Gazpacho Goes Green – and Purple and White

In the heat of late summer, a cold soup made from juicy vine-ripened tomatoes sure can refresh. Add garden-fresh sweet peppers, crunchy cukes and bulbous onions, thicken with breadcrumbs, thin with a splash of delicate oil and vinegar, and you’ve got the makings of a classic Spanish gazpacho.

We love traditional gazpacho andaluz, but after a Big-Boy-a-day August, it is possible to get tomato-ed out. How about a gazpacho that doesn’t use a ruby-red tom?

Gazpacho is “definitely at the point where most people have an innate idea of what gazpacho is: chilled tomato soup. Nowadays, that’s ubiquitous across restaurants,” said Joshua Galliano, executive chef at Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood. For Galliano, gazpacho has come to mean “chilled soup with very little cooking.”

Thinking beyond black and white – or red, for that matter – opens the door for a rainbow of kitchen creativity. Galliano’s white gazpacho is a rice milk-based cold soup blended with aromatic basmati, blanched almonds, a hefty near head of garlic, sweet Muscat Blanc grapes and honey to taste. To serve, Galliano pours the ice-cold soup around a spring onion sorbet centerpiece.

In essence, Galliano’s recipe is a contemporary interpretation of white garlic soup, or ajo blanco, a cousin to gazpacho that is typical of Granada and Málaga in southern Spain. “A lot of times, we’re looking back to traditional recipes and trying to find a way to adapt them for a more modern kitchen. When we were researching that recipe, I’m pretty sure there was no rice milk in there whatsoever. It was just rice, water, cook it, get it puréed with some grapes and nuts. The rest was how we felt the flavors needed to evolve and enhance each other,” said Galliano, who noted that pine nuts, macadamias and hazelnuts are all suitable subs for the almonds.

Galliano’s version also demonstrates how another presumed ingredient – onion – doesn’t have to be in the soup. Rather, it can show up somewhere else and still make an impact. “I like it because we don’t have onions in there and they kind of belong [in gazpacho].” Instead, spring onions show up in a kicky sorbet. A spoonful of that tart ice with a dribble of gazpacho and the somewhat piquant yet sweet flavor of onions unites with the seasoned soup.

Another take on the gazpacho concept is Kevin Willmann’s blueberry and grape adaptation. The executive chef and partner at Erato on Main in Edwardsville’s presentation is blissfully bold, made from the juice of supersweet Mars seedless grapes and plump blueberries plus a touch of sweet-sour rice wine vinegar. Minced shallots, a chiffonade of cilantro and mint, and a garnish of halved blueberries and peeled grapes lend body and savory balance to the raw explosiveness of the fruit juice.

There are numerous gazpacho variants that include fruit (besides grapes, you might encounter apples, pear, melons), but is this blueberry-grape swap too sweet to be called gazpacho? “It had savory notes from the onion and cilantro. It was not a dessert by any means,” said Willmann, adding that “there are sweet notes to gazpacho; tomatoes have sweet notes. It’s the same idea [as gazpacho in] that it was chilled, everything was raw, nothing processed. It still has the vinegar and onion note. Beyond that, it’s just kind of a play on gazpacho.” Indeed, it’s the kind of aggressive panache that we love about Willmann’s cooking: “Grapes and onions. It works if you let it work.” We’ll slurp to that.

Peel off the papery tan husk of a tomatillo and you’ll see a fruit that resembles a small green tomato. With a firm, pale flesh, glutinous pulp, and tart flavor that Mexicans adore in a salsa, this cousin of the tomato can serve as the basis for a standout green gazpacho.

Were you among the lucky who devoured chef David Guempel’s herbaceous green gazpacho before Zinnia in Webster Groves closed last year? Guempel, now head chef at Café Osage, the eatery at Bowood Farms in the Central West End, starts by slowly cooking poblano peppers, cucumbers and sweet white onions, then adding tomatillos toward the end “so that you don’t destroy that nice, wonderful, slightly acidic flavor.” Blend until smooth, hunk it up with some minced tomatillo and some more cucumbers, deliver an herbaceous tone with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. Don’t forget the garnish, a swirl of cool sour cream followed by a red extravaganza of diced heirloom tomatoes, red onions and roasted red peppers.

Between cooking down the vegetables and letting the flavors meld, Guempel’s green gazpacho takes two days to make, but the results have been crowd-pleasing. “People used to go wild over it,” Guempel said. “There was a woman who told me to call her whenever I made it. She wanted at least a gallon of it. She would divide it into quart containers and freeze it.”

Green, purple, white. Gazpacho has never been so unexpectedly colorful.

Go gaga with your gazpacho service
• For a buffet, use the ice liner method: Pour the gazpacho in a bowl and place that bowl inside a larger one filled with ice.
• For kids, make it fun: Pour gazpacho into a tumbler or old-fashioned soda fountain glass. Insert a bendy plastic drinking straw. If the soup is very thick, grab a jumbo straw. If the kiddos add condiments, throw in a bistro ice cream spoon.
• For guests you gotta impress, give a Thomas Keller-like performance: Place a generous amount of the garnish in individual soup bowls, then ladle the soup around the garnish.

A note to gazpacho purists
You can still find your traditional Andalusian red gazpacho on menus around town. But even at authentic Spanish establishments like Modesto on The Hill, the back – and front – of the house likes variety. “In Barcelona you drink it, so we would put a fino sherry in ours,” said executive chef Grace Dinsmoor. Or enjoy gazpacho with tequila, also known as a Bloody Maria or Sangrita. “We also did raw oyster shots with red gazpacho and added some kick to it with a spicy Spanish pepper.” In the spring, Dinsmoor makes the Spanish Lenten favorite salmorejo, a gazpacho-esque dish thickened with bread and garnished with Serrano ham and hard-boiled eggs. “We’re kinda nuts with our gazpacho,” she said.