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Cold Soups for Hot Summer Days


Clockwise from top left: ajoblanco, "classic" gazpacho, salmorejo, stone fruit gazpacho
Clockwise from top left: ajoblanco, "classic" gazpacho, salmorejo, stone fruit gazpacho

The summer heat is in full force right now, which makes cooking much more of a chore in houses like mine, that don’t have air conditioning. It also makes this a great time to discuss the tradition of cold soups from Spain. There is a long list of cold soups which are popular all over the hotter parts of the country in summertime, and it seems like most of them started in the south of Spain, probably in some part of Andalucia. There are many arguments, from people far more educated on the subject than I, on exactly which region, or even village, where each of them originated. I will avoid entering that fray at the moment. They all were traditionally used to keep field workers going through the sweltering summer days, and all of them are quite satisfying if prepared well and served cold.

Ajoblanco

“Ajoblanco,” which literally translates to “white garlic,” is the modern precursor to all the other cold soups that people know from Spain. Arguments persist about the exact origins of ajoblanco, some claiming it goes back to the Romans (or even further). The “standard” version, with almonds as an important part of its base, almost certainly traces its roots to similar soups made by the Moorish conquerers that ruled much of Spain from 711AD until 1492. The Moors introduced almonds to Spain, so it couldn’t have predated that. Almonds, along with old bread, garlic (as the name suggests), a little bit of vinegar, cold water, and olive oil, form the base of ajoblanco. These days some people add a bit of green apple to the mix. Ajoblanco is traditionally topped with green grapes, but you can top it with other fruit, especially earlier in the summer time before grape harvest time. The fruit adds a sweet balance to the rich, creamy, slightly acidic soup.


The taste of ajoblanco really calls me back to its Arab origins. The almonds give it a taste and texture almost reminiscent of a tahini based sauce from the other side of the Mediterranean . It feels like food from a bygone era when I eat it, even though it would be completely at home in the midst of a fancy dinner party.

If you can get Marcona almonds, use them for this soup to get a little bit deeper flavor. If not, use any almonds as long as they are blanched and peeled – the soup will still be good.

Side note:

There is another cold soup from Extremadura, that I have seen referenced many times, also called ajoblanco, which includes egg yolks, but not almonds. I’ve never been served that soup, or really seen it, so I will leave that discussion to another day when I can offer a little more context and understanding.


Ingredients (makes about 5 cups)

  • 1 cup Marcona almonds (or any blanched and peeled almonds)

  • 3 cups stale bread, torn into pieces, crusts not used

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled

  • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar (or more TT)

  • Cold water, as needed

  • 3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • Salt TT

To serve

  • Green grapes, sliced in half

  • Coarse salt

  • Your best extra virgin olive oil


1. Cover the almonds in water, and soak overnight.

2. At least 30 minutes ahead (and up to a couple hours before), cover the stale bread with a generous amount of cold water, and let it soak.


3. When ready to blend, drain the water from the bread, and gently squeeze out some of the excess – discard that water. Add the bread, garlic, almonds (and their water), vinegar and a pinch of salt to the blender. Blend until very smooth – it will likely take a couple minutes. If needed, you can add a little more cold water, but add only enough to make the blender spin, as you want a thick soup. Taste, and adjust salt if needed.

When smooth, with the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify and make the soup creamy. Transfer to a container and cool down in the fridge until ready to eat.


4. Serve cold, topped with the grapes, a little coarse salt, and a generous few glugs of good extra virgin olive oil.


Salmorejo

Most of the other famous cold soups from Spain have tomatoes in the base. Tomatoes didn’t come to Spain until the conquistadors brought them back from the new world in the 1500’s. As such, these soups clearly didn’t begin evolving until at least that time. Some of these soups have recipes which look very similar to the ajoblanco, although using tomatoes instead of almonds.

