I'm a lucky girl. Lynn Becnel, my co-worker and an excellent cook, often shares fresh lemons from her trees, rosemary and basil from her garden, and even the bounty that others have brought to her from their gardens. Recently, I left work with bags of okra, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers she'd brought from a gardner friend with a bumper crop. And when I see fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and it's hotter than hades outside, I think gazpacho. This recipe started out as soup, but when I tasted the vegetables, before adding the tomato juice that would become the "broth," I stopped tinkering. It was good. It tasted like a handful of garden--who was I to cover up all that gorgeous flavor? So gazpacho salsa was born.
This is a base for a very standard, Americanized gazpacho that's been popular since the 70s. Traditionally, a true Spanish gazpacho will contain pulverized bread, but I didn't include that--that's one of the reasons it works as a salsa. There are a couple of extra steps I like to take with the vegetables, though, to refine the finished texture: peel and seed the tomatoes, and seed the cucumbers--what I like to call vegetable grooming. It's not as difficult as it sounds, and you get a little more playtime with those extra-cute summer veggies. I peel the tomatoes to reduce the chewiness of the salsa, and I seed both the tomatoes and cucumbers to eliminate bitter seed flavors and that kernel-crunching effect that too many seeds can produce. These are definitely optional steps, however, and if they seem too fussy, don't let them prevent you from making a batch of salsa. It will still be divine and worth the effort.
To peel tomatoes: Set a pot of water on the stove over high heat, bringing the water to a boil. Have sitting nearby a large bowl of cold water with some ice cubes in it (you want it really cold to shock the tomatoes). While you're waiting, cut a shallow "X" in the bottom of each tomato--this is to split the skin and give the tomato a head start in peeling itself. When the water boils, gently lower each tomato into the pot (I use sturdy tongs for this). Let the tomatoes boil for about two minutes, then turn the heat off and carefully remove them with tongs straight into the ice water bath. After a minute or so, the peels should start to curl away, making it extremely easy to slip the skins off the tomatoes and get on with the chopping. Be careful, though--the tomatoes could still be really hot! To seed them, simply cut the inner sections of the tomatoes away and discard--the seeds will be attached to the jellyish part of the inner flesh.
Next, seeding cucumbers: Peel the cucumbers while they're still whole, if desired. Slice each cucumber lengthwise, then take a small tablespoon (metal is more effective than plastic) and scoop the seeds out. That's it! Easy.
We ate this salsa for over a week, on everything we could think of. My two favorite uses, however, were the simplest: with fresh, homemade tortilla chips, and with a simple cheese quesadilla. Made with a good sharp cheddar and lots of butter, the cheese quesadilla is the perfect oozy foil for the bright crunchiness of this salsa. It's snacking taken to a higher level.
Note: A food processor will create a nice amount of vegetable juice for the salsa, and shorten the workload considerably. But if you prefer not to process, just keep some of the juicy tomato parts so the salsa isn't too dry.
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 1 purple onion
- 3 smallish cucumbers, seeded
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded
- 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded if desired (more seeds = more heat)
- 3 to 6 cloves garlic, according to how garlicky you want it
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
- salt and pepper to taste
- minced fresh cilantro (optional)
- Cut the tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, bell peppers, and jalapeno into chunks, roughly 1 1/1" square.
- In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the cucumbers and garlic together several times, until chopped finely. Remove to a large bowl.
- Pulse the onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno together finely, then remove to the bowl.
- Pulse the tomatoes until chopped and juicy, then remove to the bowl.
- Add olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and optional cilantro to the vegetables. Taste, adjust seasonings, and let sit in refrigerator for several hours to develop the flavors.
Makes about 4 cups.
Notes: I like to group the vegetables according to their hardnesses when I process them, to avoid mixed textures. For instance, if soft tomatoes are processed along with hard onion, you might end up with tomato soup and big onion chunks that still haven't broken down instead of a more consistently textured chop. But if you want a smoothly pureed salsa, you can certainly process the vegetables in any combination.