I quickly discovered the importance of balancing my spice blends, tempering a fiery patch of peppers with a cooling dollop of sour cream. Before long, I was perfecting dishes. Gazpacho was one of the first. The cold tomato soup provided a great way to learn the subtleties of fresh ingredients and how they can make, or break a meal. A seemingly benign cucumber, for instance, can practically poison a recipe; red onions, if not used judiciously or if used so much as an hour past their prime, can likewise befoul a dish and sentence it to the compost bin. Gazpacho empowered me to follow my instincts. I began to improvise with varying degrees of success. Not all of my experiments yielded tasty, or even edible results. To this day my former housemate Margo will not let me forget my disastrous orange chili chicken. Comparing its flavor to, and I quote directly, "a vomit patch" she blames that meal for putting her off of what she now generalizes as the "meat-fruit-nut combo" dishes.
If TexMex foods were all the rage when I was carving out my kitchen's niche, then vodka was the beverage of choice. Drinking vodka became as much about stylist choice as it was about taste, a trend established by the distiller Absolut. Absolut Vodka ads were everywhere in the mid and late 1980s. The era was all but defined by the images for the company by artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.
Unlike my trial-and-errors with south-of-the-border recipes, my experiments with vodka are probably best left for chronicling elsewhere. But this is one that's safe to share: I've always had a strong urge to wed my early love of vodka with my gazpacho recipe.
I'd always thought a Bloody Mary could practically be served in a bowl, anyway, and wasn't gazpacho really just the unleaded version of the classic cocktail? Well, as I discovered when I attempted to create a gazpacho shooter for an upcoming brunch, the answer is no. The cucumber, once again, is the wild card, as is any chili pepper that you decide to use.
So after a few wretched batches, and one wicked mid-day hangover, I hit upon a recipe for Gazpacho Shooters. Enjoy responsibly, please, and ask if you have any questions.
For the soup...
1 can whole peeled tomatoes in juice (28 oz)
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
half a medium-sized cucumber, peeled and sliced into rounds
juice of 1 lime
2 strips of fresh jalapeno, sliced lengthwise
1 cup vodka
2 to 4 TBS lemon-thyme syrup (see Gobs Gone Wild post on this blog)
kosher salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper
chives for "straw" garnish
1. Pour vodka into a shallow bowl or baking dish. Do not use plastic as it will sully the flavor. Place lemon slices and cucumber slices in vodka. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours.
2. Puree tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Add cucumbers from vodka and puree with tomatoes until smooth. Squeeze lemon slices into tomato and cucumber mix. Puree well.
3. Add at least two tablespoons of the lemon thyme syrup to tomato mixture and puree again. Starting with one tablespoon of lime juice, begin to balance out the flavor. You might find that you want to add more sweetener. (I usually put a bit of strained honey into my gazpacho.) The lime will counter the lemon nicely. Add the lime juice to your taste, but puree after each additional seasoning. (SEE NOTES BELOW.)
4. Add two or three healthy dashes of Tabasco to the soup and puree well again.
5. Using a funnel and a ladle, pour into individual shot glasses, top with cracked pepper and serve with a "straw" of fresh chive.
NOTES: The vodka in the gazpacho was almost overpowering on my first three attempts. If I'd just been a little more patient I would have discovered that with some extra pureeing - and a bit of time - the flavors would meld together wonderfully. Don't give up on this if at first it tastes too strong, or if the flavors seem disproportionate. Balance it to your liking with the lime and the lemon-thyme syrup. And then let it sit for at least ten minutes in your fridge. Taste it again. It will come together on its own. I used canned tomatoes here just because the fresh are still a little too unpredictable. Choose a cucumber that is medium sized and hopefully not seedy and pithy. Also, if the jalapeno smells the least bit acrid when you slice into it, don't use it!