When you are lucky enough, as we are, to have a vegetable garden full of tasty summer tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, you are always looking for new ways to serve them. Arriving home from our holiday, we found the veggie garden over run with peppers plus we had a few cucumbers and the first of our new batch of tomatoes turning red. A neighbour had also left four huge and sweet onions in a bag hanging on our door. What a great homecoming!
I love tabbouleh, but had forgotten about making it until another kind neighbour bought me round a bag of bulghur wheat. I have very kind neighbours! It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and what a great use of my summer vegetables it would be.
It´s very easy and quick to prepare and can be made a little in advance of eating so that all the seasoning is absorbed and flavours your salad.
As I was finely chopping a mixture of tomato, cucumber, onion and garlic I realised how similar the base ingredients are to an Andalucían gazpacho, both the blended and the chunky versions. I also added chopped green and red peppers. I´m not sure how traditional they are but we still have so many, it seemed silly not to.
The wheat had been cooked according to the instructions on the pack, all very simple and straightforward, and when it had cooled a little I added my chopped vegetables, chopped mint and parsley, salt, olive oil and plenty of lemon juice.
And that was it. I left it to chill a little then bought it back to room temperature before eating. How simple and delicious was that?!
With the hot weather we´ve been having, the desire to cook has been low. But…a girl and her Big Man have to eat, so the other night we decided on some grilled langoustines with some vegetable fried rice to accompany it. Fried rice is an alien concept to most Spaniards, so Big Man had visions of me deep frying individual grains of rice or making some sort of croquette.
To his relief, and mine (due to the heat), it was a simple dish with only the smallest amount of oil and frying involved.
I boiled some rice (I used brown, but the choice is yours). While this was cooking I fried a finely chopped onion and two crushed cloves of garlic in a very small amount of oil in a non stick pan until it started to look brown at the edges. Then I added finely chopped courgette and a long thin green pepper and continued to stir fry them.
In a separate pan I made the thinnest omelette known to man! Whisk one egg and pour into a lightly oiled pan- almost as if you were making a crêpe – and make a very thin omelette. Flip it over to get both sides lightly browned and slide onto a plate to cool a little.
When the rice is cooked, drain well and add to the vegetables. There´s no need to add more oil if you have a good pan as you will now almost dry fry it. Season with salt and pepper and every few minutes give it a stir until the rice starts to brown.
Roll up the world´s thinnest omelette and cut it into fine shreds. Sprinkle these eggy shreds over the top of your rice, mix gently and serve.
So, now we come to the Gazpacho most people are familiar with – the iced tomato and vegetable soup famed the world over (well, almost!).
It is served both as a soup here and as a drink. In most homes it comes in a glass. In fact there is a wonderful advert for my favourite Spanish beer, Cruzcampo, which celebrates all things Andalúz. One line in the voice over says something along the lines of “In Andalucía we don´t eat tomatoes, we drink them!” (If you have time to watch it, it´s worth it, even if you don´t understand Spanish, just to see a few snippets of summer life in Andalucía).
Every housewife will give you a slightly different recipe, adding her own little tweaks (more of this, less of that). Some use stale bread, some don´t. I tend not to unless I want to serve it a little thicker as a soup which can then be garnished with little chopped cubes of the same vegetables that go into it.
So, without further ado, here´s how I make mine.
Peeled Tomatoes, Green Pepper, Red Pepper, Onion (optional) Peeled Cucumber, Salt, Water, Olive Oil, White Wine Vinegar.
It´s difficult to give quantities. If my tomatoes are lovely and red, I use less red pepper. Sometimes I don´t use onion. But the green pepper and the cucumber do give it that distinctive fresh taste, so try not to leave them out.
Today I used 4 large plum tomatoes, one thin green pepper, a small amount of red pepper and a small chunk of onion and half a small peeled Spanish cucumber.
Put all the vegetables into a jug or the food processor.
Start with one level teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and about half a litre of water.
Now it´s time to start blending. Add more seasoning, vinegar and water as you go along if you want to. Today I added another tablespoon of vinegar (you remember they like it “alegre” or lively here right?!) and about another 250ml of water to thin it a little.
Then chill until you need it. If you have put onion in it´s fine on the day you made it but I find it starts to “ferment” a little if you have any left over. Also, while standing in the fridge it may start to separate a little with the water at the bottom and the vegetables on top – just give it a stir before serving and it will be fine.
Now, go and put on a straw hat, a paso doble on the cd and lie back in a shady spot and sip on your ice cold Gazpacho. Or ga-pacho, as they tend to say here! These Andaluces and their habit of dropping the “s” sound….most confusing!
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
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”…
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....