“It’s the black sheep of Spanish food,” Eva Alcaraz says of gazpacho, the cold tomato-based soup of southern Spain. “I don’t see it anywhere.”
In truth, it is available at local Spanish restaurants. But this refreshing “drinkable salad,” as the label on her line of gazpacho boasts, is not as popular here as one would expect. Instead, immigrants from northern Spain brought their steaming bean soups to the tropics, and their descendents brought them to our own subtropics.
Caldo gallego — with navy beans, bacon and chorizo — and fabada asturiana — with lima beans and blood sausage: These wintry soups are everywhere in our land without winter. Iced soup of pureed tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers is not as easy to find in South Florida’s endless summer.
“My husband kept telling me, ‘Come out with your gazpacho,’ so I did,” Alcaraz says. A Miami resident for 25 years, this Madrid native cooks Spanish because “it’s the umbilical cord with my native soil, with the food my mother used to make for me.”
And she made gazpacho at home because she was trying to be a good mother herself.
“My kids would come from school and ask, ‘Mom, what are you going to give us to eat?’ So instead of a doughnut I gave them gazpacho.”
It’s how she made her kids eat their vegetables.
In Spain, she says, gazpacho is sold at McDonald’s and Starbucks. Spain’s commercial brands have made it to Miami’s Spanish delis, but Alcaraz wanted to make a gazpacho that was fresh, not pasteurized. She discovered a high-pressure or hyperbaric process that “deactivates bacteria” without raising the temperature of the product that yields fresh gazpacho with a six-week shelf life.
Her website, gazpachoalcaraz.com, shows mountain bikers, conveying health as well as portability and ease of consumption. And it stresses attributes like “low-cal” and “vegan.” A traditional food that happens to fit nicely into a health-conscious lifestyle.
It does taste as if just made. Granted, gazpacho is the easiest thing to make at home. Just drop tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, garlic, olive oil and salt in a blender. Push a button and in seconds you have soup to pop in the fridge and chill. Many recipes call for stale bread and cumin, but Alcaraz left them out, as many Spanish cooks do.
The classic gazpacho is served with little bowls of chopped tomato, green pepper, cucumber and cubed bread to add crunch. But many like to drink it straight. Or spiked. Alcaraz’s website offers a recipe for Gazpacho Bloody Mary, with added vodka, Worcestershire, hot sauce, pepper, cumin and lime juice. You get your veggies and a buzz, too.
Her recipe combines the method she learned from her mother, what one might call the gazpacho madrileño, and from friends from Valencia, who would be closer to the origins in Andalusia. The cold soup is a classic all over Spain by now, certainly a summer staple. And though Alcaraz calls it a black sheep, one sees it spreading through the American landscape.
Recently in the Florida Panhandle, where the beaches are known as the Redneck Riviera, gazpacho was spotted at a seafood festival where not a word of Spanish was heard, as a base for a scallop and shrimp appetizer. In trendy bars elsewhere, the Gazpacho Bloody Mary shows up on the craft cocktail menu.
So perhaps this is the Gazpacho Hour, as it has been with other Spanish specialties like serrano ham, potato omelets or that other refreshment from the south of Spain: sangría.
For those who want it ready-made but still fresh, Eva Alcaraz has the product. Spike it up for your next cookout, but if you feel inspired by the notoriously laced gazpacho in Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, remember: Don’t try this at home.
Enrique Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.