I’ve been in a liquid state of mind lately, obsessing over oat milk and cold soup. My dairy-averse son got me fixated on the former. The August heat wave is to blame for the latter. My kitchen curiosity prompted me to combine the two into a cooling summer soup.
Ajo blanco is a chilled soup with origins in Malaga, a port city in southern Spain. Traditionally, ajo blanco is made by softening stale bread in water, whirring the mush in a blender with almonds, garlic (the ajo), olive oil, vinegar and salt, passing it through a sieve, and serving it ice cold, garnished with grapes — peeled, if you want to be properly Spanish. My aha moment that turned into a kitchen experiment was to question whether oat milk, which carries a hint of toasted nuts, could suffice in a nut-free adaptation of ajo blanco.
Sí, se puede!
The recipe below takes inspiration from a few sources. One is an ajo blanco recipe published in the March 2013 issue of Bon Appetit. The smart test kitchen staff there shifted grapes from garnish to become part of the soup base. They also added tart green apple, which brightens the soup quite a bit.
Cucumber figures into ruby red gazpacho, a cousin soup to ajo blanco, so I took the liberty of adding a partial cuke to this mix. It’s cooling, and acts as a nice counterbalance to the acidic notes of the green apple and the vinegar. I also added more garlic than most recipes call for, but when ajo is part of the recipe name, I want to taste the ajo. If that’s too much garlic for you, start with two cloves.
Finally, if you want to give the soup coastal flavor, take a cue from Asheville, North Carolina, chef Katie Button. In her 2016 cookbook, “Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food From an American Kitchen,” Button calls for serving ajo blanco topped with fresh lump crabmeat. She keeps the grape garnish, too, but thankfully doesn’t call for peeling the fruit.
Purists might question these moves, but why shouldn’t cooks break rules in the quest for maximum taste with minimal effort? One rule does remain: Serve this soup ice cold. Warm ajo blanco is not bueno.
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