Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Something Different: Getting creative with gazpacho dip

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Moving to the big city to pursue your dream career remains an essential rite of passage for many foodies. The economics of my earliest, entry-level jobs made it necessary to find a roommate.

I have lost touch with my first post-college roommate, but the memory of her cooking remains with me. It was always simple, hearty, Midwestern fare, seasoned with salt and maybe a bit of black pepper. To someone like me, who grew up with the intense flavors and colors of Russian and Romanian home cooking, complimented by constant Chinese takeout, it seemed a bit ‘‘underwhelming” at first. But when money ran low at the end of each month, she was brilliant at turning a dollar (literally, a single dollar) into a variety of balanced meals.

Much of her budget cooking relied on tomatoes. The way she used processed tomato products taught me to think outside the can, box or bottle. For example, she whirled canned tomato soup in the blender with cottage cheese and Worcestershire sauce. I still serve this as a chilled main dish soup, using reduced-sodium soup and less Worcestershire to keep the salt down, and add chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumber and green pepper for garnish.

I remember adopting her techniques to make a spicy gazpacho. Instead of costly fresh tomatoes, I blended tomato juice with the classic stale bread and olive oil, added a jar of salsa, and chilled the mixture. The resulting cold soup, garnished with cilantro and crushed blue corn chips, was a hit. Simply by omitting the juice and upping the fresh veggies, it can make a great dip to serve with garlic pita chips. If any is left over, it also makes a tasty, fat-free salad dressing for diced roasted chicken breast with mixed greens.

Gazpacho Dipwith Garlic Pita Chips

2 whole-wheat pita breads

2 large garlic cloves, halved crosswise

Cooking spray, preferably olive oil

1⁄8 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

1 ripe medium tomato, seeded and finely chopped

1⁄3 cup finely chopped celery

1⁄3 cup finely chopped cucumber

1⁄3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

1⁄4 cup finely chopped red onion

3⁄4 cup prepared salsa, hot or mild

1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tsp. lime juice

2 tsp. rice vinegar

1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the pita breads each into 6 wedges. Separate each wedge into two pieces. One at a time, rub the rough side of the wedges with the cut side of a garlic clove and place them on a baking sheet in one layer. Lightly coat the pita wedges with cooking spray and sprinkle with the salt. Bake six minutes, or until the wedges curl at the edges and darken slightly in color. Cool on the baking sheet. The pita will crisp as it cools. Cover with foil and store at room temperature up to eight hours.

In a mixing bowl, combine the tomato, celery, cucumber, green pepper and onion. Add the salsa, garlic powder, lime juice and vinegar, and mix well. This can be done up to four hours before serving and the dip refrigerated in a covered container.

Just before serving, mix in the cilantro and transfer the dip to a serving bowl. Place the bowl on a platter, surround with the pita chips, and serve.

Makes 2 cups (6 servings).

Per serving: 42 calories, 0 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat), 9 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 98 mg. sodium.

‘‘Something Different” is provided courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research.