Monday, March 10, 2014

3 Cold Spanish Soups (& Recipes!): Ajoblanco, Salmorejo, Gazpacho

When I first applied to work in Spain two years ago, I knew I wanted to live in the southernmost region of Andalucía, not least for its warm and sunny reputation. I was also drawn by its treasure trove of Moorish architecture—from castles to palaces to mosques—and the infamous andalú accent, which I hoped would be most similar to the Latin American Spanish I studied in school. In reality, my Andalusian winter turned out to be one of the rainiest and bone-chilling I’ve experienced yet, the province of Jaén where I got placed was a Renaissance exception to the Moorish norm, and the Andalusian accent may as well be classified as a separate language it was so hard to understand.

But the food lived up to all my expectations: tangy marinated olives, spicy boiled snails, savory cured ham, and generous free tapas made for a, uh, belt-tightening year. One of my favorite parts of Andalusian cuisine was its ancient and varied tradition of cold soups, although perhaps the word “soup” in English doesn’t quite convey the smoothie-like nature of the recipes I’m going to talk about below. Still, let’s stick with “cold soup” for now.

All of these soups are based off of a foundation of garlic, olive oil, salt, vinegar, and usually day-old bread. From this simple starting point it’s easy to add more ingredients yet still be able to appreciate their flavors. Featuring almonds, tomatoes, or the pick of the garden, these cold soups are a light and refreshing way to try out Spanish cuisine on a hot summer day.

(Note: when using raw garlic in recipes like these, it’s best to cut the cloves in half longways and dig out the germen or green sprout-like “germ,” which can be strong and bitter if not cooked.)

Ajoblanco

Ajoblanco / Spanish cold almond soup
(Source: Alexa Clark)
Ajoblanco’s name literally means “white garlic,” but it omits the most important ingredient, ground almonds! This cold almond garlic soup, sometimes called white gazpacho, dates back to Moorish times, when almond trees began to be cultivated along with other now-typical Spanish fruit trees like oranges and lemons. But ajoblanco was merely an improvement on a much earlier, ancestral dish from Roman times. Ajoblanco’s predecessor was a humble mix of ancient ingredients like bread, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and water. Adding ground-up blanched almonds (raw almonds parboiled to remove their skins) transformed it into what is now a popular soup in Málaga—where it’s garnished with halved grapes—and Granada—where it’s served with a baked potato.

Ingredients
* 250g blanched almonds
* 100g crustless, day-old bread
* 2 garlic cloves
* extra-virgin olive oil
* sherry vinegar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* grapes

Directions
1) Combine the blanched almonds, bread, and garlic in a blender and fill with ice-cold water.
2) Add heaping glugs of olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, the salt, and blend.
3) Strain and refrigerate.
4) Serve with grapes sliced in half and a drizzle of olive oil.

Salmorejo

Salmorejo / Spanish cold tomato soup
(Source: Antonio García)
Like ajoblanco above, salmorejo derives from the same Roman-era soup of bread, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and water. But this cold tomato garlic soup has only been around for a couple hundred years because Spaniards began to make use of the tomato in the 18th and 19th centuries, despite having brought the tomato from the Americas in the 1500s.

Salmorejo—a thick, creamy dish that is more purée than soup—is typical in Córdoba and Antequera to the south, where it’s called porra. What makes salmorejo stand out from other cold soups on this post is that you add a lot of bread to it (which helps to thicken the whole dish) and the fact that it’s a glistening emulsion of olive oil and water from the tomatoes.

The two protein-y garnishes of crumbly boiled eggs and salty cured ham complement the fresh, smoothie-like soup well.

Ingredients
* 6 tomatoes
* 200g crustless, day-old bread
* 2 garlic cloves
* extra-virgin olive oil
* sherry vinegar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* hard-boiled eggs
* diced jamón (cured ham)

Directions
1) Core the tomatoes, cut them into sixths, and put them in the blender.
2) Add the crustless bread and garlic.
3) Add heaping glugs of olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, the salt, and blend.
4) Refrigerate until serving with chopped boiled eggs, jamón, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho / Spanish cold veggie soup
(Source: James Blick)
Everyone and their mom seems to have their own way of making gazpacho in Spain, so I’m not even gonna pretend to have the definite recipe or anything. But in its essence, a cold veggie soup is comprised of tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, and garlic, plus the usual oil, vinegar, and salt (bread is optional). While it’s a super-tasty way to get some of your daily vegetables in, I wouldn’t recommend it as a date-night choice since the onion, garlic, and vinegar combo is rather, uh, potent.

Gazpacho began centuries ago as a poor farm laborer’s meal, since the landowners of sprawling latifundia estates they worked on would pay them in produce. Gazpacho was thus born as an economic way to make the most of little pay. Plus, since it was served cool (or at room temperature) and vegetables are mostly water, gazpacho also helped to hydrate and quench thirst.

Today gazpacho is often served as a tapa or starter, topped with diced veggies and cubes of bread or toast. It’s handy to keep a pitcher of the soup in the fridge so you can relax and recharge after a hot summer day.

Ingredients
* 6 tomatoes
* 1 green Italian pepper
* 1 small cucumber
* 1/2 onion
* 2 garlic cloves
* extra-virgin olive oil
* sherry vinegar
* 1 teaspoon salt

Directions
1) Core the tomatoes, cut them into sixths, and put them in the blender.
2) Add the de-seeded pepper, skinned cucumber, onion half, and garlic to the blender.
3) Add heaping glugs of olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, the salt, and blend.
4) Strain and refrigerate.
5) Serve with or without chopped fruit and veggies.

Does the idea of a savory smoothie appeal to you? What’s your favorite recipe from this list? Comment below!
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