Some memories are like hazy dreams, but tastes and aromas are unforgettable, like the smell of salted ripe tomatoes. Something magical happens when salt is sprinkled over slices of tomatoes, especially if they are nice and ripe. It takes me right back to my childhood in Iran. I see my grandmother Nina in her favorite apron standing at a white wooden table facing a big sun-drenched window in the basement. There is a mountain of plump red tomatoes stacked near one of those old hand-cranked food mills and rows of glass jars shimmering in the sunlight. Every summer, my grandmother would preserve fresh tomatoes the old fashioned way so we could enjoy them through the long snowy winter.
We left those long winters behind when we moved to California where fresh produce is plentiful year-round. Small grocers in our little town carry fruits and vegetables from local farms. We’re happy to support family businesses and our farmers. The really good stuff is usually somewhere near the cash register. Berries, pluots, and a big box of luscious, fire-engine-red field tomatoes or դաշտի լոլիկ (dashti lolig as they’re called in Armenian). They look so pretty that it’s hard to believe they’re real. While waiting for my turn to pay for my groceries, I pick one up. Then another one winks at me. So I pick him up, too, and another and another, as many as I can carry. What I’m going to do with them is a mystery, of course. Maybe they’ll get stuffed or maybe get tossed into panzanella. It’s not until I see the tomatillos and dive out of line, fumbling like a clumsy circus clown to grab a few that the question “What are we having for dinner tonight?” finally gets an answer. Refreshing and ready in minutes, gazpacho is exactly what this hot, humid weather demands. Plus, those juicy tomatoes will do nicely the perfect sidekick in the form of a bruschetta.
As I became more interested in cooking over the years, I discovered the tomato’s cute, green look-alike that’s a staple in the Mexican kitchen: The tomatillo. This little guy wants you to believe it’s a tomato with a superhero cape, but is technically unrelated to its red counterpart. They may not be family, but they certainly get along famously and are often paired in traditional salsas. Expanding on that idea, a meal-size portion of gazpacho would do nicely. The subtle tart taste of the tomatillo highlights the tomato’s sweetness beautifully. Put your blender to work and whip up a creamy batch with tomatillos and avocados. Offered with crusty bread topped with luscious salted tomatoes, this chilled soup is a soothing treat everyone craves at the end of a long, hot day.
Make it vegan. Make it vegetarian.The men will ask, “Where’s the beef?” Frozen cooked, peeled shrimp add just the right amount of protein and flavor. Smooth cannellini beans are a great meatless option. Whether you roast the tomatillos or not, this gazpacho promises to please. The only things I cooked were the leeks and garlic. Everything else went into the mix in fresh form and the results were stellar.
Tomatillo Gazpacho with Salted Tomato Bruschetta
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
2 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
1 cup ice
Collect in a bowl and sprinkle salt over the top.
Gently stir with a spoon to coat the tomato well with the salt.
Drizzle some olive oil into a pan and place it over medium heat.
Top slices of crusty bread with the salted tomatoes and serve.
Summer is coming to a close and some of us are anxious for the cooler days of Autumn. Until then, reap the rewards of the sunny harvest and revive a long-forgotten treasure, the gazpacho. Cool and refreshing, this vibrant soup is sure to renew a soul worn by the heat. Being healthy never tasted so good.