Levantini gazpacho with crème fraîche


As a child, I spent my summer holidays with my French grandparents on the Spanish shore of the Mediterranean sea. For some reason, old French people like to go on holidays in Spain although they have a perfectly good chunk of Mediterranean delight at home. I guess to some degree, we all want something foreign that is also a little familiar.

Meanwhile my “real” home in Israel, where I was born and raised was also on the shore of the Mediterranean sea. All the way to the East corner, which felt like a different universe altogether. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another region like the Mediterranean. An area so small but that unites so many different cultures, languages, religions and landscapes. A quick clockwise tour around the sea will connect classical Europe in the form of Spain, France and Italy to the balkan states Albania, Greece and Bulgaria. Continuing to the Middle Eastern countries of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Ending up in North Africa with Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Starting over again with Europe in an endless loupe of civilisations fighting, merging and influencing each other over thousands of years.

When it comes down to food, these cultures developed long and amazing culinary traditions. Very different from each other but with some invisible, illusive thread connecting them. I spend a lot of time thinking about what exactly is that thread and I don't have a clear answer yet. At the moment I suspect it has to do with tomatoes. Tomatoes blew my mind from day one. As far as I can remember, I loved everything about them. Their colour and shape, their smell and above all the variety of intensive flavours they have. When I got older and started cooking I also began to appreciate the versatility of this wonderful ingredient that works wonders raw as well as cooked.
Tomatoes where late to the party in the Mediterranean region. Arriving from the new world with Columbus in the 16th century, it took the tomato a few hundred years to create a crucial impact on the food culture. Today we cannot imagine food around the Mediterranean without tomatoes. The region is showcasing some of the best tomatoes in the world and probably some of the best dishes with that ingredient as a main player. For me as a kid it was the Spanish Andalusians who captured the essence of the tomato and the vibe of the region in the best way, with their famous Gazpacho cold soup. On one of my vacations in Spain, I remember my grandfather ordering that soup and I was thinking to myself, a’int nothing but a crushed tomato, no big deal. First thing I though when he forced fed me that amazing blend was, damn this is good! I wish we had something like that in Israel.

Fast forward 25 years and I am now living in Denmark for a few years. I have yet to come across mind blowing tomatoes in Scandinavia. The kind that can shake the foundation of your mouth. It’s probably too cold here and maybe it’s also related to the culture - the Danes are just too nice and polite. Maybe colder climates allow for greater niceness and subtle flavours whereas the heat in the Middle East brings out stronger emotions out of people and bold flavours. Either way, I believe a great tomato needs a chaotic warm environment around it to achieve greatness. So taking into account climate and the excessive politeness, the Danes with their modest ingenuity have managed to grow decent tomatoes in local greenhouses. Considering most tomatoes you find in supermarkets worldwide are picked to early, stored for too long, shipped too far away and have too little flavour its not bad at all.

Anyways, it was summer and surprisingly warm. I was craving home flavours so I decided to create my own cold soup with all the flavours I missed from around the Mediterranean. Since I couldn't count only on the quality of tomatoes I decided to add some smokey roasted peppers, a little beetroot for colour and earthiness, a bit of heat and tang with chillies and vinegar and some funk in the form of preserved lemons. There are a few more surprises in this recipe, but it's still very simple and fast to make. If you don't feel like having the cold soup version, I recommend using it as a salsa dip (like in the pic bellow) or warming it up slowly without boiling it too much. Alternatively you can use it as a smooth tomato sauce base for pastas and stews.

To make the full recipe with all the extras you will need to follow these additional recipes, although it also taste awesome without them.

Preserved lemons
Za’atar croutons

If you cant be bothered or don't have time, substitute the preserved lemons with a burnt lemon (instructions further down), Za’atar croutons with a fresh slice of bread.

produces approx 1litre. Serves 4-6 people as a soup for starter


4 red peppers
4-5 garlics unpeeled
2 medium - strong hot red chillies
1 small to medium white onion
7 big ripe tomatoes
1/2 beetroot approx 120gr. peeled
2tbsp. preserved lemon or 1/2 small raw organic lemon
2tsp. olive oil
3tsp. apple cider vinegar
1tsp. sugar
2.5tsp. salt
1/4tsp. black pepper


Handful finally chopped parsley
Handful pine nuts                                                                                                                         Crème fraîche


Take a cast iron griddle and warm it up on a high heat for 5 minutes. Use this time to wash and dry the peppers, chillies and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to a medium and place the red peppers, unpeeled garlic, chillies and raw lemon on the hot griddle. Each one of them will need different time to cook. The red peppers will need about 8-10 minutes on each side. The garlic and its shell should take about 5-6 minutes on each side. The lemon about 8 minutes on each side and the little chillies 4 minutes on each side. Instead of looking at the watch for each ingredient I prefer to check on them every couple of minutes and when they are soft and have nice black grill lines on all sides (like in the picture bellow), I remove them from the heat.

While this is happening, half the tomatoes and cut out the core. Peel the beetroot and place the two in a blender. Add the preserved lemon (or if you're using raw lemon wait for it to finish grilling), olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Remove all your ingredients from the griddle and let them cool for 5 minutes. Cut the red peppers and chillies in half and remove the seeds and stem. With your fingers, peel the garlic skins. Add the red peppers, chillies, garlic and a quarter of the lemon to the blender.

Blitz it all together until smooth. Taste and correct the flavour with extra salt and pepper. If you want more zing and a little more bitterness add the rest of the grilled lemon and blitz for another minute. Taste the soup, it should be very punchy, zingy and spicy almost too much. Don't worry! Let it cool in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour and all the flavours will come down. For garnish dry roast some pine nuts on medium heat until golden. Add chopped parsley to serve. When serving, add some croutons, and a hearty spoon of Crème fraîche.

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