I grew up in a lively city in southern India. Summers were long and winters mild. I marked the time of the year by the seasonal fruit and vegetables that vendors carried through the city streets on carts. The vendors called out their wares just as American ice cream trucks play music to announce their presence. Juicy mangoes in the summer, creamy custard apples in the fall, velvety chikoos in the winter. The blow of a harsh season was softened by the appearance of a missed fruit or vegetable.
At the age of 14, I moved to a suburb of Boston and was surprised by the seemingly season-less variety of produce in supermarkets. Apples in the summer? Pineapples in the winter? It was a prize for the side of me that likes immediate gratification. I didn’t have to wait for the blistering heat to eat a mango!
But then I tasted the beautiful fruit and was hit with the difference in flavor and dimension from the fruit I knew. The sugar content was often there, but missing were the actual flavors that characterized the produce. It was like seeing a role model from a distance, running up to them, only to encounter an empty Madam Tussauds creation.
This has shaped the way I shop for food now. I look forward to the arrival of produce at the farmers’ markets around me, and plan what I make depending on what is in season.
On my way back from a day of hiking and rock climbing in Rumney, a town in New Hampshire, I drove past some gorgeous looking tomatoes at Longview Farm, and made a U-turn to go back and get some. Ripe tomatoes are one of life’s simplest pleasures. My grandfather, a toxicologist, always encouraged tomato consumption, citing the high lycopene content and adding, “They taste pretty good too!”
When tomatoes are in season, my mind jumps with joy and dreams of all of the incredible dishes that I can make featuring the seasonal guest of honor. With the tomatoes from Longview Farm, I made gazpacho, a chilled soup popularized in Andalusia, a province in southern Spain. The recipe that I make is inspired from one of my favorite food blogs, Lottie and Doof, which is an adaptation of Anya von Bremzen’s recipe from The New Spanish Table.
I made a smaller portion, suitable for two people, and substituted a couple ingredients. It’s perfect for a light summer lunch or dinner. Next time you pass by a farmer’s market bursting with tomatoes, seize the season and make this soup!
Makes two servings
From the farmers market:
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
1.5 pounds ripe seasonal tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 small baby cucumbers, or Beit Alpha or Persian cucumbers, peeled and chopped
½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped plus a little extra for garnish
1 shallot, chopped
From the pantry:
1 cup cubed, day-old sourdough bread, sans crusts (from Iggy’s, Cambridge MA)
¼ teaspoon nigella seeds (from Christina’s Spice & Specialty Foods, Cambridge MA)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup cold water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped celery (optional)
- Soak the cubed bread with cold water for ten minutes. Drain the water, and squeeze the bread to make sure that no water remains.
- Toast the nigella seeds in a fry pan over medium heat for about 3-6 minutes, until you can smell the peppery perfume of the seed’s released oils.
- Place the roasted nigella seeds, sea salt, garlic in a food processor or blender, and blend until an incorporated paste is formed. Set aside the blending tool, which will be used later.
- Collect the chopped tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, red bell pepper, shallots and bread in a bowl. Mix with the garlic paste, and let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
- Put the mixture into the food processor or blender, and puree finely. Add the olive oil, and blend until it has been incorporated. Pour the gazpacho into a bowl.
- Add the vinegar, and adjust the thickness of the gazpacho to your liking with cold water. I like my gazpacho on the lighter side, so add about a ½ cup of water. Whisk the soup. Season the gazpacho with additional vinegar or salt to your taste.
- Cover and chill the gazpacho in the refrigerator for about an hour until fully chilled.
- Garnish with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, thinly sliced red pepper, and any other finely sliced vegetables that you enjoy and have on hand. I had some celery waiting to be used, so added it as a garnish.
- I like to toast the unused crusts, and any extra bread, top them with olive oil, and dip them in this refreshing soup.
Mira Louise D’Souza is a food entrepreneur launching Queen Pickle, a handmade Indian pickle company in Cambridge, MA. Follow her on Instagram @mira.dsouza and Twitter @mirald.