Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho!

I spent a couple hours yesterday with the grill fired up, cooking up all those veggies I'd bought. I tend to use the two-level fire technique, where all the charcoal is piled up on one side of the grill, and my food is on the other side, where it can roast more slowly instead of charring over the flame. Putting the lid on with the vent holes over the food directs the flavorful smoke over the food on its way out of the grill. (Again--I acknowledge there may be hazards to eating smoked, grilled, or charred food. I hope I only do it in moderation.)

First was the yellow and green squash; then the green and purple green beans (purple green beans turn...green...when cooked); cremini mushrooms; red onions; a fennel bulb; red bell pepper; poblano pepper; asparagus spears; grape tomatoes.

Wow: grape tomatoes are magical on the grill: they wilt and soften, and their flavor concentrates stunningly, like something between a sun-dried tomato and fresh ripe one. It was all I could do to stop myself from eating the whole batch like candy. I think April has this problem with grape tomatoes from time to time....

A note about the poblano peppers: I used a technique of blackening them on the grill, putting then in a paper bag to steam, then peeling the waxy skin off and removing the crown and seeds inside (see the picture for an example of a blackened pepper ready to be peeled). What you are left with is a lovely, soft roasted dark-green pepper with mild heat and great smoky flavor, but no bitter skin. You can do this over the flame on your stove too, but the grill made super-quick work of it. Grind up one of these into your next fresh salsa--it's your new secret salsa weapon.

Now on to the soup:

To me, standard gazpacho is wonderful, featuring all the flavors of vegetables fresh from the garden. But I was dreaming of a deeply red, smoky, slightly sweet tomato-based gazpacho with assertively developed flavors from the grill--flavors that would remain prominent even in a soup served cold.

The grill flavor was done: I would use all those vegetables I'd just roasted last night. I didn't just want those rich, concentrated grilled vegetable bits to float listlessly in canned tomato juice. But I did want the bright acidity of tomato juice--and not, as per my usual gazpacho base--V8, which includes vegetal flavors I didn't envision in this recipe.

I borrowed the standard technique for making hot pureed soups, starting with 2 cups of room-temperature tomato juice in the blender. In went the smokiest--and sweetest--grilled vegetables: poblano peppers, red bell peppers, onions, fennel, and those amazing reduced grape tomatoes.

The resulting puree was a gorgeous, burnished red with tiny flecks of black from the grilled vegetables. The flavor was smoky, sweet, and rich--exactly what I wanted, but too concentrated. And it still wanted a little something more...

I took care of the concentrated flavor simply by adding two more cups of tomato juice. I decided on a tablespoon each of Worcestershire and soy sauce. The soy added complex salt, and together with the Worcestershire, provided a hit of umami that really brought out the depth of the smoke flavors. I had my base soup!

All that remained was the addition of the veggies that would provide something to chew on. I added diced yellow and green grilled squash, diced grilled fennel, and a fresh cucumber for a bright hit of green among all the burnished dark flavors. I just love sweet corn, so I tossed in a cup of frozen grilled corn from Trader Joe's, adding crunchy sweet nuggets and a bit of carbohydrate that, if you wanted fewer calories, you could leave out without sacrificing much flavor. Perfection!

And at just 100 calories a cup, I could afford to eat the whole 7-cup batch if I wanted too and still have more than half my day's calories left! (But I think I'll savor this masterpiece in smaller more frequent servings!)


Sara said...

That sounds totally yummy!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful idea! It sounds delicious.

April said...

You're such a tease. You write, then you disappear again.

How about just a little hello now and then?


Calyb said...


I am just back myself and glad to see you are too. Catching up a bit on people's blogs. Good work!
Keep in touch!

April said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your comment on my blog. glad to know you're still out there! We'd love it if you'd write, no matter what you're eating!