Chipotle-Spiked Gazpacho

I tasted gazpacho for the first time many years ago, appropriately, in Spain. It was an especially hot summer, and in a small town just north of Madrid, with the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range in the distance, I ate my first chilly bowl.

I sat outside at a long table as crunchy croutons made from day-old bread were passed around, along with chopped hard boiled egg. The simple peasant soup cooled me down to my toes.

From that point forward, every summer, when tomatoes are at their peak, I always make gazpacho, and usually spike it with fresh jalapenos.

Alas, there are no fresh jalapenos here in Paris. So yesterday, I added a smoked jalapeno — a chipotle — instead.

You know what? I liked it even better.

See, this is what I love about improvising in the kitchen – beyond the fun of a new discovery, or a different twist on something old – more often than not, the new version beats the pants off the old one.

This is my recipe for the traditional summertime Spanish soup, but feel free to add whatever veggies that you’d like. Improvise. Substitute. Omit and add as the spirit moves you. Then put it all in a blender and turn that baby on.

Ole, y’all.

Chipotle-Spiked Gazpacho

2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
1-2 large red bell peppers, roasted
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chipotle chile, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
sea salt
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed

1 avocado, diced in 1/4-inch cubes
2 eggs, hard boiled and chopped
tortilla strips (recipe follows)

1. Make an X on the bottoms of the tomatoes, put in a saucepan and cover with water. Blanch for 30 seconds, remove tomatoes and peel off the skins. Half the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds.

2. Combine everything but the cilantro in a blender and combine just until coarse ( this is a rustic dish and you don’t want it too smooth).

3. Put in a bowl, stir in cilantro and refrigerate until ready to eat.

4. Top with your choice of: eggs, avocado, tortilla strips, cilantro, or all three. You may also want to add grilled shrimp or crab meat.

Tortilla Strips

8-10 corn tortillas
1 teaspoon chile powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
canola oil (just enough to coat)

Preheat oven to 450.

1. Slice corn tortillas into half-inch wide strips and put in bowl.

2. Add chile powder, sea salt, canola oil and toss with your hands to evenly coat. Spread out on a cookie sheet.

3. Bake until crisp, about 15 minutes. Flip the strips over halfway through cooking so they’ll be crunchy all the way through.

Cowgirl Tip: Instead of chile powder, try ancho chile powder, chipotle chile powder, or a smoky Spanish paprika.