- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

It is incomprehensible that the cold soup gazpacho has been made in Andalusian kitchens for centuries. How did ancient Spaniards puree all those vegetables without a food processor or blender?

Maybe it’s that hint of arthritis in elbows and wrists, the result of a few too many years pounding the keys of newspaper computers. But to me, the idea of pureeing anything without heavy machinery seems as improbable as the construction of the Great Pyramids at Giza or Stonehenge. Yet there they are.

So when summer’s heat comes bearing down, my thoughts zoom to cold soups made with exactly the right kitchen equipment. The question is, what tool is best for the job? Cleaver? Knife? Sieve? Mortar and pestle? Food processor? Inversion blender? Blender?

Except in the hands of well-trained chefs, cleavers are too much metal for the project. You can forget the knife, too, except for the prep work. Too slow. Sieve? Too much work to clean. Mortar? Too much work to press. Machinery is what’s called for in this modern age. The logical tools are the food processor, inversion blender and blender. Although all three will work for pureeing summer soups, one is a standout.

The food processor has been king of the kitchen since the early 1970s, when Carl Sontheimer lifted the idea for the food processor from a French commercial chopper and adapted what he called the Cuisinart for use in U.S. kitchens (explaining once and for all, perhaps, France’s antipathy to many things American).

Food processors are primo choppers and mincers. Just drop a clove of garlic into that spinning blade, and you’ll see what mincing is meant to be. But those same blades yield chopped banana, rather than pureed, unless the banana is superripe.

The same is true of other, denser foods, including raw apple or foods with skin, such as blueberries.

A food processor is best at chopping foods such as meat, vegetables and nuts. It also is darn good at shredding even soft cheese and mixing pastry and dough. A blender can’t do any of those things well. When it comes to pureeing vegetables, though, which is what many cold soups are about, the food processor definitely takes second chair to the mighty blender.

Because of its portability, the hand-held inversion blender is a great tool for pureeing hot ingredients in a saucepan. (No need to transport and splash boiling-hot ingredients between stove and pureeing site.) It’s also totally cool for turning milk or light sauces into cappuccinolike froth.

For emulsifying a small amount of oil and vinegar to create a vinaigrette, an inversion blender is perfect — but it can’t mince a garlic clove so that it doesn’t stand out in a crowd of gazpacho vegetables. (The clove sticks to the blade.) If there’s a lot to blend, an inversion blender can seem rather heavy to hold long enough to get the job done. Also, with most brands of inversion blender, you have to hold down the “on” button the whole time you’re blending. After a bit, this becomes tedious.

Yes, a standing blender is the best tool for the job of pureeing smooth summer soups. Then again, if you want a soup with texture, and some of us prefer our gazpacho that way, the food processor just might be your best friend.

“Highfalutin food processors may hog the spotlight on TV cooking shows, but plain old blenders beat them hands down if you’re making frozen drinks or fruit smoothies, crushing ice or pureeing vegetables for soup,” says Consumer Reports magazine.

In the July 2003 issue, it selected the Braun PowerMax MX2050 (about $50) as “best performer and a real value.”

Consumer Reports also liked the Sharp EJ-12GDW (about $40) and the Black & Decker ProBlend BL600 (about $45). I don’t know about the department stores near you, but where I live, finding the CR-recommended models seldom works. On the other hand, there seems to be a sale every weekend, and appliances are often reduced.

Another advantage a blender has over a food processor is that it is much better at integrating air into liquid to make it fluffy.

If you’re whipping up a creamy soup, the air will add to the quality of the puree.

Only two warnings: Make sure the blender you buy is equipped with a glass container rather than plastic. Plastic can stain and fog up in the dishwasher.

Cold strawberry-banana yogurt soup

The blender is best for this recipe.

2 cups ripe strawberries, leaves removed, plus 1 thinly sliced strawberry for optional garnish

2 bananas, peeled

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup milk

Juice of 1 lemon

Mint leaves for garnish, optional

Puree strawberries and bananas in blender or food processor. Add yogurt, cinnamon, sugar, milk and lemon juice; puree until smooth. Pour into serving bowl, cover and chill for at least 2 hours.

Serve garnished with a slice of strawberry and two mint leaves floating on the top. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Gazpacho

Use the food processor if texture is desired; blender is best for a smooth version.

This is my favorite gazpacho recipe. It is a slight variation on the one in “Moosewood Cookbook” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press).

1 pound ripe tomatoes (about 4), seeded and chopped, plus 1/3 cup chopped

1 red or green bell pepper, cored and coarsely chopped, plus 1/3 cup chopped

2 scallions, cut in chunks, plus a few sliced lengthwise for garnish and 1/3 cup chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic

1 cup chopped red onion

to 1 chili of choice, cored and seeded

1 cucumber, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped, plus a few stalk ends with leaves for garnish

1/4 cup parsley

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon fresh basil

3 cups tomato juice

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons olive oil

to 1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Set aside 1/3 cup each of chopped tomatoes, bell pepper and scallion.

In a food processor or blender, puree garlic, red onion and chili to taste.

Add remaining tomatoes, bell pepper and scallion (except those reserved for garnish), cucumber, 2 stalks celery, parsley, tarragon, basil, tomato juice, honey, lemon or lime juice, red wine vinegar, cumin, olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Combine pureed vegetables with chopped in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to chill. Serve garnished with celery stalks with leaves and scallions. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Cold cream of basil soup

The blender is best for this soup.

Salt

1 pound Yukon gold or other waxy potatoes, peeled

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 cups yellow onions, chopped

3 cups firmly packed basil leaves, plus a few leaves for garnish

2 cups chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2 cups milk or half-and-half

Add 1 teaspoon salt to saucepan filled with water. Add potatoes, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size. Set aside.

Melt butter in large pan, and saute onion over low heat until soft, 15 to 20 minutes. (If onion starts to brown, turn down heat.)

Add basil; saute for 2 minutes.

Puree in batches in blender or food processor, along with chicken broth, potatoes, 1 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir in milk or half-and-half, cover, and refrigerate two hours or overnight. Serve garnished with a few basil leaves. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Cold cucumber soup

This soup is best made in a blender.

1 medium clove garlic

20 large mint leaves

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded

teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

In a blender or food processor, mince garlic and mint leaves. Add yogurt, cup water, cucumber, salt and pepper; puree. Cover and refrigerate two hours or overnight.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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