Tag Archives: avocado

Gazpacho Galore

It’s 102 degrees out — or it was the last time I checked, which was at 11:30 this morning. With a massive July heatwave affecting at least half of the lower 48, one’s thoughts naturally turn toward any kind of food that requires no cooking. Thank God for gazpacho.

My kitchen counter is overflowing with tomatoes this summer. Time for gazpacho!

Because it’s July, I also have a bumper crop of tomatoes in my garden which need to be eaten in copious quantities on a daily basis before they rot on the kitchen counter. I could, of course, also slice them and put them outside to sun-dry so that I can relish in their intense flavors when the snow begins to fly, but, honestly, I don’t want to go out there. It’s too hot, even for this Florida girl.

Gazpacho is, of course, so easy to make that I am embarrassed to bring it up at all, but I have learned that sometimes the simplest recipes are the ones that people are afraid to make. A basic gazpacho requires no more than a blender and a lot of tomatoes — you can pretty much do anything you want with it at that point. You’ll also see fancy bistros touting dishes like White Grape Gazpacho on their sidewalk chalkboards, so, if you’re so inclined, go ahead and experiment.

On the left, golden pear tomatoes in the blender; on the right, a variety of red tomatoes pulsed into submission.

However, tomatoes are generally cheap and plentiful this time of year, not to mention incredibly flavorful and refreshing on a seriously hot day. There are basically two types of gazpacho — chunky or smooth, rather like peanut butter. The chunky version is generally tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers (and salt and pepper), pulsed in a blender to a loosely chunky consistency. Just chop ’em up and throw them in, skins, seeds, and all.

I call this my Bloody Mary Gazpacho, which I made with red tomatoes, celery, and cucumber and a touch of Tabasco. Topped with a chunky celery leaf guacamole and cucumbers that were briefly marinated in apple cider vinegar.

The smooth version is pretty much the same, only blended to a smooth consistency and then strained through a sieve. I personally like to make the smooth version, because it makes a lovely cold soup to which I can then choose to add more chopped veggies, including tomatoes, cukes, and zucchini, as well as chopped fresh herbs such as basil, dill, parsley, or oregano. It’s a nice touch to add a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt to serve as a creamy yet tart counterpoint to the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Yellow Tomato Gazpacho, inspired by the amazing version at Busboys and Poets, one of my favorite DC restaurants. I kept the soup simple and focused on the sweetness of the yellow tomatoes, then topped it with chopped avocado and a spoonful of labne (a Middle Eastern thickened yogurt).

You’ll want to let the gazpacho chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving; it’s so easy to make that you can blend it up before work — or going to the pool — and then enjoy its lovely refreshing coolness when you get home. A perfect pick-me-up when you are soggy and wilted from an overdose of global warming.

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A Big Salad for Big Papi

This Cobb Salad is almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

When the weather gets hot around here, as it usually does in DC during the summer, my family often requests the Big Salad for dinner. A Big Salad is, of course, a perfect summer meal, since it doesn’t require heating up the kitchen and you can pretty much throw anything you want into it. It is the summertime version of a casserole — all the little leftovers that are taking up space in your refrigerator can generally take up residence in a Big Salad just as you might use them up in a casserole: half a cup of shredded carrots, that Tupperware container that still has a few spoonfuls of tuna salad, a handful of toasted pine nuts, and so forth.

Last night was the Home Run Derby, and through a roundabout route, I was inspired to make a salad to accompany this annual slugfest that takes place the night before the All-Star Game. I am a baseball fan; my dad is from Connecticut and raised me right — meaning that I follow the Red Sox. My husband and I were Baltimore Orioles fans for several years (okay, I admit that I rooted for Boston when they came to town) and had season tickets for all the Sunday games, but Cal Ripken’s retirement and the constant internal turmoil caused by owner Peter Angelos finally wore us out.

We tried being Washington Nationals fans after DC finally got a team, but, honestly, they make it really hard to enjoy watching their games. Another error, another half-hearted run to first base, another phenom pitcher who doesn’t live up to the hype. The stadium vendors wear shirts that say “Eating is not a spectator sport” — likely referring to the fact that a lot of fans seem to spend more time lined up for half-smokes at the Ben’s Chili Bowl stand than actually watching the game — but, at Nationals Park, I’m not convinced that even the players would agree.

The Big Salad of choice last night was a classic Cobb Salad. Hopefully some of you have already made the connection between the Home Run Derby and what is often called the “quintessential American salad”, but here’s how my brain got there for those who are scratching their heads:

Home Run Derby = Anaheim (where it was held this year) = California = Hollywood = Brown Derby Restaurant = Cobb Salad.

The Brown Derby Restaurant, early 1960s. Photograph by Chalmers Butterfield.

The Cobb Salad was the signature dish of the Brown Derby Restaurant, a landmark of Hollywood during its glory days from the 1930s through the 50s. Sadly, the original restaurant is gone, but the salad still remains as a truly American creation, rumored to have been dished up out of bits and pieces from the kitchen by owner Robert Cobb in 1937 as a late-night snack for famed movie theater owner Sid Grauman. It features cold chicken, crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes and avocado, and sometimes includes crumbled blue cheese and chopped black olives. I chose to make the classic version which includes a really wonderful blue cheese dressing made with a red wine vinegar base.

Not unlike a good baseball game, the key to the Cobb is layers. When you order it in a restaurant, it should arrive with each ingredient lined up across a bed of lettuce. You can then choose to mix it all up together or savor each flavor independently. A Cobb Salad is a team of individuals — together they can form a perfect amalgamation of flavors, but they can also each stand alone if necessary, supporting each other and enhancing the overall result. A classic salad is the perfect metaphor for really good baseball.

Big Papi encourages Ramirez to cool off in between swings at the Home Run Derby. Of course, it may have just been a diversionary tactic — if it was, it worked.

Last night’s Home Run Derby was a big night for Big Papi — David Ortiz, the 34-year-old designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz had a tough season in 2009 and people had pretty much written him off for this year, but he seems to be back in form, with 18 homers so far this season and 57 RBIs; he became the first Boston player to win the Derby, hitting 32 long balls in Angel Stadium. The best part of the Derby, however, was probably the display between Ortiz and his closest rival of the night, Hanley Ramirez, a 26-year-old fellow Dominican who was briefly with the Red Sox before being traded to the Florida Marlins. He openly considers Ortiz to be his mentor and their supportive relationship was clearly evident as they cheered each other on during their at-bats. If the Red Sox and the Marlins were to square up against each other in a World Series, there is no doubt that Ortiz and Ramirez would be fierce competitors, but they’d probably go out together for a salad afterwards.

We generally don’t think of avocado and chicken as ingredients that fit together and they rarely share the same plate other than when part of a Mexican menu. But, somehow, within the confines of the Cobb Salad, they are logical, even perfect, companions, the mild flavor of the chicken balanced against the subtle nuttiness of the avocado. Add in the smokiness of the bacon, the sweet tang of tomato, and the sharp bite of the blue cheese, and you have a group of individual flavors that should not fit together in a logical way, yet add up to a mouthful of Utopian delight. If you have ever loved the Red Sox, or the Cubs, or the Mets — have a Cobb. It’ll make perfect sense to you.

Here’s a link for the perfect Cobb Salad recipe — it takes a little time to assemble but is worth the effort.

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