From nuts to soup
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I’ve had this soup up my sleeve for a while, waiting to celebrate summer, which, in Melbourne at least, finally hit in earnest last week.
This soup is Spanish in origin, a relative of gazpacho but more delicate and with a creamy texture from the almonds that is velvety without being overly rich – a kind of city cousin. I should note that the smooth, velvety finish is often dictated by the power of your blender and the fineness of your sieve.
The soup is utterly refreshing – a wonderful way to start a summer lunch. I serve it with peeled grapes for sweetness. Freshly cooked and handpicked crabmeat would be even better.
Peeled grapes may seem like a toga-wearing folly. However, if you haven’t had the experience of someone peeling a grape and popping it in your mouth – this is for real – I suggest you give it a go with someone close.
But back to the actual soup. It’s an impressive thing, because it’s not something you eat or cook every day. It stands apart. Without sounding too much like a chef, ingredients are really important here. There is no way to disguise stale almonds in a dish as pure as this. I strongly recommend using organic almonds with the skin on.
To peel the almonds, place them in a bowl and cover with a kettleful of boiling water. Leave for a minute before straining and popping the seeds out of the skins between your thumb and forefinger. If you’re buying peeled almonds, you’re buying stale almonds. I can’t prove it, but I’m saying it. Certainly, they are inferior to almonds that have been freshly peeled.
Peeling almonds aside, the ease and time taken to put this soup together is remarkably simple and short. I’m surprised I don’t cook it more often. On a ledger of exertion against payoff, this must be one of the most rewarding dishes to cook and serve.
– 100g slightly stale white bread (crusts removed)
– 100ml milk or almond milk
– 200g skinless organic almonds
– 500ml ice-cold water
– 2 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
– 1 small Lebanese cucumber, peeled and deseeded
– 200ml pure olive oil
– 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
– salt, to taste
– 1 bunch grapes
– sweet paprika
– 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Soak the bread in the milk for 10 minutes.
When sodden, squeeze out the excess milk and blend the bread in an upright blender along with the almonds and water for one minute.
Add the garlic and cucumber and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the soup with the blender running. Finally add the sherry vinegar and season with salt.
Strain the soup through a fine sieve. Taste and adjust seasoning if required. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
To serve, patiently peel as many grapes as you can bear, about six per person. Slice peeled grapes in half and arrange in bowl with a pinch of sweet paprika and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
MV Pennyweight La Serena oloroso sherry, Beechworth ($35) – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 10, 2016 as "Almond soup".
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