Monday, 6 August 2007

Gazpacho (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free)

In many ways I feel a great affinity with Joan of Arc. I, like her, possess elfin features, an absence of subcutaneous fat, and look like a teenager. I too see visions - not of angels - but of many people lauding me for my allergic little creations. As did the mighty Joan, I have been known to sleep fully dressed - not to preserve my modesty in a male army barrack - but to claw back a few minutes of sleep the following morning.

Sadly, as Joan, I know what it is to feel persecution. I know the pain as the table turns against me. I feel the heat of my dining companions’ wrath when my faddy, time-consuming diet causes the chef to burn their steak.

I am of course talking about being a Vegetarian in France. Could there be a smaller, more hated minority? As Sarkozy steams ahead with reforms and cozying up to Bush, I fear that Vegetarians in France may soon feel the force of his tractor beam; how long until the deportations?

Talking through a menu with French waiters is like receiving a lesson in culinary Luddism. It is as though I am lost somewhere in the Fifteenth Century as these formidable men struggle to understand the concept of another way of life:

Yes, Good Evening, I’ve looked through the menu, and – err- I’m vegetarian and there’s nothing for me to eat”.

Big Gallic shrug, Neanderthal grunting and shaking of head as Early Man tries to understand,
“Et alors?”


“Hello, umm, I’m vegetarian and I’ve had a look through the menu, but there’s nothing I can eat”.

Suave and cocky, this one,
“Well, you can at least finish your wine before you go”,
looks around grinning, he is pleased with his sharp, incisive wit.

“Ha ha, yes, very good, well, would the chef do me an omelette?”

Serious now, this a grave and delicate subject,
“Ah non. Chef says that if you want an omelette, then you cook it at home”.
I do think of the French as equals, really I do. No matter that we won the Hundred Years War on aggregate, that’s all in the past. Or that if it weren’t for us they’d all be speaking German. We should put all of this to one side and rejoice in our EU one-ness.

Yet – given that this IS the 21st Century – I do confess to some puzzlement. How can the rest of the world have embraced new tastes, diets and ways of eating, yet alive and well here in the Hexagon, there are many many eaters of frogs thighs and snails, who snigger at the notion of being vegetarian? And I’m not talking country inbreds, I mean chic Parisians. It really is a conundrum.

My husband and I were once invited to dinner with his ex-French boss. His wife was determined to rise to the challenge posed by her strange guests. With great enthusiasm she described what she would be serving. I showed polite interest and asked pertinent questions.

“You see,” she said,
“Gazpacho is full of vitamins. (Clearly lacking in our restricted diet) Tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, olive oil, it’s all extremely good. There are only good things in my Gazpacho.
It’s especially good for people like you”.

She cocked her head on one side and gave me a pitying look, of the kind they used on wrongly accused Joan of Arc, as the flames started to lick around her feet.

Plus ça change…

Gazpacho (Serves 4-6 adults)

I struggled with the notion of cold soup for quite some time, until of course it was placed before me with a flourish chez Le Boss. But I am a convert, it's very yummy and great for hot summer days. You remember those, don't you?

10 big vine tomatoes
1 large cucumber
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 small green pepper
5 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
200ml passata
0.5tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper to serve (not white pepper if serving this to Coeliacs, some white peppers use a wheat starch as a 'filler')
Ice-cubes to serve
  • Place the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes until they are submerged. Leave them for about 10 minutes, then prick them with the point of a sharp knife. The skins should burst open. Pour off hot water, then, using a knife, spend a fiddly 10 minutes peeling off the skins. If you're like me and fussy about tomatoes, you might want to cut out their hearts too
  • Put the skinned tomatoes into a liquidiser jug and set aside
  • Roughly chop the green pepper and cucumber, skin the garlic cloves and add to the tomatoes along with the olive oil, vinegars and passata
  • Whizz it all up until all the lumps are gone
  • Taste, and if it's slightly acidic, add the sugar, you may prefer it without. Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours (can easily be made the day before your chic summer dinner party)
  • When ready to serve, dole out into bowls and drop in some ice-cubes
  • Send up a little prayer for Joan. Enjoy your meal
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007


muddyboots said...

oh, l'm first in..not a veggie but l do enjoy veggie food, france is strange, they seem to love the close affinity with all edible things that squeak, slither, twitter & oink. Joan of arc, always been fascinated by her. did they not find some charred bones thought to belong to here not long ago?

mutterings and meanderings said...

Not veggie either, but I would prefer to eat veggie food than snails or frogs legs ...

Miss Thistle said...