“Porra antequerana,” which is named for the mortar (porra) it was traditionally made in, is one such simple cold soup. Traditionally it is a very thick, hearty soup, consisting of just bread, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, and olive oil. I have heard of some people that add bell pepper to this soup. Others, though, claim that the addition of bell peppers make it a salmorejo, another famous cold thick soup from the south of Spain. Of course, many people claim that a salmorejo never has bell peppers in it. Some people claim that porra is differentiated by it being much thicker, but most people claim salmorejo should be very thick as well. Porra antequerana and salmorejo are both traditionally served topped with hard-boiled egg and jamón Serrano. There are at least 3 or 4 other extremely similar cold soups from the South of Spain whose names and variations I have trouble keeping track of.

You can begin to see the confusion I am sorting through.

Like many dishes from around Spain, the differences between these various cold soups depends on who you ask about them. The minor variances are often no more different than any recipe changes as it moves from one family to another. While I have no doubt there were historical, traditional differences between these soups, in modern, practical usage, these distinctions are almost impossible to discern. The name changes, as do minor details of the recipe, moving from one village, or even one family, to the next. At this point, I treat porra antequerana, salmorejo, and a couple others as regional names for the same classic dish. I am sure that I will take flak for this position – I encourage you to email me your opinions (preferably with historical insights and documentation included).

From here, we’ll call all of these variations on a theme “salmorejo,” because that is what most of my Spanish friends call it.


This soup is all about the tomatoes. It will taste as good as your tomatoes do, so don’t bother making it unless you have very flavorful, ripe tomatoes. It needs to be really thick, so don’t add any extra liquid past what the blender needs to spin everything. In Spain, it is always topped with virutas (thin shavings) of jamón Serrano along with some hard-boiled egg. If you can’t get the jamón, you can substitute thinly sliced prosciutto. To me, salmorejo is just ok without the jamón, but with it, is absolutely addictive and very satisfying as a meal unto itself on a hot day. If you are not a vegetarian, don’t skip the jamón! Some of my friends add a little bit of spice to theirs – I like to garnish with a sprinkle of Espelette or Aleppo pepper.


You need to taste while blending, and adjust the amount of vinegar depending on how acidic the tomatoes are.


Ingredients (makes about 5 cups)

  • 3 cups stale bread, torn in pieces

  • 2 lbs very ripe, flavorful tomatoes, cored, and cut in chunks

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 3 – 4 Tbsp sherry vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar)

  • Salt TT

  • 3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

To serve

  • Shavings or thin slices of jamón Serrano (or substitute prosciutto)

  • Hard boiled egg, peeled and chopped

  • Coarse salt

  • Espelette or Aleppo pepper (optional)

  • Your best extra virgin olive oil

1. At least 30 minutes ahead (and up to a couple hours before), cover the stale bread with a generous amount of cold water, and let it soak.


2. Blend the tomatoes with the garlic, salt, and vinegar until very liquidy. Drain the bread, squeezing out any excess water, then add it to the blender. Blend until very smooth – this will probably take a couple minutes. You can add a little cold water if necessary to make the blender spin, but remember you want the salmorejo to be as thick as possible. Taste, and adjust the salt and vinegar if necessary.

When smooth, with the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify and make the soup creamy. Transfer to a container and cool down in the fridge until ready to eat.


3. Serve cold, with each portioned garnished with some of the jamón, hard-boiled eggs, coarse salt, and a generous amount of the good extra virgin olive oil. If desired, garnish with a bit of espellete or Aleppo pepper.


"Classic" Gazpacho

Finally, there is the cold soup that most Americans know of – gazpacho. Gazpacho has a lot more “accepted variance” from the standard than the others. Most people add cucumber to the base, many use bell peppers, and most use a bit of onion. Some add a hint of some spicy pepper. Like the other cold soups we’ve discussed, gazpacho traditionally has used bread in the base, but these days, some people do and some don’t. The fancier versions almost never use bread any more, and even many of the home cooks I know would rather eat good bread on the side. With or without the bread, gazpacho tends to be a lot less thick than salmorejo.


