Ok, so I say the word Gazpacho, and what do you think of? A bowl of a chilled tomato based soup, with chopped pepper, cucumber and possibly more tomato floating on top? I´m right, aren´t I?! Ok, so enough with the questions. You´d be right of course. But you´d also be wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, just probably not aware of the different versions of Gazpacho that exist in Andalucía. Gazpacho is Andaluz (i.e. from the Andalucían region of Spain) rather than Spanish. Just as Paella is Valencian and not Spanish.
It´s all getting complicated, so maybe I should start at the beginning. Andalucía has always traditionally been more reliant on agriculture (farming, olives, goats and pigs) than industry. Based on hard labour through grafting on the land, or the “campo”. So what did those hungry labourers do at midday, apart from take a well deserved rest in the shade of an olive tree, that is? Well, they took their lunch, or the makings of it, with them. Life was, and still is, fairly tough for a lot of people. Poverty reigned and many of the traditional dishes came about through necessity. Ask any older person here what the key ingredients of a gazpacho are and they´ll tell you “water, vinegar and salt”. And it´s true, they go into all the versions. The reason for this was to make you thirsty. And therefore drink more water, and thus feel full up. Your belly was full of liquid and stopped you craving more food.
So, we have our country men with a twist of salt, a bottle of vinegar and a knife. Water came courtesy of a nearby stream, and the vegetables that went into their gazpacho were those that could be found in the countryside around them. Sometimes tomatoes, peppers, onions. Other times wild leaves, oranges or a melon.
The gazpacho you see above looks, and actually tastes, like a very finely chopped salad in a bowl of iced water. I won´t lie to you, that´s pretty much what it is! When I first came here, I admit that I didn´t really “get” it. Now that time has passed and I´ve endured quite a few very hot summers, it all makes sense. A chilled bowl of iced salad/soup, with a little tickle of salt and vinegar, the tang of fresh mint and the crunch of all my favourite summer vegetables goes down a treat when you can´t face doing anything more energetic than swatting a fly away and adjusting your sombrero.
Our village prizes this version of Gazpacho so much that it has a three day Fiesta Del Gazpacho dedicated to it every first weekend in August! All good fun, although we tend to slake our thirst afterwards with a cold beer or a few glasses of wine. And then, when we´ve cooled down, we all take to the dance floor and Paso Doble until dawn. Happy days.
If you want to try it, you´ll need (roughly, as the quantities are really down to you) for four bowls:
- Half a lettuce heart finely shredded and chopped (this is what you will do with all the vegetables)
- Half a green pepper
- A medium tomato, peeled
- Half a sweet onion
- About a third of a normal cucumber, peeled or one small Spanish cucumber
- About 15 large mint leaves
- A handful of broad beans if you have them (optional)
- White wine vinegar
- Iced Water
- Some Ice cubes
Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour over water so that the vegetables are just covered. Gradually start to add salt and vinegar to taste (they tend to use a lot of both here, but go steady until you get a flavour you like). The locals say it should taste “alegre” which is happy or lively! Add a few ice cubes and leave for at least half an hour so that the mint really infuses the water, then ladle into bowls, lower yourself onto a comfy chair in the shade of an olive tree, tilt your sombrero over your eyes and enjoy.
Go one, give it a go, you might like it! And it´s a wonderful way of getting your “five a day”…