This gazpacho-inspired chilled strawberry soup is perfect for a hot day. Two-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef: Southeast chef Erik Niel and his team at Easy Bar & Bistro in Chattanooga use the Tennessee Valley’s first crop of local, sweet strawberries along with cucumbers, peppers, and tomato juice to create this silky appetizer or even light side dish. The recipe calls for bold garlic and subtle thyme, and it uses diced sourdough to thicken the base.
At Easy Bar & Bistro, Niel garnishes the dish with sheeps milk feta, marcona almonds, thyme, black pepper, and extra strawberry slices. It’s a beautiful way to welcome spring and feels gourmet without a lot of time or steps.
4 garlic cloves, smashed
5 cups strawberries, stemmed and quartered, plus more for serving
1 English cucumber, peeled, stemmed, quartered
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
1 (28-ounce) can tomato juice (San Marzano preferred)
⅔ cup red wine vinegar, plus more
⅔ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2½ (1-inch-thick) slices sourdough, crusts removed and diced into medium-sized cubes
4 thyme sprigs
Sheeps milk feta, marcona almonds, black pepper, and parsley for serving
- In a large bowl, combine 2 garlic cloves with strawberries, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato juice, red wine vinegar, and ⅔ cup olive oil. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add remaining garlic cloves and sourdough and toss to coat bread in oil. Toast, stirring occasionally, until bread begins to take on color. Add thyme and continue toasting until bread turns golden-brown and crispy. Transfer all to bowl with strawberries and stir to combine all ingredients. Season with salt, cover, and marinate for 3 hours.
- Working in batches, process mixture in a Vitamix or other high-powered blender until completely smooth. Strain mixture into a separate bowl and season to taste with salt and vinegar. Chill mixture before serving. Garnish with feta, almonds, black pepper, parsley, and reserved strawberry slices.
Recipe ByErik Niel at Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee