Big Girls, Global Kitchens: Salmorejo Cordobes
DISHES: Salmorejo (Cream of Gazpacho Soup); Carrots with Parsley Butter
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Tomato, Bread, Garlic
TYPE: Orange. Adventurous.
In my global food reminiscences, I keep coming back again and again to my two-month post-college travel adventure—in particular, the final two weeks I spent flying solo in southern Spain. I’ve been trying ever since I returned to recreate some of the tapas I sampled during the meals of this trip, and always seem to fall a little short when it comes to the expert simplicity of the presentation and flavors. One in particular that remains unsurpassed in my memory: Salmorejo Cordobes.
I first sampled this not in Cordoba, but further south, in a small beach town about an hour north of Cadiz. I had read about the beautiful shoreline of el Puerto de Santa Maria, and decided to take a day trip on a series of public buses to check it out. Halfway there, when I noticed there were no indications (even in Spanish) of what stops we were making, I realized I had really no idea where I was, or how to find the beach if I actually managed to get off the bus at the correct street corner.
During previous excursions to countries where I didn’t speak the language (mainly everywhere except Italy), I always fared well by relying on my talent for understanding expressive, charade-like hand gestures, and my faith in the kindness of strangers, a philosophy that earned me the nickname Blanche Dubois from Sophie, a former travel partner and theater enthusiast.
On the bus, I asked a nice toothless man in my broken Spanish how to get to this particular beach. I don’t really know how the conversation unfolded, but somehow I arrived at the understanding that my stop was two away, and that a nice young woman had also asked for directions to the same the beach, where she was heading alone as well. He suggested perhaps we should go together.
Rose, my new foreign friend, turned out to be a perfect match. We spent the rest of the day writing English words in the sand, looking through my phrase book, and attempting, with all the tools available, to understand each other. Over lunch, I was able to accumulate the facts of her abridged life story: Rose was a journalist, currently covering a story in Cadiz, and decided to check out the beach on her day off. She was 30, and recently engaged to her boyfriend, though they both still lived with their parents in separate homes. She explained as best she could about the conservative norms of courtship, before I was finally able to turn the conversation to food.
She asked if she could order for both of us and I, unable to persist in any language, agreed. Andalucian tapas are not quite as much fun to sample by yourself, especially when you’re unable to read most of the menu. For this reason, my meal with Rose was one of the most memorable of my Spanish travels, even if the patatas bravas and fried squid were surpassed in quality by other venues. The best introduction Rose made me was to a creamy cold tomato soup, of the same ilk as gazpacho, but in her opinion, and that of a recent disciple like myself, oh so much better. Together we shared a bowl garnished with two hard boiled eggs and some thickly cut Serrano jamon, and together, back in Madrid when we met up for a planned meal, we shared another. The night before I left to fly back to the States, Rose sent me off with a fancy designer lip gloss, an open invitation to come back to Spain for her wedding, and the memory of this soup, a gift I try to recreate in my kitchen again and again. Kindness indeed.
From my kitchen, where the Blanche in me is remembering a wonderful stranger, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Salmorejo Cordobes (Cream of Gazpacho)
Makes 3-4 appetizer servings
This Andalusian tapas is essentially gazpacho without the water. It can be served as an appetizer in individual bowls, or used as more of a condiment for dipping raw vegetables. Either way, the dish is an incredibly refreshing and soul satisfying soup.
1/2 stale baguette, crusts removed
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp wine vinegar
4 sliced serrano ham or proscuitto, torn in strips
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
Tear the bread into coarse pieces and drizzle with just enough water to wet but not soak. Let stand for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the tomatoes and blanche for just a minute. Allow to cool and remove the skins. They should fall off easily. Add to the food processor with the garlic and bread. Blend until smooth. Add the salt, and pour in the olive oil in a stead stream while blending. Add the vinegar and puree again.
Taste for seasoning. If the soup is too thick, add a little more oil. Cover and chill for an hour. This can also be done up to a day before.