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Heavenly offbeat gazpachos for a hot summer day

Heavenly offbeat gazpachos for a hot summer day

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A cool gazpacho is the perfect antidote to a blazing hot summer day, whether it is in Andalusia, Spain, here in the United States, or anywhere else.

The zesty cross between a salad and soup is refreshing and can be enjoyed as a quick lunch, an afternoon pick-me-up or a light dinner when the sun hasn’t quite disappeared.

When you think of a gazpacho these days, it is often a tomato-based soup perked up with raw bell pepper, cucumber and onion. But that’s not how the gazpacho began its humble life. Its origin goes back centuries to the southeastern province in Spain when tomatoes were an unknown commodity. Then, it was a simple gruel that was an amalgam of stale bread, water, olive oil, garlic, vinegar and salt.

Tomatoes were native to the Americas, and Spain got its first taste of them only after explorers and conquistadors took back the bright red fruits from the New World. Soon after, tomatoes along with fresh vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions and cucumbers, became key ingredients in a gazpacho.

They were crushed together in a mortar or dornillo (large wooden bowl) and served to laborers working on olive plantations, citrus groves and vineyards to quench their thirst.

Food historians have different theories about the name “gazpacho.” Some think it came from the Latin word “caspa,” meaning fragments and referring to the breadcrumbs. Some others think that the name originated in the Hebrew word “gazaz,” which translates to breaking into pieces.

As gazpacho spread over the centuries across continents, it has been adapted to accommodate the availability of produce, taste preferences and conveniences. High-end restaurants take pride in featuring the soups with a lump of crab or lobster meat and a splash of vodka or tequila. Creative home cooks flavor it with ground cumin, coriander and whatever else is on their spice rack and herbs, such as basil, chives, thyme, cilantro and oregano. And the electric blender and food processor have replaced the mortar and pestle.

Nowadays, almost any cold salad-soup passes as a gazpacho. Watermelon is a common team player in summer, and so are cantaloupes, peaches and blueberries. A gazpacho can be spiced with jalapeño or hot sauce and sweetened with fruit juice to almost taste like a smoothie.

It can have the consistency of a watery salsa or a grainy puree, and there is no standard rule for its color, either. It can be bright red, peachy orange or murky green. Sometimes, it shows up white. The blanco version is without tomatoes, of course, and is made with blanched almonds or cashew nuts, stale bread with crusts removed, garlic, olive oil and white wine vinegar.

If you think the variations are umpteen, consider the toppings — there are no boundaries. Gazpachos are commonly garnished with verdant herbs, either as whole sprigs and leaves or chopped. But sometimes it is all about complementing the soup’s color or flavor. Savory gazpachos feature serrano ham, whole salted nuts, a dash of hot sauce, garlicky cream, peppery croutons, shaved Manchego or Parmesan cheese, and chopped hard-cooked eggs. And ones on the sweetish side are topped with sliced grapes, cubed melon or dried fruits.

While purists and Andalusians might frown upon the modern variations, it has come to be that a soup can be called a gazpacho if the title simply says so. I came across three recipes wildly different in their flavor profiles filling that bill. All their surnames are gazpacho, but that is the only common denominator.

Jamie Oliver combines the usual with the unusual in his rendition called My Panzanella Gazpacho in his cookbook “Ultimate Veg.” Cucumber, red bell pepper and mixed-color cherry tomatoes get whirled together in the blender with green peas, fava beans, basil and a slice of crusty bread.

The watermelon gazpacho in “Everyday Healthy Cookbook” by Dana Jacobi could be easily mistaken for a smoothie with the melon and ripe tomatoes adding a natural sweetness to the soup. Then comes an unexpected back-end kick from the tomatillo salsa, which is wonderful. So, too, is the cucumber-red onion-grape-cilantro garnish.

There are no raw ingredients nor tomatoes in Good Housekeeping’s squash gazpacho. Yellow squash is cooked along with yellow bell pepper, garlic and ground cumin until the vegetables get soft. They are then blended until smooth along with a good squirt of lemon juice. For a finishing touch, it is dusted with paprika.

Each one of the whimsical soups is delightful when served chilled, and is a summer gazpacho in its own right.

— Adapted from “Everyday Healthy Cookbook: 120+ Fresh, Flavorful Recipes for Every Meal” by Dana Jacobi

— Adapted from “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” by Susan Westmoreland

— Adapted from “Ultimate Veg: Easy & Delicious Meals for Everyone” by Jamie Oliver

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