Sometimes the meaning of a dish changes in an instant and you realize that something you used to dislike is not so bad after all. Perhaps you were avoiding something because you thought you’d hate it, but you never actually tried it, you never gave it a chance to please or repulse you. Tomato soup was that food for me. I used to grimace just at the thought of it. They used to serve it as school lunch in my elementary school cafeteria. Tomato soup with grilled cheese. The quintessential American food: canned, condensed tomato soup served with toasted white bread and gooey American cheese. Considered a comfort food, I couldn’t understand why kids would get all excited to slurp up the blood-red liquid. I refused to taste it; I thought I wouldn’t like it. Like the kids who made fun of the Argentine pascualina I would take as a sack lunch, I turned up my nose at tomato soup. Later, in college, I took a student job washing pots and pans in a cafeteria. The worst part of the gig was cleaning out the tomato soup vat. The smell was nauseating. It reminded me of the fraught, elementary school cafeteria. And still, I refused to taste tomato soup.
All of that changed when my husband made a batch of tomato soup last year. To him, tomato soup simply represented a new recipe that seemed healthy and easy to make. As soon as I tasted it, its meaning changed. It was delicious! I loved how velvety smooth it felt, and the crispy grilled cheese offered an exciting contrast in texture. It was much more filling than I thought it would be and, turns out, it’s a comforting dish for me because I never have to make it. It’s something my husband makes for us, one of his specialties. In the dead of winter, on a cold night, to be presented with a bowl of preserved sunshine is quite a delight.
Where I live now, in Germany, it’s the height of summer, not tomato soup season per se. It would be such a folly not to take advantage of tomatoes when they are fresh, right off the vine! Today, I will share two tomato soup recipes, one for my friends and family in the Southern Hemisphere, for whom July means winter, and one for my friends and family in the Northern Hemisphere, for whom July represents summer. Tomato soup and gazpacho.
Gazpacho, cold tomato soup, is another dish that changed in meaning for me. Gazpacho always sounded so fancy to me. When I say it out loud, I imagine a flamenco dancer and the sound of castanets, but it’s incredibly simple to make, and the only potentially fancy thing about it is the vessel you choose to serve it in. Originally from Andalusia in Southern Spain but made with ingredients brought from The New World in the 16th century, gazpacho is an iconic summer dish. Unlike tomato soup, made primarily of canned tomatoes, gazpacho is a blend of raw cucumber, bell pepper, and tomatoes. The recipe I use is from an old postcard I found in Madrid. I’ve tried other recipes online, claiming to be the “ultimate” or the “best-ever” gazpacho recipe, but nothing does it for me like the simple postcard recipe. It’s salty, tangy, and refreshing, exactly what I crave after a run in the sun.
For those of you, like me, who have avoided cold or hot tomato soup because they sound a little weird to you, I get it. But it turns out they are tasty and easy to make at home, and both are quick and easy salves, either for a cold, winter night or a hot, summer day. But you’ll never know until you give them a try.
Winter Tomato Soup
Adapted from Vegan for Everybody
Makes four generous servings or six small bowls
- Plenty of olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 800 gr. (28-ounce) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
- 3 slices of stale bread, crust removed
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. Sautee the onion until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and pepper flakes, stir for a minute until fragrant. Pour in the canned, whole tomatoes. You can either smash them up in your hands as you pour them in (it’s messy but fun!) or you can use a potato masher to mash them a bit once inside the pot. Add the bread and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about five minutes, stirring now and then. Once the bread is soaked and breaking down, remove the pot from the heat.
- Pour in four tablespoons of olive oil. Though it may look like a lot, it adds to the creaminess of the soup. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, puree the soup until perfectly smooth. Don’t be shy with your noisy contraption, the longer you blend the smoother the soup will be.
- Place the soup back on the stove, add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and/or serve with grilled cheese.
- This soup also tastes great with a basil infusion. In step one, when you add the canned tomato to the pot, throw in a few whole stems of basil with all leaves intact. Before blending the soup, remove the basil stems and leaves.
- For a quick grilled cheese: butter both sides of two pieces of bread with salted butter. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat and toast one side of the bread until golden. Flip and place slices of your favorite, melty cheese on top while the other side toasts. Smoosh together and enjoy.
Summer Tomato Soup, Gazpacho
Makes four servings
- 500 gr. (1 lb.) fresh tomatoes
- 1 small cucumber, peeled
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 slice stale bread, torn into pieces
- 100 ml olive oil (a little less than ½ cup)
- 3 tablespoons distilled vinegar
- A splash of water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Roughly chop all of your vegetables and throw them into a blender. Toss in all of the remaining ingredients.
- Start by pulsing the mixture, carefully breaking everything down, then blend the heck out of it until smooth. Add water as needed to reach desired consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator before serving. Or blend in ice cubes instead of water to enjoy immediately.