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It’s about time for a lighthearted post, and I have just the thing. Food!

Specifically, my mama’s gazpacho recipe. This is one of those foods which will forever be associated with summer for me, since it was one of my mother’s favorite things to make for picnic suppers. She would make up a huge batch and bring it to the pool, setting it out on the wire patio tables in an enormous pottery bowl. Crusty bread was a must, the obligatory green salad, and beer for the grownups. We would usually be meeting up with another family, and the grownups would be carrying on with grownup things while the kids did kid things and argued that we could totally go back in the water even though we just ate. I can’t tell you how much I treasure the memory of those lazy summer evenings, running around the pool, in the pool, or in the grass along the treeline behind the tennis courts where we knew the best spots to find blackberries and honeysuckle. Gazpacho has become a summery comfort food, reminiscent of those firefly-chasing, barefeet-in-the-grass, chlorine-laden nights.

The ironic part is, I hated gazpacho. Detested. I thought the idea of cold soup was hideous, and I was fairly certain that my mother had radically misunderstood a recipe she read somewhere for (hot) tomato soup. In fact, I had a very strong suspicion that she was making the whole thing up, which would explain the crazy-sounding “gazpacho” name in the first place. Nasty, nasty stuff. I groaned every time I heard that was the dish of choice for the evening. I really thought it was one of the most disgusting things on the planet, truly and honestly.

I’m not entirely sure when I changed my mind about the stuff, but the first time I remember making it was right after I moved to New Orleans. At the time, I was living in a house without central air, only window units. The unit in the kitchen, bless its little heart, wasn’t strong enough to overpower the heat of the oven, and so I was left with the options of either cooking all of my meals in the wee hours of the morning when the summer heat slightly lessened, or finding foods which didn’t involve the oven. I made gallons of gazpacho. It was delicious. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gazpacho Ingredients This recipe is my mother’s recipe, with a few tweaks. Most of the things I have changed are actually things she does anyway, but when she writes down the recipe she puts down the original version and then verbally reminds you of all of the things she does differently. I consider myself lucky that she writes anything down at all, as one of my favorite stories she tells about her father is when she tried to get him to write down his recipes for her. It ends with her endless frustration at his inability to quantify how much salt that was, or how much sugar went in that. The tendency to vagueness in recipes is, apparently, genetic.

The only thing I have really added is cilantro. Have I mentioned that up until a few years ago, I thought cilantro was a horribly nasty herb created to make things taste like soap and ruin perfectly good salsa? Yeah. Anyway, I love cilantro now, so I have added it to this soup. If you leave it out, it’ll be fine and the anti-cilantro people will be grateful they don’t have to eat something that tastes nasty. Assuming they are down with cold soup in the first place, of course.

(Mostly) Mama’s Gazpacho
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized green pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized red pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
l large onion, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, unchopped (roughly — I admit it, I didn’t measure. It was a handful. See: Granddaddy.)
32 oz V8 juice (or similar vegetable cocktail)
ΒΌ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

In a food processor, pulse the cucumbers until they are finely chopped. Don’t overdo it! You want them to have a good texture. Transfer them into a large bowl, and then process the tomatoes in the same way. Continue with the peppers, and finally the onions, garlic and cilantro all together. (You can do these batches in any permutation, this is just what worked best for me and my processor.)

In the end, you’ll have a bowl of little chopped up bits of veggies (as pictured to left). Add the red wine vinegar and the salt. Now add in the V8 juice until you get the consistency of soup that makes you happiest.

(My mother’s notes say: Here you can whisk in 4 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon tomato paste. I do not. Since she does not, I do not either, but I figured it was worth mentioning.)

Cover the bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, whisk or stir the soup lightly to recombine it. Ladle into large chilled tureen or individual soup plates. Top with croutons, bagel chips or bagel croutons, or finely chopped peppers or cucumbers.

Optional: Take to pool. Torture long-suffering daughter by serving. Enjoy!

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