While living in Spain for six months many years ago, I was told that when the weather gets hot, even a Spaniard with the heartiest of appetites would reject rib-sticking fare in favor of a refreshing, icy gazpacho.
It’s true that lighter cuisine often hits the spot when temperatures rise, but many of us still require a serving of protein to make a meal feel complete. My time in Spain gave me an appreciation for the traditional red gazpacho that originated in Andalucia, but the cook in me has enjoyed tinkering with the recipe. My version retains the classic elements while offering options that make it filling enough for a family dinner and worthy of entertaining.
Even in Spain, the recipe for gazpacho varies from region to region and cook to cook. So, feel free to use this recipe as a framework, adding your own splashes of flavor and texture based on personal preference and what might be lurking in your crisper drawer…or growing in your garden. Though the recipe below might look long, that’s only because I offer lots of options. The recipe is truly as easy as it is fresh and flavorful. The make-ahead factor is a bonus.
Traditional gazpacho often contains a hearty dose of bread and olive oil to make the soup thick and velvety. I forego the bread in the soup and offer it as an optional topping in the way of a crouton. While I do include olive oil, the amount is modest–enough to carry the flavor without turning an ostensibly light meal into a secretly calorie-laden one. Cumin is a classic addition to gazpacho heralding from Grenada, and I find that just a touch offers a flavor that people enjoy yet can’t quite identity.
Sometimes referred to as “liquid salad,” gazpacho was traditionally pressed through a cone-shaped, metal sieve with a pestle. (I still have an old one that belonged to my grandmother.) Purists claim that this makes superior gazpacho, but many–including myself–prefer a bit of chunkiness and a simpler approach.
The special secret to creating a heartier meal that’s still light and healthy? Offer a toppings bar that adds some unexpected choices to the typical lineup and turns this rustic seasonal meal into a make-ahead centerpiece for entertaining.
Yield: approximately 6 cups
- 2 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes cups* (about 5 cups; no need to peel or seed)
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
- 1 bell pepper, seeds removed (green is traditional but any color or a mix is fine)
- 1 small red onion (about 5 ounces) or 1/2 a large onion, peeled
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled** (or more to taste)
- 1/4 cup olive oil (a fruity variety is nice, but use what you have)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (I recommend a good quality vinegar)
- 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (offers good flavor without heat)
- Traditional topping options: croutons, chopped cucumber, green pepper, tomato, and onion
- Topping options to make it a meal (or a party): cooked shrimp, lump crabmeat, chopped cooked chicken, chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped avocado, sliced green olives, slivered toasted almonds, fresh herbs, Greek yogurt or tzatziki sauce, lemon/lime/orange wedges and/or zest (see my favorite combinations, below)
- Roughly chop the cucumber, pepper, onion, and garlic. Place all of these vegetables in the bowl of a food processor. (I put the chopped garlic on top so it is less likely to get stuck under the blade.) Pulse to finely chop the vegetables, scraping down the sides once or twice. Do not puree. You want a little texture. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
- Roughly chop the tomatoes, and place in the food processor. (No need to rinse the work bowl.) Puree until smooth. (You can keep a little chunkiness to the tomatoes if you like, but I like to keep this part on the smoother side.) Add to the cucumber mixture.
- Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, sugar, and cayenne pepper. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or, ideally, overnight.
- Serve with desired toppings.
- *Where the tomatoes are concerned, the fresher the better and any kind will work. I like to include at least some plum (Roma) tomatoes, as they are naturally less liquidy and will create a thicker sauce (or, in this case, soup).
- **For a smoother garlic taste, remove the green root that is often present on a garlic clove.
- If you prefer gazpacho that is completely smooth, you may pass it through a fine-mesh strainer.
- --Classic: Green pepper, red onion, and cucumber
- --Crabmeat, avocado, and roasted corn
- --Shrimp, feta cheese, and green olives
- --Hard-boiled egg, capers, and red onion
- --Plain Greek yogurt (or your favorite tzatziki sauce), cucumber, chopped almonds, and lemon zest
- Extra note: I have made this recipe many times over the years but prepared it last summer using all grape tomatoes–thanks to a rather prolific plant in our garden. Because the miniature tomatoes are so sweet, I nearly doubled the amount of red wine vinegar. (Do make any adjustments to the vinegar slowly.) After the flavors melded for a day, it was delicious. As is typical with gazpacho, it tasted even better after two days. The recipe, written as is, is a keeper. I mention simply as an option for those who find themselves with a whole lot of grape tomatoes!
Crab and avocado may just be my personal favorite topping combination. Whichever mix you choose, be sure to chop the add-ins into bite-size pieces or smaller.Gazpacho–a simple, seasonal, prep-ahead soup. A toppings bar makes it a meal…or a party!Which toppings would you choose? 🙂