AJO BLANCO: chilled almond garlic soup with blistered grapes
My take on a Spanish classic. At home, this chilled summer soup was always received with excitement and anticipation. In my very biased opinion, my father makes the best Ajo Blanco around; he really has nailed the formula. Those who have tried this version said it’s the best they’ve had. The original recipe calls for bread but I use cashews instead and the final result is beautiful. Feel free to experiment with adding a touch of soft bread into the blender with the other soup ingredients, it will only add more yum to it!
This Ajo Blanco is creamy, a touch tangy and perfectly balanced with sweet seedless red grapes. As I understand it, this soup was the original gazpacho, way before tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers were grown in Spain. Almonds are usually ready for harvest some time in June, while grapes start to ripen some time in July, broadly speaking. I love to have a big batch of chilled Ajo Blanco in the fridge, enjoyed as a starter before a main meal or as a light dinner when one is not too hungry but still wants a little something.
Ideally use peeled almonds and soak them overnight. You can use almonds with the skin on, the flavour is just as delicious and the texture doesn’t change much — though the colour won’t be as pearly white. And finally, I love to blister the grapes in homemade ghee on low heat — I find that cooking the grapes adds an extra layer of sweetness and fragrance. If you want to keep it simple, skip this step and use fresh grapes, it will be delicious regardless.
(makes 1.5 litres)
1 cup peeled almonds, soaked overnight
1 cup cashews
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T lemon juice
2 T ghee
2 T olive oil
3 cups water
11/2 tsps salt
a dollop of yogurt to garnish (optional)
for the blistered grapes:
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 generous cups seedless grapes
a handful of your favourite fresh herbs, very thinly chopped (I love basil and parsley here)
In a medium sized pan, melt the ghee then sauté the almonds and cashews on low to medium heat for a couple of minutes until golden keeping an eye on them and moving them around to ensure they don’t burn. When golden, set the almonds and cashews aside to allow them to cool down a little. Make sure to save whatever ghee remains on the pan, as you’ll use it to blister the grapes.
Add the golden almonds, cashews, garlic, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, water and salt to a high speed blender. Blend on high for at least 2 minutes or until completely smooth. Pour the soup into a big bowl or container that can be placed in the fridge for a few hours to chill.
To prepare the blistered grapes, simply heat up the pan you used to sauté the almonds and cashews on medium heat and add more ghee if needed. When hot, throw the cumin seeds in immediately followed by the grapes. Cook on low to medium heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Finally, turn off the heat and add the handful of thinly chopped herbs into the pan. Mix well.
Serve the chilled Ajo Blanco in a bowl with a dollop of yogurt (coconut yogurt is my favorite here, though sheep’s yogurt is beautiful too), add a generous handful of blistered grapes and enjoy.
The soup keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days.
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