Walking the hot streets of Madrid and Valencia on my family’s trip to Spain last summer, all we could think about was drinking something cool — or eating it. While I just wanted to stop at every “100 Bocaditos” cerveceria we saw for huge 2 euro mugs of “tinto verano” (basically red wine and sprite, already mixed on tap), my dad was often on the hunt for a good gazpacho, a Spanish specialty, for good reason during the summer heat.
The cool bowls of healthy tomato and cucumber soup would offer a refreshment like no other. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of the dish last summer, but a co-worker brought in a batch to work one day recently. He’s a great cook — and I was hooked.
After I made a batch for myself last week, I asked my dad about why he liked gazpacho so much. Here’s what he wrote back to me:
I first had gazpacho in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico back in high school in the ’70s. We went there to see the Mayan pyramids and ruins. Like Spain, it was also very hot there in the summer. Went out to dinner with Mom and Dad and had wonderful gazpacho, so cooling to drink that cold soup on a hot night. Along with Mexican and Spanish fare, there was a lot of Turkish food because the area grew hemp for ropemaking and Turks came over to make rope. So I remembered having gazpacho, shish kabobs (I think) and wonderful Turkish coffee in little cups full of grounds. The restaurant was built around a central open patio to help with cooling (no AC) and we dined outside on such a hot night. Dad lived a pretty simple lifestyle but he loved to travel and see new places and especially enjoy unique restaurants along the way. I’ve had quite a few gazpachos since then but none as good as the one in Mexico.
Here’s the recipe I used from my co-worker (and frequent restaurant reviewer). It’s from Cook’s Illustrated, and is quite simple once you chop up all the fresh veggies. Tomato juice creates a good base, offering more flavor than just the tomatoes on their own.
from Cook’s Illustrated (makes a lot! You may want to halve the recipe if you’re cooking for fewer)
- 3 ripe medium beefsteak tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
- 2 small cucumbers (about 1 pound), one peeled and the other with skin on, both seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
- 1/2 small sweet onion (such as Vidalia, Maui, or Walla Walla) minced or chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
- 2 teaspoons table salt
- 1/3 cup sherry vinegar
- Ground black pepper
- 5 cups tomato juice Cook’s recommends Welch’s
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
- 8 ice cubes
- Possible garnishes: chopped avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, chopped olives, croutons, hard-boiled egg
Combine the tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, salt, vinegar, and pepper in a large (at least 4-quart) nonreactive bowl. Let stand until the vegetables just begin to release their juices, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato juice, hot pepper sauce, if using, and ice cubes. Cover and refrigerate to blend flavors, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper and remove and discard any unmelted ice cubes. Serve cold, drizzling each portion with about 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil and topping with the desired garnishes.