded my horizons well beyond tomatoes. Gazpacho can be equally delicious when made with the bounty of summer’s sweet fruits. My colleague loves the cantaloupe gazpacho recipe I shared with him. I like to enhance it with a bright red zing of Sriracha sauce. I’ve recreated Whole Foods’ pineapple and cucumber gazpacho after sampling it at their salad bar, and I absolutely love the crunch of vegetables in another Spanish classic, white or blanco gazpacho, which is often sweetened with green grapes and sometimes thickened with blanched almonds. The version I enjoy uses half and half and no almonds.

No matter what ingredients you choose, you can’t beat gazpacho’s refreshing simplicity, the many ways it can be enjoyed and its powerful nutritional punch.

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