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Salmorejo has a creamy red look and a body that jiggles like sea foam.

My first kitchen job involved making six gallons of gazpacho every Sunday. This was back when earning your chops meant something, and making that whole batch with just a knife and peeler, no blender, was the most tedious task on my list. It was also the most popular dish on the menu. By the time I’d learned that recipe — straight out of the “Moosewood Cookbook” — by heart, I figured I knew everything there was to know about cold Spanish soups.

When I finally made it to Spain, reality set in on many levels. Sangria, it turns out, is just for tourists, while the locals drink a mix of red wine and Sprite called tinto de verano.

Spanish gazpacho, meanwhile, is a lot smoother than my chunky hippie version. And because it’s so involved to make, with an entire garden’s worth of vegetables to prepare, gazpacho is often reserved for special occasions.

When the average Spaniard wants to whip up a quick cold soup at home, or have a chilled bowl at the local bar, it’s much more likely to be salmorejo.

Just tomatoes, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt and bread crumbs, a much pared-down cast compared to gazpacho, in salmorejo we are free to focus all of our attention on the tomato.

It has a creamy red look, and a body that jiggles like sea foam thanks to the emulsion among tomato, oil and vinegar, and thickened by the tomato-soaked bread. Some recipes call for the “guts” of a baguette; I’ve also had good luck cutting the edges off a slice of bread — usually white but whole grain adds a fun heartiness once in a while.

High-acid, normal-looking red tomatoes are traditionally used, but some of my best batches have been mutts, medleys of whatever heirlooms, slicers, cherry and paste tomatoes are getting too soft for salad.

I was in Spain when COVID-19 hit. On the last afternoon before the lockdown, it didn’t quite seem real. In Lanjaron, a cute mountain village in Andalusia, it was business and leisure as usual. I ducked into a cafe just ahead of a tour bus and ordered a bowl of salmorejo. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that bowl of salmorejo would be my last taste of normalcy for months, not to mention my last restaurant meal.

Here is a boilerplate salmorejo recipe. Tweak it to suit your own whims and tastes — but only adjust the levels of the called-for ingredients.


Serves 4

• 2 pounds tomatoes

• 1/2 cup “bread guts” — roughly a slice of bread with the crust cut off

• 1 modest sized clove garlic, chopped

• 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (more to taste if your tomatoes are low-acid)

• ½ teaspoon salt + more to taste

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• Garnish: hard boiled egg, chopped ham, olive oil, parsley, chives

Boil a pot of salted water deep enough to submerge your tomatoes.

While the water heats, cut a cross into the bottom of each tomato to slice the skins. Then chop the bread.

Boil the tomatoes in the water for about 2 minutes, then immediately plunge them into an ice bath until they are completely cool. Remove the tomatoes and pull off the skins. If you want to go the extra mile, cut open the tomatoes and remove the seeds. (And if you want to slack, you can skip peeling the tomatoes).

Liquefy the tomatoes in a blender for about 30 seconds. Add the bread and liquefy again. Let the blended bread sit for about 5 minutes in the blended tomatoes.

Add the garlic, salt, vinegar and oil. Blend on high for a minute. Check seasonings; blend again if you made any adjustments.

Chill. Garnish with chopped hard boiled egg and jamon if you want to be traditional. More casually, a simple splash of olive oil or sprinkle of fresh parsley will complete the dish.

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