Liquid Summer Salad

With a climate that, in general, is uncommonly good, recent laments about Benicia’s weather are the topic of the day. The foggy, windy days throughout July and August left us scratching our heads, wondering when summer will finally arrive. Even early September’s warmer days are forecast to be short-lived.

Weather complaints notwithstanding, the real problem is with the tomatoes. So many cool days have Benicia’s numerous backyard growers seeing red, or rather, seeing green as the fruit remain unripe.  And there are many of us out there with bushels of green. 

Under these rather tragic circumstances, necessitating long, unhappy conversations between fellow growers, logic would dictate an article about fried green tomatoes or some other such unappealing dish. But I am an optimist, and I believe the recent heat wave will turn out buckets of lovely, red specimens that can be turned into one of summer’s simple pleasures: gazpacho. Gazpacho is a tomato and raw vegetable-based soup originating from Spain.

Served chilled, gazpacho is a garden soup I look forward to every summer. It takes advantage of the harvest and has the added bonus of delivering a powerful nutritional punch. When temperatures soar, this soup soothes, and with a dollop of sour cream, perfectly offsets the acidity of the dish.

When the heat returns and brings tomato madness, gather some friends and serve this recipe with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc. And if your tomatoes don’t ripen? Here’s an alternative recipe by Cat Cora, Solano County resident and Iron Chef America’s first female chef.  


For the right consistency, a food processor works best for this soup

  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil or cilantro
  • 2 bell peppers of any color, cored and seeded
  • 3 large or 4 small ripe tomatoes
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 peeled & seeded cucumber
  • 2 ½ cups of low sodium tomato juice
  • 1/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Sour cream

Roughly chop tomatoes, onion, cucumbers & bell peppers and keep separate. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse to chop each vegetable just until course. Be careful not to over-process, you want to retain some texture.

In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables with the remaining ingredients. Chill for several hours. If too thick, add up to ½ cup of tomato juice. Serve cold and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a cilantro or basil leaf.
Makes 4 servings

Watermelon Gazpacho: Courtesy of Cat Cora and Epicurious

  • 6 cups chopped seeded watermelon, juice reserved
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced, more to taste
  • 3 celery hearts, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lime juice (from 2 large limes)
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche, for garnish, optional

Puree the watermelon and reserved juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, bell peppers, 1/2 jalapeno pepper, celery, onion, herbs, lime juice, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Pour the watermelon puree over the vegetables, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, for at least 1 hour.

Taste and season with more salt and black pepper or jalapeno pepper, if it’s not spicy enough. Serve very cold, topped with a spoonful of creme fraiche, if desired.
Makes 4-6 servings