“The time has come”, the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –
Of gazpacho – and kings – “
Even the Walrus said it: The season has started to indulge in one of the many culinary treasures of Spanish cooking, cold soups, of which the most wildly popular is undoubtedly “gazpacho”.
Yes, we have to thank the Spanish scorching summer weather for inspiring the people in Andalusia to make the simple, healthy, refreshing and wide variety of cold soups that can be enjoyed all over the place. Gazpacho is the most famous of them, well known outside Spain, but it is not the only cold soup eaten all over Andalusia. Malaga has “ajoblanco”, Antequera has “porra” and Cordoba has “salmorejo”, to name a few.
Everybody knows gazpacho. Or everybody thinks he does. Believe me, I’ve seen some concoctions out there by the name of gazpacho that would make the Medieval Andalusian muslim rulers rise from their graves (such as hot chilli added; blasphemy). Or maybe it would not, as one of the defining ingredients of gazpacho at present, the tomato, was completely unknown during the muslim rule. Remember that tomato, one of the defining ingredients of gazpacho, was brought to Europe after the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492, exactly the same year the last muslims were expelled from Spain. They did miss something. But it was not until the beginning of the 19th Century that tomato was fully incorporated into Spanish cooking.
To the point: all Andalusian cold soups are prepared with a similar base of bread, garlic, vinegar, salt and water. All cold soups are of very humble and peasant origin: they were made with whatever ingredients people had at hand. If you add tomato, green pepper and cucumber to that base, you make gazpacho. In the days of old (not so long ago) it was made in a mortar, by thoroughly pounding all the ingredients. Nowadays it is made in food processors and blenders, yielding a smooth texture far from the traditional one, which used to be a lot chunkier. If you add only tomato and lots of bread, you get “salmorejo”, which is thicker and redder than “gazpacho”. In some places salmorejo is so thick that it is eaten as a sauce for dipping instead of a soup. It is one of my personal favourites in the summer, usually garnished with diced “serrano” ham and hard-boiled egg.
If you use raw almonds or pine kernels, bread, and scary amounts of garlic, you’ll have “ajoblanco”, which literally translates into white garlic. It is, of course, white, and very often garnished with white grapes, which sweetness makes an utterly delicious accompaniment to the creamy consistency and pungent taste of “ajoblanco”.
So far as traditional “gazpachos” and cold soups are concerned. But popularity has brought evolution and novelty too to these soups. In the last 5-10 years cold soups and especially “gazpacho” have undergone mutations that have turned them into drinks, cocktails, granitas, lollipops even, and surprising ingredients far from the traditional ones have been added: herbs like mint, “cilantro” or basil; vegetables like beets or lettuce; fruits like peaches, strawberries or cherries; even seaweed. Fruity soups like peach, strawberry, watermelon and even cherry “gazpachos” have become new favourites.
Miriam García is the GO! Travel expert on Spanish cuisine. She can also be found on her blog The Winter Guest.