Soup. Especially blended soup. Is there anything more boring? A bunch of vegetables, boiled to death and pureed. Soup takes the joy out of eating. Non-soup meals have distinct flavors and smells and smooth, creamy, and crunchy textures, whereas soup, for the most part, is one temperature, one texture, and an amalgamation of flavors that generally taste a better when not beaten into each other.
(That said, I do like beet and celery soup.)
Non-blended soups have a bit more promise. I like tom-yum soup, and other, similar herby, brothy soups. I like thick curries with vegetables bobbing around. I dislike minestrone soup, where both the pasta and vegetables are generally mushy and/or chalky (peas in minestrone soup? chalky).
I’m talking so long about soup because I joined an online cooking-book club, called This Book Makes Me Cook, where every month we read a book and make a dish inspired by it. This month’s book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and it inspired me to make soup. Gazpacho soup. A soup that some (my husband) may argue is more of a salad.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is an epistolary novel set in 1946 about an author, Juliet, who starts communicating with a group of people from The Channel Islands, a British Territory occupied by Germany during World War II. The members of this group write to her about how their book club inspired hope and joy and friendship and learning under the bleak period of German occupation. Juliet writes back with questions and they talk about various shared loves.
I didn’t enjoy the book because I found the characters’ voices irritating. Every letter was a bit too charming or touching or sad or sweet. I wanted to like the book but I just ended up annoyed, and then annoyed that I was annoyed.
However, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society did inspire me to make soup…sort of. The book hadn’t mentioned much food, except a hidden, roasted pig, and a pie made from potato peels. Basically, food was extremely difficult to come by due to the German Occupation on the Island. Hrishikesh mentioned that the book he’s reading, M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, is about cooking during World War II; I decided to look through that for other recipes the Gurensey society “might” have cooked, and in addition to enjoying Fisher’s prose, I found a recipe for wartime Gazpacho. Simply: mashed tomatoes, herbs, garlic, lemon and oil, pounded together, a sprinkling of bread crumbs to thicken the soup into a meal, and the addition of chopped bell pepper, onion, and cucumber.
I tinkered with it a bit, consulting Alice Water’s recipe also, and in the end settled on a soup that was more of, as Alice says, a “liquid salad.” That is, a bouquet of fresh flavors and textures, bright and pretty, resting in a puddle of tomato juice. In this gazpacho, it’s possible to taste the fine, fruity olive oil, the additions of sweet yellow corn and bursts of cherry tomatoes, and a tangle of herbs, in each heaping spoonful.
Gazpacho is obviously perfect for summer, and versatile- I omitted cucumber and added corn. It’s delicious, and I’d love to make it again, even though it is soup.
1 pound tomatoes, halved horizontally
4 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 cup slivered basil
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Indian limes)
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Over a bowl, grate the cut sides of the tomatoes on the medium holes of a grater until only the skin is left. Discard the skin. If you would like the remove the seeds, pass the pulp through a strainer (I didn’t remove the seeds).
2. In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, lemon juice, a tablespoon each of parsley and basil, salt, and a dribble of olive oil.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix together the tomato pulp and breadcrumbs. Then mix in the pounded garlic/herb/lemon juice, and the rest of the olive oil. Finally, add the bell peppers, green onions, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, basil and parsley to the tomato pulp, mix well, and taste for salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.