Making a proper Gazpacho is very much about adjusting to your taste and the particulars of the ingredients at hand. I tend to like them a bit more acidic than many people – if you are more sensitive to the acidity, use less vinegar. If your tomatoes or fruit aren’t very sweet, you can add a pinch of sugar or a splash of honey. You can experiment with different vinegars, peppers, and just about anything else you think will fit. Let your taste and judgement guide you.


Without the bread, your gazpacho won’t emulsify as well, so if you want a perfect emulsion, you can soak a bit of stale bread as per the salmarejo (above), and add it to the blender. Use a lot less, though, as you don’t want a gazpacho to be nearly as thick as the salmorejo.

Again, taste while you blend and adjust the amount of vinegar depending on how acidic the tomatoes are.


Ingredients (makes about 5 cups)

  • 2 lbs very ripe, flavorful tomatoes, cored, and cut into chunks

  • 8 oz English or Persian cucumber, cut into small chunks

  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and cut in small pieces

  • ¼ small red onion, peeled and rough chopped

  • ¼ cup or TT sherry vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar)

  • 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper (optional – delicious, but not something you’d get in Spain)

  • Salt TT

  • 3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

To serve

  • Diced or sliced cucumber

  • Coarse salt

  • Your best extra virgin olive oil

1. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, salt, and sherry vinegar to the blender. Blend just until they begin to break down a bit. Add the bell pepper, onion, and jalapeño or serrano (if using), and blend until very smooth – this will likely take a couple minutes. Taste, and adjust the salt and vinegar, if needed.

When smooth, with the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify and make the soup creamy. You can blend in a little bit of cold water if you want to thin the gazpacho. Transfer to a container and cool down in the fridge until ready to eat.


2. Serve cold, topped with the cucumber, a little coarse salt, and a generous pour of the good olive oil.

Fruit Gazpacho

These days various stone fruits, melons, and strawberries commonly replace some or all of the tomatoes in fruity versions of gazpacho, and herbs are sometimes added. One of the best gazpachos I’ve eaten was a deep green colored, green apple version from a restaurant in Burgos.


Everything from the discussion of the "classic" gazpacho applies, but there is less tradition, and thus even more freedom, with fruit versions. The recipe that follows is a pretty tame starting point. You can up the ratio of fruit to tomato, or even eliminate the tomatoes entirely.


Mix and match whatever fruit are at their peak flavor. Substitute strawberries in the spring when they are at their best, or use different melons when they are good. Skip the onions if you are using melon, as they really don’t play nicely together. Also, if you are using muskmelons such as cantaloupe, skip the tomatoes.


There really isn’t a right or wrong way to do fruit gazpachos. It’s all about context. Let your taste guide you.

Ingredients (makes about 5 cups)

  • 1 lb very ripe, flavorful tomato, cored and cut in pieces

  • 1 lb very ripe, flavorful Stone fruit (plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, etc.), stones and stems removed, and cut in pieces. You can substitute strawberries.

  • 8 oz cucumber

  • ¼ small red onion, peeled and rough chopped (optional)

  • 2-3 Tbsp or TT sherry vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar)

  • ½ bell pepper (any color), seeded and rough chopped

  • Salt TT

  • 3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

To serve

  • Diced fruit (use whatever kind you used to make the soup)

  • Coarse salt

  • Your best extra virgin olive oil


1. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, fruit, salt, and sherry vinegar to the blender. Blend just until they begin to break down a bit. Add the bell pepper and onion and blend until very smooth – this will likely take a couple minutes. Taste, and adjust the salt and vinegar, if needed.

When smooth, with the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify and make the soup creamy. You can blend in a little bit of cold water if you want to thin the gazpacho. Transfer to a container and cool down in the fridge until ready to eat.


2. Serve cold, topped with the chopped fruit, a little coarse salt, and a generous pour of the good olive oil.

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