I'm still off on vacation, and having a lovely time! Whilst I'm gone, the brilliant Dana from Whisks and Words has offered to keep you entertained. Thanks Dana!
Dana is a fabulous blogger and food writer and I can't wait to read her first book!
In the genre of soups, I have always been sort of a thick and chunky sort of girl. Give me your beef stews, your chicken soup, or your clam chowder. Give me big, soft, tender vegetables that I can cut with a spoon. Give me whole pieces of fresh herb floating on the top.
It took me awhile to come around to smooth soups – in fact, it was my roommate’s butternut squash soup, so sweet and peppery and smooth, and such a pleasing golden color, that brought me over to the side of smooth soups. Initially, they reminded me of yogurt, which, incidentally, also took me a long time to warm to.
During the summer, I always hear two sides of the soup argument: it’s too hot outside to eat soup, or one should eat soup in hot weather because it cools the body. I fall in line with the first group, and I find the wisdom of hot foods cooling the body to be suspect. We eat hot soup in winter to warm the body. It goes against that time-honored tradition that Campbell’s Soup set forth of melting the snowman that has formed around us out in the cold, cold world.
I used to work as a “tea wench” at the Georgia Renaissance Festival, and it never failed that every weekend, at least one customer would stumble up the ramp to our tea room in the throes of heat exhaustion. We made them sit, draped them with wet paper towels, and made them drink water and eat watermelon, if we had it. To not one of them did I serve hot tea, though I heard many a customer tell me or their dining companion that hot tea on a hot day makes you cooler. I stuffed their money in my cleavage and walked away, shaking my head. They probably liked hot soup on a Georgia summer day, too.
No matter where you fall on the hot weather/soup debate, it’s safe to say that in the summer, we can usually agree on cold soups. Some people love them, some people hate them, and some people flatly refuse to give them a chance (which I get). And I have to say that I’m not 100% there with the cold soups either. But this week, in my CSA box, I got celery, tomatoes, garlic, red onion, and sweet peppers, and a recommendation to use those ingredients to make gazpacho.
As you can imagine, there are many gazpacho recipes to use. I went with the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, but I jazzed it up a bit. She didn’t like hers too acidic, but I rather like a little bite. Hers was also spiced very sparingly, whereas I wanted a bit more punch to the gazpacho. I adapted her recipe, added and subtracted a few things, and came up with the following hot-weather soup that everyone can agree on.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, diced
1 cucumber, diced
2 ribs celery, diced (include the leaves if you like)
3 mini sweet peppers (or one normal sized one), seeds and stem removed, diced
½ red onion, peeled and diced
5 tomatoes, seeded and diced
4 cups tomato juice, divided
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup vinegar (I used Balsamic, but red wine would work too)
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
Dash of red pepper flakes
1-2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)
1-2 tsp ground cumin (optional, to taste)
Big pinch of salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
In a blender or food processor, add all of the garlic, and then half of your zucchini, cucumber, celery, peppers, onion, and tomatoes. (It’s helpful if you arrange your veggies in rows or bowls so you can halve the whole mess somewhat evenly.)
Add 2 cups tomato juice, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Pulse until blended. We’re going for a textured blend here, not a smooth puree. Don’t think butternut squash soup; think blended salsa. We want to see our veggies.
Pour blended mixture into a large bowl and add the rest of the tomato juice, stirring to combine. Then add half of your remaining vegetables (so you’ll still be left with ¼ of your original heap of diced veggies) and stir to combine. This gives a nice texture and gives us something to chew.
Refrigerate for several hours (or overnight) so the flavors can marry together and the soup can chill.
To serve the dish, spoon desired amount of gazpacho into bowls. Top your gazpacho with anything you want, but I took my cues from the Pioneer Woman. I trailed a heap of that remaining bit of diced veggies over top, and then added a couple slices of avocado and a small dollop of sour cream. I grilled some shrimp that I first seasoned with ground paprika and cumin and sea salt, and then I added those to the top. I seasoned with salt and pepper, and on the side, I included a slice of grilled grainy homemade bread I had on hand (honey wheat) that I had drizzled with olive oil and grilled up on the griddle.
This soup is hearty and very filling, with a bold flavor that’s not too terribly spicy. I’m a spice wimp, and this was perfect for me. The bread is nice for helping soak up the belly full of veggies, and the shrimp and diced veggies on top gives you a nice texture, something to chew so you don’t feel like you’re drinking a vegetable smoothie for dinner. It was my first foray into cold soups, and all in all, I’d say it was a success. I only wanted to heat it up and pour it over pasta a little bit, just at first, but then I got over it and enjoyed it for its soup identity, for its richness, its freshness, its downright summery goodness.