My daughter has two African land snails, anyone feeling peckish?

rilly super said...

ah yes, Rouen, dliberately hard to pronounce for an english speaker, presumably as some kind of retaliation. tried to buy a train ticket there once. 'Good moaning, a ticket for Rouen s'il vous plait' 'Ou?' 'Rouen' 'pardon?' 'pour rouen' *puzzled look* * I point to large town on the seine on the map* 'Ahhh! Rouen!' god knows what he thought I was asking for but my theory is that jean d'arc worked in an SNCF office and that's why the english ended up burning her.

Frog in the Field said...

Poor Pig!
Vegetarian is not at all unusual, what's the matter with the French?
(haven't got time for that now)
I used to (thank God its over) have allergies to:
Chocolate (argghhh!)
Caggabe (that's cabbage to the sober)
Red Meat
Dairy Products
Alcohol (sob)

We would go into a restaurant and my husband would sometimes go into the kitchen todiscuss what I'd be eating with the chef, it was a nightmare. I went from a size 14 to a size 8/6 very rapidly and felt in constant need of a good tasty meal.
Come to my house, we love veggie food, and of course you obviously are so unhealthy!

Marianne said...

When I stayed in The Tarn last summer, my hostess made me the most delicious gazpacho - perfect for lunch on a hot summers day with french bread and a glass of wine. Sadly my sons don't appreciate it at all, preferring high carb, rib sticking food, which is fatal for my curves.

I can happily live on a vegetarian diet. I'm sure the French will come round to it eventually.

Livvy U. said...

Hello, I've come over to visit, as you came to me and read and commented and raised my spirits - and what a joyful surprise.

I had no idea what your blog was about, and find it wittily written, lovely and interesting to look at and packed with most wonderful recipes... I feel like I've just stumbled upon the secret everyone else has known about for some time!

I look forward to spending more time here.
Happy August.

Around My Kitchen Table said...

A vegetarian in France. Oh dear! I'm not a vegetarian and I love France and French cooking. Having said that, one of the worst meals I have ever eaten was a bouillabaisse in the south of France. It was swimming in grease and full of foul-tasting lumps of totally unidentifiable fish. Every so often you'd bite into a hard bit of shell. Vile!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Muddyboots, you indeed get the comments box gold medal for arriving first, congratulations. France is most definitely strange...I'm not sure I can really add any more to that. Had not heard of the bones discovery, will have to google it.

M&M, I am right with you. I have a cute children's DVD in French, and the father goes into the garden to collect snails for lunch. I had laboured under the delusion that they used specially-bred snails, but no, any snail out of the garden will do.

Miss T, African land snails (as opposed to African sea snails?) would presumably be a delicacy?

Rilly, Oh dear, SNCF, one could probably write an entire blog about the monolith that is the SNCF. I'm presuming there was much patronising of the rosbif that couldn't even pronounce Rouen properly? Interesting SNCF angle on the burning of Joan...

FITF, I am dazzled by what you used to be allergic to...could i be very rude and ask how you cured yourself? and am i truly pitiful in that reading about your dramatic dress-size drop, I wanted for a moment to also be allergic to everything?

Marianne, I would like to share your optimism about them coming round to vegetarianism eventually. A friend did tell me this weekend of a friend of a friend who is French and vegetarian. We were silent in wonder as we contemplated the thought.

Livvy u, your comments are so lovely I'm hoping no-one thinks that I paid you to write them. Thank-you very much indeed. I'm waiting for your next post btw...

AMKT, eeeeewwww, I'm flinching and grimacing. Bouillabaisse, even the name sounds unappealing. My commiserations.

Elsie Button said...

I love the word 'GAZPACHO' !

I never liked the idea of eating it either but am def going to try this one.

i could quite happily be a vegetarian but my husband gets very grumpy if he doesn't have meet in EVERY meal.

i always choose veg dishes when we are out - they are often so yummy!

Stay at home dad said...

I feel much the same, as a nut allergist. The French look at me like I am one ...

Krista said...

I'm not vegetarian, but I love eating vegetarian meals frequently. I've been living here in France for a little over six years. I've pretty much learned that despite the fact that the French are considered progressive and liberal in the US, they are actually rigid traditionalists at heart. And, you don't mess with their food (especially the pork products).

You think asking for an omelette in a restaurant is bad, try ordering a decaf coffee. Apparently, it's just not worth the trouble. If it's not part of the traditions here, it's like pulling teeth. I'm sorry to say, you're likely to have to get used to that and not eat out much. I guess you should be happy you're not a vegan here. I don't even think that would be possible. It'd be like living in hell, I think.

Frog in the Field said...

