A Soup for Global Warming

The month of May knows how to please. For those of us who still operate according to the secondary education schedule, school's out. Azaleas bloom, peas shoot, and, at least in our house, years of marriage are tallied up. May 25 of 2002 was hot, a good day for professing one's vows in cotton and seersucker. This past week, we celebrated our fifth year of matrimony strolling the muggy streets of New York, ducking into museums, drinking good chardonnay and dirty martinis. And eating. And drinking. And eating some more. Crunchy calamari. Fried olives stuffed with pork. Cheese plate after blessed cheese plate.

Back in a prematurely hot Pittsburgh, I found myself craving cool soups and salads. Four days into this health food bender, the word gazpacho rang out from a pile of tomatoes like a voice from heaven. On the subject of chilled soups, God has spoken to me in recent weeks in the voice of Martha Stewart.

I know what you're thinking.

Although I tend to trust her recipes, I am not convinced that Martha can channel the Almighty One himself. But, I'm inclined to identify this voice as a heavenly rather than demonic one, seeing as it has been recommending vegetables rather than french fries or donuts. Then again, Satan may fancy a chilled soup in hell every now and then. This will require further discernment.

On the soup itself:

Gazpacho is a Spanish soup that traditionally contains stale bread and vinegar. Today's versions usually omit the bread and cut down on the vinegar. That's fine with me. I'll save such things for panzanella, and keep my gazpacho fresh and innocent. If the experience of picking a ripe tomato straight from the stalk and holding it to my nose could be liquefied and served in a bowl, I think it would be called gazpacho.

Given the simplicity of this soup, you might be inclined to belittle the variations in recipes. But, precisely because most gazpacho is nothing more than chopped and pureed raw vegetables, the difference between good gazpacho and Oh-My-God-So-Good gazpacho lies in the details.

OMG Gazpacho tip #1: Use good, ripe tomatoes. If all you have are pinkish, mealy specimens, step slowly away from this recipe. Your sore wrists and achy back will not forgive you all that chopping unless your tomatoes are worthy.

OMG Gazpacho tip #2: Do not succumb to the temptation of tomato juice. Some gazpacho recipes--but, of course, not Ms. Stewart's--call for a tomato juice base. Open up a can of V-8, chop some vegetables, mix it all together and viola! From what I can gather, this is meant to save you some chopping and pureeing, because it's certainly not meant to enhance the flavor of your gazpacho. Alternatively, Oh-My-God gazpacho is made by pureeing half of your vegetables, drizzling olive oil into the food processor as you do so, to make an emulsified liquid base that tastes like fresh vegetables rather than a virgin Bloody Mary. To this liquid base, you add the remaining half of your chopped vegetables, and viola! OMG!

OMG Gazpacho tip #3: This tip is more of a personal preference than #1 and #2: add a bit of heat and a lot of cilantro. Or a lot of heat and a bit of cilantro. Just don't skip them altogether. The heat, whether from chili peppers or hot sauce, deepens the soup, and the cilantro adds its characteristic zip. I am aware that there are plenty of cilantro-haters out there; but, having come to the firm conclusion that its omission has robbed many a pico de gallo and gazpacho of their excellence, I have stopped worrying over whether or not cilantro-laced dishes will be refused on the grounds that the stuff tastes like soap. If you or yours are of this ilk, try parsley instead.

Cilantro Gazpacho
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2002. Serves 8.

If you should like to serve this soup in small glasses to be sipped rather than in largish bowls like those pictured below, this recipe will serve more people: 12 or so.

5 pounds ripe tomatoes, seeds removed
2 1/2 pounds cucumbers, peeled and seeds removed
2 red bell peppers (green peppers are fine, but the red ones will not compromise your gazpacho's pretty hue)
2 medium jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed if you want less heat
4 scallions, white and light green parts only
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, divided
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 avocado, for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Chop tomatoes, cucumber, red and jalapeno peppers, scallions, and garlic. Place in large bowl and toss with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup cilantro, and lime juice.

2. In a food processor, puree half the vegetables until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil to the puree in a steady stream until, and blend for 10 seconds longer. Pour puree into a large bowl.

3. Add remaining half of chopped vegetables to the puree. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup cilantro, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Don't skimp on the salt.

4. Chill at least 1 hour. Ladle gazpacho into bowls. Cut avocado into cubes and sprinkle with lemon juice to keep it from turning brownish. Top gazpacho with avocado and serve.


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