Got tomatoes that look better than they taste? Make salmorejo. Of course, it’s even better with good tomatoes, but this garlicky chilled soup — a puréed cousin of gazpacho — can turn even those sad tomatoes into something delicious. It also makes a perfect lunch or dinner for those hot days when you don’t want to turn on the stove.
Note: I know, it’s almost October. Everyone else is writing about pumpkin pie and hot apple cider, as though sweater weather automatically arrives with the first day of fall. But many of my regular readers are still getting temperatures in the upper 80s or low 90s (hi, Houston). This is for you guys.
Salmorejo originates in Cordoba, in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. Under Islamic rule for centuries, the city was once a cultural and intellectual capital of Europe, a rare time and place where Islamic, Jewish, and Christian people enjoyed comparative peace. That all ended, as such things do, but the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is still a beautiful muddle of cultures.
I’d love to use salmorejo as a culinary metaphor for disparate cultures joined into a greater whole. However, salmorejo is puréed until the ingredients lose their individual identities, while the city of Cordoba is a more gazpacho-like mix of distinct cultures. Also, it usually comes topped with ham, and those New World tomatoes were brought to Europe by the Christian-funded conquistadors, whose legacy is not one of religious harmony.
Still, it’s a damn tasty soup, and you can leave the ham out. In fact, with the right garnishes, salmorejo is vegan, raw, kosher, halal, and reasonably healthy. (It’s full of bread, though, so it’s not paleo or gluten-free. You guys can stick to gazpacho.)
This isn’t the kind of recipe where precise amounts matter, and anyway you’ll need to adjust amounts depending on how flavorful, acidic, and juicy your tomatoes are. Keep tasting and add more salt, vinegar, or garlic as you like. Salmorejo is best chilled for an hour, or up until the next day; if you do this, taste it and adjust the seasonings right before you serve it.
tomatoes One or two large tomatoes per serving, or a handful or two of smaller ones.
garlic One or two cloves per serving. Three, if you’re making this for my dad.
bread (baguette or similar), preferably stale A slice or two per serving. This will be blended into the soup; more bread makes a thicker soup.
olive oil One-half to one tablespoon per serving.
sherry vinegar In a pinch, you can substitute balsamic vinegar.
optional garnishes: hard-boiled egg, finely shaved serrano ham, toasted slivered almonds, avocado
If the tomatoes are large, chop them up a bit so they’ll blend more easily. If your machine is small or you’re making a lot of soup, blend it in several batches so you don’t make a mess.
Put the tomatoes, garlic, and half of the bread into your food processor or blender, and blend until it’s pretty smooth. Add more bread if it seems too thin. (You want it to have some body, but it shouldn’t be too thick; closer to cream soup than Cream of Wheat. That said, it’s your damn soup and you can make it whatever texture you like.)
Add the olive oil — you can drizzle it in slowly, with the machine running, if you’re confident that you can do this without making a giant splattery mess all over the place. Otherwise, turn the machine off, add the oil, cover it tightly, then whirl it in. (The slow drizzle method should, if done correctly, give you a smooth emulsion, without visible drops of oil; and the the soup should taste creamier and richer. The other way is every bit as tasty, and a lot easier. Your call.)
The sherry vinegar and salt are a matter of taste, and will largely depend on how flavorful and how acidic your tomatoes are — you want the seasonings to enhance the tomatoes, not overpower them. If you don’t have a good sense of how much to add, start with a half teaspoon of each (total, not per serving) and go up from there until it tastes good. If you’re worried about going too far, season half the batch at a time; if you add too much to the first half, you can back it up by adding some of the unseasoned soup.
Chill everything for at least an hour before serving, if you want. I actually prefer it at room temperature, but that’s me. Check and adjust the seasoning right before you serve it.
You can also make this the day before; if it starts to separate, just give it a good stir (or re-blend it).
Serve the salmorejo topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some more bread. For Cordoba-style salmorejo, garnish with a chopped up hard-boiled egg and finely shaved serrano ham. (Avocado is an excellent substitute or addition.)