How did I cure myself?
Well, I'm not sure. I seemed to improve during my third pregnancy.
Couldn't eat a thing for a month or so after she was born and then voila! I was fine again.
How can you be jealous?
I distinctly recall reading you say (that's bad grammer, surely?) you looked like a teenager....irritating, I call it!

Brom said...

I have never fancied cold soup, infact the ice cubes made me want to dislike it even more - with the greatest respect to you of course.

However, as I'll try most things once, I may give it a go, I'll let you know.

I always have the microwave as a contingency!

Suffolkmum said...

I love gazpacho. Was a vegetarian in France myself many years ago (I was living in France many years ago, am still a vegetarian) so thought this post was just brilliant. SO things haven't moved on then?! Thank you for your lovely comments.

rilly super said...

Is cold soup really the thing to name after joan of arc though PITK dear? wouldn't she really have endorsed something flambé?

Mrs Steinway said...

Sounds yummy and I may even try it with our tomatoes grown in the green house you kindly donated us! Do you have any good marrow recipes for people who have been away for a week and come back to an allotment with freaky looking whopper courgettes?
There's only so many times you can stuff them....!

Potty Mummy said...

Ah yes, being a vegetarian in France. Even worse, I imagine, than being a pregnant person in France at a Michelin starred restaurant, as happened to me a couple of years ago. Imagine the torture. On the menu, a feast of various forbidden fruits; steak tartare, foie gras (which you will be pleased to hear I no longer eat anyway as that annoying thing, Principal, has got in the way of my enjoyment of it), soft cheese, and various dishes that included uncooked eggs and offal. On my plate - vegetables. And around our table, a host of astonished faces, unable to countenance the fact that the mad English woman thought any of the above could be bad for her unborn child. Bon appetit indeed!

lady macleod said...

LOL I think you should put this one under "best posts". Brilliant.

No conundrum you silly, you're IN FRANCE! What's wrong with you?

Pig in the Kitchen said...

EB, Gazpacho is indeed a marvellous word. Depending on whether you are a peninsular Spaniard or from South America, you may pronounce it either 'Gathpatcho' or 'Gaspatcho', I am a mine of information.

SAHD, I shudder for you. My darling youngest is due to start pre-school next year and I have zero faith in a French pre-school taking her allergies seriously. English pre-school it shall be methinks. Call me insular...

Krista, hello! 6 years here, you must be in line for some sort of award. Next time I'm feeling frivolous I may try and ask for a decaf...Actually, I think I've heard people ask for that here and the waiter has not collapsed, maybe paris does Deca...but not the warm and wonderful South where you are.

FITF, how amazing that it all cleared up spontaneously. When I said I look like a teenager, my piggy tongue was firmly in my fleshy cheek. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

Brom, I fully understand the cold soup aversion, perhaps we should try calling it soup froid and that might make it sound more glamorous.

Suffolk Mum, welcome fellow vegetarian. Alas, things have not moved on. You are very welcome for the comments, keep writing!

Rilly, you could have a point. I rather imagined that as Joan started to sweat something like , 'Phew I could murder a bowl of Pig's gazpacho right now' went through her head. But perhaps she was more of a Crepes Suzette kind of a girl?

Mrs S, so glad to hear my greenhouse is providing a service. Now for a minute there I thought you hadn't read through all the posts you missed while on holiday, and therefore hadn't seen my recipe for courgette tart...silly me, that couldn't possibly be true could it? Watch out, I may have another courgette recipe up my trotter...

Reluctant Memsahib said...

My first visit to your mouthwatering blog. It's absolutley delicious; all of it! Wish that I could summon an ounce of same, alas geography and skill -lack of - conspire against me. But I'll be back. To salivate some more!

Lizzie said...

Another happy return visit to your lovely blog..

I wish that I could be or have been, gamine, with no subcutaneous fat! sob! Actually, I'm 5ft 8 with long slim legs, narrow hips & something of a boooosum. I always had a (smallish) waist, too until I stopped smoking 3 years ago. (The rest is in place still, I guess!) But I hated being tall when adolescent.

Lizzie x

Drunk Mummy said...

'people like you'? I suppose that would mean people with decent manners then.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

RM, thank-you for your visit, I have also enjoyed visiting your lovely blog whilst you've been away! Feel free to come and drool anytime.

Lizzie, 5ft 8? Long slim legs, narrow waist and boooooosum? Pah!

DM, well I think I have fact I'm usually so gobsmacked by the rudeness off waiters that I can't find anything to say.

Anonymous said...

Linking to wikipedia to learn about Joan of Arc is liking drinking a budweiser. Try some fine wine by visiting

ninsthewriter said...

I just found your blog...liked it a lot...check mine out when you get a chance:
a writer's blog:food & poetry

Have my friend's recipe for gazpacho on it today!