Ajo blanco is a wonderfully light cold Spanish soup made with almonds and bread. It's easy to make, has delicate flavors and is gently filling yet refreshing. Perfect for a warm summer's day.
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Sadly, far fewer have heard of this other traditional Spanish soup, sometimes known as "white gazpacho", which is a shame as it's definitely worth a try.
The origins of ajo blanco
While it's generally considered a Spanish soup, the exact origins are a little unclear, with some saying it has Roman or Greek roots. What is generally agreed on is that it predates gazpacho. Tomatoes were only introduced to Spain following the exploration of the New Worlds by Columbus's expeditions.
These days it is hard to imagine Spanish cooking without tomatoes, with things like gazpacho and pan con tomate being firm favorites But other classic Spanish flavors are in fact older.
Many came from the Moorish period in Spain's history. It's this period that may be the most likely origin of ajo blanco (also written ajoblanco).
The Moorish legacy in Spanish cuisine
Moorish rulers governed over parts of Spain for around 800 years, starting in 711. While this may seem like ancient history and not a long time in relative terms, the influence is still certainly there, particularly in Andalucia, and Granada most of all, where the Moors governed the longest.
The name Andalucia in fact comes from the Moorish kingdom of Al-Ándalus. You'll find various Moorish influences in the architecture there, such as Granada's alhambra and Cordoba's mezquita. Both contain shapes and designs that are distinctly Moorish like geometric tiling.
There are many ingredients used in Spanish cooking, particularly in Andalucia, that were introduced by the Moors as well. An obvious example is pinchos morunos, literally Moorish kebabs, which use some of the spices they introduced.
But they also introduced ingredients like rice, sugar, saffron and almonds to Spain. You can find out more about the Moorish influence on Spanish cooking in this post which I found interesting.
Almonds in Spain
Almonds quickly became a popular crop in Spain, in part no doubt because they are well-suited to the climate and terrain. Spain is now the second largest producer of almonds in the world, after the United States.
Andalucia in the South and Valencia along the Mediterranean coast are the main regions where almonds are grown with some areas covered in huge numbers of trees. I remember the wonderful fields of almond blossom in Spring during many visits and when I lived in Southern Catalunya.
The love of almonds is reflected in many favorite Spanish foods. Polverones are a classic sweet treat using almonds, that are particularly popular at Christmas time while turron, a kind of nougat, has a number of variations but nearly all include almonds either whole or as a paste.
The cake tarta de Santiago may be from Galicia in the North, but it, too, shows the Spanish love of almonds using only almonds flour as the base.
Ajoblanco is a soup popular across Southern Spain and has regional variations within that. The Andalucian style you see here uses the main ingredients of almonds, bread, olive oil and garlic which have remained the same for centuries. Extremadura has a variation which uses egg yolk in an emulsion and not always almonds.
It's particularly popular in rural communities, no doubt a reflection of the ingredients. Almonds are readily available there and it's a great way to use leftover, stale bread.
You'll find only some slight variation in modern recipes, with most adding either apple, grapes or cucumber to the core ingredients. Even if not in the soup itself, you'll often find this dish garnished with grapes or melon.
All of these help add a little added freshness and lightness to the flavor and texture. I have gone with tart green apple here. It has a balance of not too sweet, but just a little, and pairs well with the almonds.
You can add more or less garlic to this as suits your palate. This version has a little but it is not overly garlic-flavored, so if you want to make it more distinct you can add more.
Tips for making this summer soup
In making this, I added some water initially then added more to thin it later on. This helps you get the consistency right to your taste, but also helps it to blend easily at the start. If your blender is not that strong, you may want to strain some or all of the soup to get a smoother texture, but it's a personal preference.
Ideally, make this ahead of time to allow it to chill properly, just as you would with gazpacho. If this isn't possible then add a little ice as you blend to help cool it further.
If you can, use Marcona almonds for this, as you would in Spain. They have a wonderful almost gently sweet flavor that has more depth to it. If you can't find them, then you may want to gently toast your almonds (either in a dry skillet or under a broiler/grill) before using to give them that little bit more flavor. Just take care to watch them closely so they don't burn.
Ajo blanco is a lovely light, cold soup that's easy to make, with delicate and delicious flavors. It makes a great start to a summer's meal, or pair with a salad for a light lunch. Whenever you choose, it will be a great addition to your meal.
Try these other Spanish favorites:
- Tortilla Española (Spanish potato omelette)
- Traditional romesco sauce (also uses almonds, as well as hazelnuts, tomato and pepper - so versatile)
- Crema Catalana (a lovely creamy dessert)
- Plus get more Spanish recipes in the archives.
- 2 oz bread 60g, 1 or 2 days old, around 1 slice - approx ¾ cup once crust removed and diced (weight without crust)
- ½ cup cold water 120ml plus more later
- 1 tsp sherry vinegar (or wine vinegar if sherry not available)
- ½ cup blanched almonds 80g - marcona if possible
- 1 clove garlic (small)
- ½ green apple eg Granny Smith, peeled and diced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pinch salt to taste if needed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 6 green grapes cut in half and any seeds removed
- Break the bread up and place in a blender. Sprinkle over the water and sherry vinegar then blend until relatively smooth.
- Add the almonds, garlic and apple and blend until smooth. If possible, while the blender is still running, add the olive oil (if not add then blend again). Add a little more water (around 2tbsp - ¼ cup more) to make a smooth, pourable consistency and a little salt, if needed, to taste.
- Chill the soup for at least an hour to become well chilled, or if not possible, add a couple ice cubes to the mixture and blend them in.
- To serve, divide between two bowls and top each with some halved green grapes and a drizzle of olive oil.
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I first shared the recipe for Ajo Blanco (Spanish almond soup) on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.