You come across all kinds of jokes about soups being cold but they are always about hot soups that aren’t hot enough. I don’t know of any jokes about the cold soups of summer — perhaps Monro Bryce could tell us a couple.
The fact is that I’ve never had a restaurant cold soup that wasn’t cold enough. They’re kept in the fridge and served from the fridge when an order comes in. You can hardly go wrong with them —just as well, cold soups are no joking matter in the hot summer months.
A tangy highly flavoured soup straight from the fridge is refreshing and invigorating and has a more cooling effect than cold drinks.
When the sun seems to be just above our head and the thermometer looks as if it’s about to burst, cold soups have another advantage: many of them are made with raw ingredients and need no cooking.
Spanish regional cooking has a wide range of cold soups that make life cooler for cooks in the kitchen as well as for those sitting at the dining table. They all make good use of what’s available in the way of greens and root veggies, as well as nuts and even fruits of all kinds.
Gazpacho andaluz is Spain’s greatest and most travelled cold soup so it is the best known on national and international levels. It is a concoction of tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, bread, olive oil, vinegar, salt and garlic. It has it origins in the fields of Andalusia — for farmers hundreds of years ago it was a meal in itself.
Nowadays, it starts off a meal in a cool and refreshing way. However, many Spaniards keep a big jug of gazpacho in the fridge and at all times of the day drink it as a cooler instead of a soft drink. But you can’t do that if you’re watching your weight.
Although a gazpacho is vegetable-based, it also contains a good amount of bread and olive oil — and the calories that come with them. If it weren’t high in calories it wouldn’t have sustained an Andalusian farmer during his long working day.
The gazpacho andaluz is Spain’s most renowned cold soup and the ajo blanco of Málaga is a good runner-up in every way — except that it hasn’t travelled as much as the gazpacho and isn’t as well known. I have never seen an ajo blanco on the menu of a Palma restaurant and many Majorcans have never tasted it.
The gazpacho andaluz was originally rough peasant fare but the ajo blanco is very much an urban dish with built-in sophistication. Although it has its origins in Málaga, it has spread to Cordoba, Cadiz and Granada, often with slight variations in the original recipe.
Málaga has excellent almonds and the ajo blanco is built around them — the dish exists because it was a way of using some of the huge almond crop. It consists of almonds, garlic, bread, olive oil, salt and vinegar with the final addition of a few moscatel grapes.
The moscatel grapes from Málaga are famous and their addition to ajo blanco is yet another way of making good use of ingredients at hand — and it works beautifully.
Many people in Málaga have ajo blanco every day during the summer. In cities, towns, villages and hamlets it is still the favourite way of beginning a summer lunch or dinner.
Ajo blanco and gazpacho call for olive oil and vinegar and for best results you must get the finest that’s available.
That means virgen extra olive oil and the ideal vinegar is one made from wine that has been aged in wood. Virgen extra olive is dearer than the others but only slightly so — the difference in taste is enormous and well worth the extra cost.
When buying vinegar, forget about those little plastic bottles you see on supermarket shelves. They do contain wine vinegar — but of a very poor quality. The ideal vinegars are those made by well known Spanish wineries.They are more expensive but they are worth the higher price. The supermarket of El Corte Inglés has the best selection of vinegars.
There’s nothing difficult about making an ajo blanco, but when done by the traditional method — with a mortar and pestle — you have some pounding to do. Most people nowadays prefer to do everything in a blender. I still use the mortar, partly because I think it’s one of the greatest ever culinary inventions and I get a kick out of using it.
But the fact is that both methods give quite different results — and the mortar always beats the blender. I have six big mortars and only one blender which is stacked away in a high cupboard because I never use it. No matter how carefully you pulse the blender when making an ajo blanco, it will always be smoother than it should be. An ajo blanco made with a mortar and pestle has much more texture, much more character.
For four people you will need: 4 plump cloves of garlic (or to taste), 200grs almonds, 200grs fresh breadcrumbs (Majorcan pan moreno gives the best results), 250mls virgen extra olive oil, 250grs moscatel grapes (or other green grapes), a good wine vinegar, salt and a little milk.
If the almonds are unpeeled, put them into a bowl and cover them with boiling water. After couple of minutes the skins will slip off easily. Soak the crustless bread in a little milk. Slice the garlic and put it into the blender bowl with the peeled almonds and the squeezed out bread. Add a little water and when everything is reduced to a pulp pour in the olive oil little by little.
