When the temperature and humidity are soaring, your peppiness quotient is sinking, and salads have become redundant, it's time to eat something thirst quenching, fresh, colorful, easy and, above all, cool. That something is redolent with the flavors of a Mediterranean garden and as crisp and light as the click of castanets -- that's gazpacho.

Gazpacho is a bright, uncooked, tomato-based vegetable soup. It is fragrant with garlic, virgin olive oil and wine vinegar and is served cold. It hails from Andalusia, the sun-baked, southern-most region of the lberian Peninsula. Gazpacho is the Arabic word for "soaked bread" and in Moorish-influenced southern Spain this refreshing soup almost always includes torn bits of crustless bread to give it cohesiveness and to soak up the flavors.

As with all peasant dishes of the Mediterranean, variations of gazpacho are legion. Some are white, some red, some smooth textured and others filled with chunky bits of cucumbers, red and green peppers and onion. Then there are those that are pungent with the heady flavor of cilantro or nipped with the fiery bite of chile peppers; and another that is little more than minced garlic and torn bread moistened with crushed fresh tomatoes and a little olive oil.

The appeal of gazpacho extends far beyond its cool summer flavor; it is portable, can serve as a first or main course, is inexpensive, nourishing and utilizes the abundance of summer produce.

Packed into a wide-mouthed insulated bottle, and coupled with nacho chips, guacamole and a chilled bottle of fruity, young beaujolais, gazpacho can be the centerpiece of a Wolf Trap picnic. Or made early in the morning and refrigerated before you hit the beach, gazpacho makes a refreshing change from the usual resort fare of blue crabs-on-newsprint or pizza.

And for a sailing or camping weekend, make gazpacho base at home, and freeze it in a plastic container. On the second day out, when it has thawed, and when you'd rather be sailing or hiking than cooking, supper will be ready. Spoon the thawed gazpacho base into soup bowls and serve it with little dishes of freshly chopped cucumbers, peppers and onions and a crusty loaf of bread. Pass the pitcher of sangria and then sit back with your bowl, bread and beverage and watch the sun go down in cool, unhurried contentment.

GAZPACHO (6 servings)

Subtle variations on this basic gazpacho can be made by adding various fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, oregano or chives to the soup after blending and before chilling it.

FOR THE SOUP:

5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

3 cups crustless French or Italian bread, crumbled

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

Salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons)

3 cups iced water

FOR THE GARNISHES (To be served separately in small bowls):

1 cup freshly made garlic croutons (optional)

1/2 cup each red onion, cucumber, green peppers, and tomatoes, chopped

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons jalapenåo peppers, seeded and chopped

In a large bowl, combine the soup ingredients and pure'e them in a food processor or blender in batches. Chill thoroughly. Prepare the garnishes and chill all but the croutons.

When ready to serve, place the garnishes in separate, chilled dishes and pour the gazpacho into a chilled tureen. Ladel the soup into bowls and allow individuals to make selections of the various garnishes. Pass a bottle of hot pepper sauce and perhaps a grinder of very aromatic pepper. Serve with fresh, crusty bread and a pitcher of sangria and follow with a fresh fruit sorbet.

GREEN TOMATO GAZPACHO (6 servings)

This rather unorthodox version of gazpacho utilizes one of the "Old Maids" of the garden (second only to the overblown zucchini) in a fresh and tangy soup, sparked with fresh herbs, mellowed by sour cream and topped with crunchy, toasted almonds.

2 small cloves garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup fresh French bread crumbs, with crust removed

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 pounds firm green tomatoes

2 bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

1 hydroponic cucumber, chopped

1 bunch scallions, white part only, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, freshly minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

2 to 3 cups iced water

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 cup toasted almonds

1 cup finely chopped hard-cooked egg

1 cup sour cream, whisked until smooth

Mince garlic with the salt in the processor. Blend in the bread crumbs. With the machine running, add the oil in a thin stream. Add the vinegar and sugar and blend until smooth. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and set aside.

Finely chop 2/3 of the tomatoes in the processor. Add the green peppers, cucumber and scallions and mince finely. Add the herbs and blend into the bread crumb mixture.

Coarsely chop remaining tomatoes in processor. Mix into the bread crumb mixture. Whisk in 2 cups of iced water. Grind in pepper to taste and refrigerate several hours or overnight. When ready to serve, correct seasonings and ladle into bowls. Pass the almonds, chopped eggs and sour cream separately.

Adapted from Edena Sheldon's article "Great Tomato Recipes", Bon Appetit, August 1984. GAZPACHO SEVILLANO (6 first-course servings)

This less intense but very refreshing gazpacho makes a wonderful first course in a menu featuring garlic grilled jumbo prawns, roasted corn with cracked pepper and warmed tortillas. Serve with a fruity bottle of beaujolais and finish with fresh fruit.

2 small cloves garlic

1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/2 cup cucumber, chopped

3 medium ripe tomatoes

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

4 cups ice water

Salt and pepper to taste

FOR THE GARNISH:

Cilantro leaves

Jalapenåo peppers, seeded and minced

Combine the first five ingredients in a blender or processor and pure'e. Strain into a large bowl, pressing out all of the juices. Whisk in the oil, vinegar, water, salt and pepper and chill several hours.

Serve in chilled cups or bowls, garnished with cilantro and peppers.

GAZPACHO BASE (6 servings)

To make a base that can be frozen and enjoyed in all its freshness whenever it fits into your plans, assemble the following mixture and freeze. If frozen in a rigid plastic container, the gazpacho can act as a block of ice in your cooler, keeping other foods cold. The base is complete except for fresh garlic which freezes very poorly. So, when the gazpacho becomes slushy, stir in a little finely minced garlic, correct the seasonings, chop some fresh vegetables for textural garnish and it's ready to serve. If not frozen, gazpacho base can be kept refrigerated up to three days.

5 tomatoes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 hydroponic cucumber, scrubbed and chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

3 cups crustless French or Italian bread, crumbled

1/4 cup red wine or sherry vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh herbs, chopped, such as cilantro, basil, oregano, parsley or chives

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

FOR THE GARNISH:

1 tomato, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 red or sweet onion, chopped

2 jalapenåo peppers, seeded and minced

Combine all the soup ingredients except the garlic in a blender or processor and pure'e. Freeze in a rigid plastic container. A few minutes before serving, stir in the garlic into the defrosted base and correct the seasonings. Chop a variety of vegetable garnishes and serve everything very cold.