Spanish Soup

Hola, mi amigos. My apologies for the lateness of today’s recipe but I had no idea what to make, until last weekend came around. Then the warm weather rolled in and suddenly, I had the perfect fit. An idea that’ve been holding onto since the end of last year’s growing season.

This is gazpacho. A traditional spanish dish that’s most easily described as “raw tomato soup”.

Yet that doesn’t really sell its uniqueness, its depth of flavour or the freshness which makes it a perfect home for the habanadas that I’ve been saving, in my freezer.

Because yes, they do taste almost exactly like habaneros but they still have something special to them, besides their lack of heat. A refreshing wetness, reminiscent of watermelon or the juiciest of cucumbers.

Speaking of which, here’s what you’ll need to make enough for two:

½ a cucumber

4 large, ripe tomatoes

1 small red onion (or white)

½ an orange bell pepper

5 habanada chillies

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ teaspoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

And an absolutely massive handful of parsley.

Plus, you may also notice that I decorated my bowlful with garlic croutons. These are optional but they do bring a lot to the dish and they require:

½ a mini baguette (roughly 15cm, in total)

3 large garlic cloves

4 tablespoons olive oil

And a pinch of salt.

We’ll fry those up in a little bit but first, let’s get started on the main event.

To begin making the gazpacho, first core and deseed the tomatoes and both types of pepper. Setting aside the tomato cores for the next step.

It’s not strictly necessary to hollow out the habanadas, given their super-mild status, but the seeds might upset the texture. Or add a touch of bitterness, like those of the tomatoes and bells.

Of course, any bitterness imparted by the tomato seeds would be ever so subtle, so I’m really not sure why people fuss over it, but removing the seeds and most of the juice does make a huge difference to the rest of the flavour. As you’ll see in a second.

For now, though, go ahead and chuck your freshly cored veg into a blender, along with the rest of the gazpacho ingredients, roughly chopped where applicable. Then add back in three tablespoons of the juice from the reserved tomato cores. Making sure to strain them, in order to keep out any seeds, since we really do just want the liquid to make blending easier.

Then, once everything’s in, you can zizz away to your heart’s content. Blending and blending, until the whole lot is one thick and pulpy, yet smooth soup.

In some parts of spain, that consistency might have been achieved with the help of my other half baguette but the version that I’ve known has always been gluten free (at least until it’s topped). Thickened with little more than tomato flesh and given its slight creaminess by the oil.

Removing the cores is essential to making that work but it also plays a huge role in the taste. Taking out most of the fruit’s sweetness, and tang, while allowing the salt to highlight its savoury side and give the dish a shocking amount of umami.

It’s more like a cooked tomato flavour, if anything, but it goes oh so well with the earthiness of the cumin and there’s still just enough of that natural vibrancy left to complement the parsley and the other veg. Especially with the acidity of the apple-based vinegar bringing back some of its lost tang.

Sadly, the specific peppers don’t stand out too well, over that savoury, earthy body. But they do come through at the end, leaving behind an unmistakeable aftertaste of habanero. Providing a bright, almost fruity contrast to the rich, savoury tomatoes and pairing very nicely with the fresh, green, cucumber finish.

Something which you’d never get to enjoy with regular habs, because more than one to a bowl would be brutally hot and this five pepper recipe only makes two portions.

As is, though, it barely manages a

tingle, on the tip of my tongue, and even that’s clearly a raw onion heat, not a chilli one. One which would have been completely unnoticeable, if I’d managed to get the milder, white onion that gazpacho would ideally be made with.

Irrespective of which onion you use, though, this gazpacho is super mild, super tasty and super simple. So much so, in fact, that it’s already done. With only my toppings left to talk about.

Yet, unlike the veg, my garlic croutons are far from just decorative.

They add a firm, toasted crunch to an otherwise smooth dish but, even beyond that, they add flavour. A rich, roasted garlic taste, to complement the umami of the tomatoes, and a subtle sweetness, from the french bread, to counterpoint our array of savoury veg.

As I mentioned, up top, they enhance the experience immensely. So, while you could leave things here, I’d still recommend taking a few more minutes to fry them up.

First, start by dicing the baguette into bite-sized chunks. Then peel and crush the garlic, using the back of a knife.

Next, throw the broken cloves into a pan, along with the oil, and heat the two together, on high. Continuing to cook for a minute or two, until you hear a strong sizzle and the edges are just starting to brown. At which point, it’s time to add the bread and stir, stir, stir, ensuring that each piece absorbs a similar amount of oil on all sides. Because that’s where the flavour is.

Then, to enhance that flavour, sprinkle over a generous pinch of salt and continue to stir, for just a few more minutes and less frequently, if you wish, until the bread has become both golden and crispy.

And that’s it. Just remove the cubes from the heat and you’re done.

Of course, it can be a little tricky to keep all of the individual croutons from sticking and burning, so a wok or round-bottomed pan can be of great help, but this recipe should still work in any standard cooking vessel. Plus it’s so quick to cook up – Both the croutons and the gazpacho – that you can make it at a moments notice, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And even bottle it, if you’re on the go.

It’s as practical as it is tasty and it sure is tasty!

A great way to enjoy those unique habanada peppers.

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