Cooling off with Spanish soups
Cold comfort ... beat the summer heat with cucumber and yogurt soup. Photo: Marina Oliphant
I have customers who walk into Movida during summer looking for ajo blanco. We have served it for years, but only recently have people started requesting it. Initially they were a little wary of this cool soup - a specialty of the Andalucia region in Spain's south - made of bread, almonds and garlic and served with sweet grapes. But on a hot day, the refreshingly smooth white liquid clears the palate and enlivens the heat-drained body and spirit. The blue swimmer crab in this recipe can be swapped for spanner crab from south-east Queensland, an amazing sweet meat.
The friend who first cooked the cucumber soup for me said, ''I have a soup I know you will like'', but I couldn't pick the flavour. When he told me the main ingredient, it made sense. This soup can be eaten chilled but is also fantastic warm. Too much heat will kill the subtle flavour.
Both soups go well with seafood. I have served them with poached yabbies or even marron from Western Australia, if you feel like splashing out.
CUCUMBER AND YOGHURT SOUP WITH CHARRED GARLIC BREAD
6 continental cucumbers
60g butter, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
600g sheep's milk yoghurt (or any plain natural yoghurt)
Salt and pepper
8 slices sourdough bread
Extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Basil leaves for garnish (optional)
Partially peel the cucumbers, leaving some strips of green skin. Cut in half, remove seeds and chop coarsely. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, add cucumber and garlic, cover with a lid and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Process in a food processor until smooth, then refrigerate until cool. Add yoghurt, season to taste, then pass through a fine sieve. Rub sourdough bread lightly with oil and char-grill on the barbecue. When toasted, rub with garlic. Serve soup chilled or warm, garnished with basil leaves if desired.
AJO BLANCO WITH BLUE SWIMMER CRAB AND RED GRAPES
250g almonds, freshly blanched
50g stale heavy white bread
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp salt
600ml chilled water
100ml mayonnaise mixed with a crushed
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
180g blue swimmer crab meat
200g sweet red grapes, peeled, cut in half and deseeded
The day before making the soup, place almonds in a bowl, cover with tap water and soak overnight. Next day, cut the crusts from the bread and discard, then cut bread into 2cm cubes. Cover bread with tap water and soak for at least two hours. Drain almonds and place in a food processor. Squeeze excess water out of bread and add to food processor with the garlic and salt. Blend, adding chilled water a little at a time to create a thick almond milk. To avoid a gritty soup, filter the milk through a very fine sieve twice without pushing it through. Add garlic mayonnaise to a medium-size stainless steel bowl. Gently whisk in almond milk a little at a time until all incorporated. Pour soup into chilled bowls and sprinkle with vinegar. Add small amounts of crab and a few grapes to each bowl.