Friday, August 30, 2013

Watermelon Gazpacho

Last Year's Post: Char Siu Chicken with Chinese Long Beans

I realize it's nearly the end of summer, but it's still hot and it feels like the middle of summer so why not keep the summer theme going?  It's way too early to switch to heavier fall foods anyway.  In that spirit, I was motivated to make a Watermelon Gazpacho after a recent trip to Washington State with our Gourmet Club buddies.  At one dinner, half of the 6 people ordered watermelon gazpacho as a starter.  To a person, their first reaction was "whoa!" after one spoonful because it was quite spicy which had not been mentioned on the menu (sneaky chef trick).  Everyone really liked it, especially The Lawyer, so one of my first projects after coming home was to replicate the soup.

I initially thought this recipe looked really fast and easy because how hard can it be to cut up a few things and throw them in a blender?  The reality turned out to be slightly different.  First I had to figure out how to cut up a whole watermelon.  I finally decided to cut it in half, cut each half into slices, cut the rind off each slice, and then cut the flesh into cubes.  I discovered that a smallish watermelon is more than adequate to make 8 cups of watermelon cubes.

The second issue was that I decided to use my blender (instead of a food processor) and it took four different batches to get all the ingredients pureed.  Again not a big deal, but I hadn't really thought that part through.  I would suggest using whatever appliance you have with the largest capacity, but don't fill it completely full or it won't work properly.

The final decision requiring extra time was that I decided to strain the soup to make it clear and pretty like the restaurant version.  You certainly don't have to do this - you'll actually have more soup if you leave the pureed flesh in - but I was going for pretty.  In addition, I wanted to illustrate the idea that if you strain the soup you can actually use it as a very tasty cocktail with the addition of a little vodka.  To strain it, you pour it through a fine mesh strainer and push on the pulp with a spatula or spoon to work it through faster.  Again, I used a fairly small strainer so this had to be repeated quite a few times to get it all through.

I don't want to make this sound like a really huge deal - it probably took maybe half an hour - but it was hot in the kitchen and I had expected it was going to take maybe 5 minutes. (After re-reading that last part it really sounds like whining.  I'll stop.) It's all about managing expectations.  The good news is that you can prepare it early in the day since it needs to chill before serving.

The gazpacho makes an excellent cold starter for dinner, a great lunch with a sandwich or salad on the side, or a really outstanding and different cocktail as I mentioned. This recipe is not sweet, but if you want to make it sweeter you could add a little honey in addition to or in place of the vinegar.  You can also vary the amount of heat by adding more or less jalapeno, or none at all.  The version we had in the restaurant was somewhat sweet and quite spicy, which was a really interesting combination.  However you adjust the recipe, the watermelon and cucumber combination will be very refreshing.

Watermelon Gazpacho
Watermelon Gazpacho
Serves 4-6

Note: I used one jalapeno without seeds and it had a very low spice level.

8 cups watermelon, seeds removed
1 ½ cup cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Lime slices, for garnish (optional)
Mint for garnish (optional)
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor in batches (no more than half full) and puree.  If desired, pour the soup through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids with a spatula or spoon to extract the maximum amount of liquid (again, you’ll need to do this in several batches).  Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with lime or mint (optional).

*Add as much jalapeno as you like, depending on your spice preference and the spiciness of your pepper. If you want extra spice, you can also add the seeds, which are more potent than the green flesh of the pepper.

No comments: