You've been paddling all morning on a particularly hot and sticky day. Finally, you break for a well deserved lunch. If you want to really impress your fellow paddlers, you might want to pull out the cooler from your hatch and reveal a colourful gazpacho that's been kept chilled on ice. Served along with a crusty country bread or ciabatta and cheese, it's a special meal that your paddling partners will remember for a long time. And it's surprisingly easy to prepare, preferably in advance. This delicious semi-liquid salad or cold soup will easily keep two to three days if properly stored. It is also possible to create your own variations by mixing your favorite vegetables.
Along with paella, gazpacho is Spain's most well-known dish. It originated in Andalusia (southern Spain), and is most popular around Cordoba and Seville. It has a long and fascinating history. Originally made with a simple blend of dry bread, olive oil and fresh garlic turned into a paste with a mortar and pestle and iced water, gazpacho was a poor man's dish. Pickers in olive, citrus and almond plantations were fed in the field by women up until the late 20th century, who prepared gazpacho (or gaspacho) right on site at lunch time by pouring the crushed ingredients in a very large wood bowl called dornillo.
Some historians say gazpacho was created by the Romans who invaded Spain since most soldiers would carry bread, vinegar, salt and garlic in their packsacks. But recent research suggests that it was another invader, the Moors, who created the cold summer soup between the 8th and 13th centuries. It was originally called Ajo blanco (white garlic) and made with almonds, bread, olive oil, garlic and water. This dish is still very popular in Spain, especially in the Malaga region, where it is enriched with grapes. But Christopher Columbus appeared to have played an interesting role in the creation of the modern gazpacho; since he brought back tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to Europe from the New World. Legend has it that he added those chopped vegetables to the original Ajo blanco that he brought with him on his way to America to better feed his crew.
An explosion of fresh vegetables
Nevertheless, the modern version of gazpacho calls for garlic, very ripe tomatoes, stale bread, for texture and consistency, red bell peppers, cucumbers and sweet onions. Bread is briefly soaked in Xeres vinegar before it is added to crushed vegetables (using either a mortar and pestle or a blender). Then, water is poured in, more or less depending of desired texture; fruity Spanish olive oil gives a lovely finishing touch. The soup is then chilled and served as an appetizer. In tapas bars, it is often presented in very small glasses, along with hard boiled eggs, fried croutons and cured ham.
Gaspacho comes in many variations
Of course, there are many regional variations of gazpacho. Some call for almonds, others omit water for a puree-like soup, others won't add tomatoes or bell peppers. In certain parts of southern Spain, cumin seeds are ground with fresh mint while it is also fairly common to see pieces of orange added to the soup at the very last minute. In the rest of the Western world, gazpacho has become so popular that it has become known as a generic term for any cold soup creation. I've seen chefs (especially in California) who add zuchini gazpacho, avocado or fresh pear gazpacho to their menu, not to mention some made with snap peas, melon, cucumber, fire roasted tomatoes or bell peppers.
But since the etymology of gazpacho (or gaspacho) probably comes from the hebrew gazaz, which means "to break into little pieces", cold soups creations inspired by the original recipe should have stale bread and leave some crunchiness in the chopped vegetables in order to respect the original.
Andalou gazpacho (10 to 12 servings)
Soak bread in vinegar a few minutes. Liquefy garlic with half the vegetables in a blender along with the soaked bread. Add a bit of cold water to get desired texture. Transfer into a large glass or plastic bowl. Blend the remaining vegetables with water and make sure small pieces remain in order to add some crunchiness to the soup. Pour into bowl and mix well with a spoon. Add olive oil in a thin, steady stream while whipping constantly to mix well. Adjust seasoning and serve cold. Garnish with some chopped vegetables (cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes) if desired.
Cucumber gazpacho (8 to 10 servings)
Put 3 of 4 cucumbers and other vegetables (except chives) and broth in a blender and liquefy. Transfer in a large serving bowl. Add buttermilk, remaining vegetables then olive oil and mix well. Season to taste and garnish with fresh chive and croutons.
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