Pour the contents of the blender into a suitable bowl and add a litre of ice-cold water. Add salt and vinegar to taste and put the soup into the fridge until it is very cold. Serve with moscatel grapes added to the bowl just before serving. The grapes should be peeled with the pips removed. Many people use seedless grapes these days, but they don’t have the distinctive taste of the moscatel grapes. In some parts of Andalusia they leave out the grapes and add little balls of melon. It makes a change but it’s not an improvement on the moscatel grapes.
In other places finely diced apple and/or pear are added with the grapes and sometimes instead of them. In parts of Andalusia you sometimes come across an ajo blanco that has had a mere dusting of cinnamon added. Rather nice, but don’t be heavy-handed with it.
In all versions of ajo blanco the garlic and vinegar are important but never use too much of either. The vinegar is essential to give a tangy refreshing taste but you’ll spoil the soup if you use too much or an inferior one. Although gazpacho andaluz is Spain’s most famous cold soup, there are others that go under the gazpacho name. Some are also made with a tomato base but others are quite different, including one from Murcia that calls for a home-made mayonnaise.
A mayonnaise you make yourself always means a little more work than usual, but the extra effort is worth it: the authentic mayonnaise taste is one of the great culinary treats.
Doing your own mayonnaise means using raw egg yolks and many people would rather not deal with raw egg yolks or even soft-boiled eggs, fried eggs with runny yolks or underdone French omelettes.
I have no qualms about runny yolks and I eat them every day and my omelettes and tortillas are always underdone. However, if you want to play safe you could use a variation on the French remoulade sauce and make the mayonnaise with the yolks of hardboiled eggs.
The result will be a good deal thinner than the traditional mayonnaise and it won’t be as rich — but it will be completely safe. Don’t even consider trying this recipe with commercial mayonnaise: it would be a total failure.
For this gazpacho you will need: 1 kilo cucumbers, 500grs light green peppers, 2 medium sized tomatoes, 2 slices Majorcan pan moreno, salt and dearest wine vinegar you can afford. You will also need 2 eggs, 250mls virgen extra olive oil and two plump cloves of garlic (or to taste) for the mayonnaise.
To make the mayonnaise, peel the garlic, chop roughly and put into a mortar with a little salt. Pound with the pestle until reduced to a paste, add the egg yolks (raw or hard-boiled) and mix well.
Add a few drops of olive oil to the yolks and stir with the pestle, always in the same direction. Keep adding the oil drop by drop until the mixture starts to emulsify. You can then pour in the oil in a thin thread, stirring vigorously with the pestle.When the emulsion becomes very thick, add a teaspoon of wine vinegar, stir until well mixed in, and then keep adding threads of oil until the emulsion will absorb no more.
Peel the cucumbers, discard the seeds, cut into eight pieces lengthwise and then dice.Transfer to a biggish suitable bowl. Wash and deseed the green peppers, slice into thin strips and then into tiny pieces. Add to the bowl and stir in the garlic mayonnaise.
Cut the crusts from two thin slices of Majorcan bread and discard. Break the bread into smallish pieces and put them into a bowl or a big breakfast cup. Cover with cold water and soak them for 10 minutes. Squeeze the bread to get rid of excess water and add to the mortar. Pound well, stirring in any mayonnaise sticking to the sides of the mortar.
Peel the tomatoes, chop them finely, add them to the bread, and mash the mixture with the pestle. Add a tablespoon of wine vinegar and some salt, and pound until there are no little lumps of bread. Add to the cucumber and peppers and stir well.
Add enough ice-cold water to give a nice soupy consistency: it must not be too thick or too thin. Taste and add more salt or vinegar, if necessary. The vinegar taste must not be too strong, so go easy on it. Put into the fridge for several hours and serve very cold. All gazpachos that contain breadcrumbs must be stirred well before serving because the bread lays sinks to the bottom of the serving bowl. When buying cucumbers for this soup (or any other dish) avoid those that are large and plump: they will be full of water and seeds, neither of which is ever desirable.
If you’re shopping at a supermarket where you can choose your own vegetables, select light green peppers that are as straight as possible: they will be a good deal easier to cut into thin strips. And they must be the light green Majorcan peppers — the dark green Italian ones are no good for this dish.