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Improv night at the gazpacho 

Gazpacho had its start in the Arab world as a bread-based soup, flavored with garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt. Tomatoes and peppers weren't part of the recipe until explorers brought them back from the New World. Purists will tell you that a "genuine" gazpacho includes tomatoes, garlic, bread, olive oil, salt and vinegar. But really, the beauty of gazpacho is you can add or subtract whatever you want. If you want to use a lime instead of a lemon, go right ahead. Parsley instead of basil? Sure thing. Hold the cukes? All right by me.

After deciding on the lineup, it's a matter of a quick whiz in the blender or food processor. I like a little bit of a chew in my gazpacho, so I don't completely puree the veggies. I also like to peel my tomatoes, as the skins can be unsightly in the soup bowl.

Don't forget to taste along the way. Use the amounts below as a guideline, and with each addition, taste for flavor and mouth feel. Otherwise, this is your masterpiece, so have fun. Aren't you glad you didn't have a V-8? This is so much better.

Note: Check the bowl capacity on your food processor before getting started! I learned the hard way by exceeding the limit of a 3-cup bowl and had gazpacho erupting onto the counter. Gazpacho can be made in batches and can easily be doubled or halved.

2 garlic cloves
Up to 1/3 C olive oil (optional)
About 2 lbs. ripe tomatoes, quartered and seeded
1/2-1 cucumber
1 bell pepper
1/2 sweet onion, roughly chopped
1/2 jalapeo or chile of choice
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 t sherry, white wine or red wine vinegar
10-12 basil leaves
Coarse salt to taste
Optional garnishes: Poached shrimp, herbs, croutons

Gradually add garlic and tomatoes, and pulse. Follow with cucumbers, bell pepper, onion and chile. Taste for consistency, flavors and seasoning.

Add lemon juice, and wine or vinegar. Stir and taste. Add basil. Pulse. Open bowl and add salt to taste.

Serve at room temperature or chill for at least an hour. Gazpacho keeps for at least 3 days in the fridge and the flavors improve with time.

Serves about six six-ounce portions, sipped from a glass or spooned from a bowl.-- Kim O'Donnel

Kim O'Donnel, the host of What's Cooking on washingtonpost.com, tests all the recipes so you don't have to. Send questions and comments to kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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