October 7, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Expat, Food and wine, Spain

News flash: I’m obsessed with Spanish food.

And you know what? Nothing chaps my culo like faux Spanish cuisine (yes, I’m talking to you, San Francisco “Spanish” restaurants – if I see another taco on your menu I’m going to refry your beans).

Oh but you can imagine my excitement when I found out about a traditional Spanish cuisine cookbook – in English. The American author, Elizabeth Parrish, has lived in Spain for 22 years, so she knows a thing or dos about Spanish cuisine, and also how it translates to the American table.

Now, I’m not going to lie (would I ever lie to you? No, never), I can cook, however I pretty much don’t like to. But I’m a big eater and studier of foods, so my first line of business was to examine her book, reading every last word about the ingredients and methods.

So far so good.

Next up – convince Jacobo to cook a few of the recipes with me so that we could give it a try. He was game.

Fresh off of my obsession with The Canary Islands’ papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) and mojo, I thought that would be just the dish to try. Super easy to make, it was just right for someone like me who wants less cooking and more grubbing. The contrasting sauces – one of red chili pepper and the other of green bell pepper and cilantro – are like the peanut butter of Spanish sauces (that is – they go with anything!). Most typically served with the famous salted and wrinkly papas arrugadas, they can easily top off chicken or fish (or you can just slurp it straight from the bowl – whatever).

The recipe from La Buena Mesa was mojo-and-papas perfection. My only suggestion: opt for a food processor rather than a ghetto Ikea mortar and pestle. Achieving a pasty consistency was virtually impossible, and plus all the elbow grease totally went against that whole “less work, more eat” philosophy that I was talking about.

After whipping up that mean batch of garlicky goodness, a girl needs some sweets (this one anyway), so that can only mean one thing: turning to the back of the book to find a dessert. The winner – one of my Spanish faves – natillas. I’m also kind of an expert on them (says me). Unfortunately, the natillas and I kind of got in a bit of a fight as my two batches turned out more like eggnog than custard. But I suppose they still had some yum potential if you like to drink your desserts. I’m still not really sure what went wrong…

THE VERDICT: Spanish cooking isn’t about precise measurements, and true to that spirit, Elizabeth has admittedly kept many of the formulas loose. I can easily promise that this cookbook captures the essence of regional Spanish cuisine – but be sure to bring some chef savvy to your pretend Spanish kitchen or else you’ll end up with watery natillas.

Now, for a little Q&A with the author:

LTV: Do you have any favorite recipes?
EP: I guess my favorites are the ones I make time and time again. In summer, hardly a week goes by that I don’t make a batch of gazpacho. In winter, it’s chicken consommé and, of course, I add a bit of fino to it. I’m also fond of the “classics,” like Spanish omelet, flan or chicken in garlic sauce. And I like Spanish comfort food along the lines of lentils with chorizo or fried eggs and potatoes (in olive oil, of course). If I’ve got a little more time, almond and pine nut soup is a favorite. I almost always make it for Christmas. I also like fish a lot and if you’ve got access to good seafood, you can’t go wrong with Catalan fish stew.

LTV: Which recipe was the most difficult to master?

EP: I would say that the most difficult was probably the Galician rye bread. I think that anything involving yeast is open to a lot of variables. There’s the flour, which differs from place to place, the type of oven used – especially where bread is concerned. As you know, people here don’t make their own bread; they buy it at the local bakery. That means professional ovens or artisan stone ovens – something a home cook doesn’t have access to. And then there’s the climate, which also affects the final outcome. I just think that bread is tricky.

LTV: What was your most memorable experience when learning how to make these recipes? And/or is there a dish that is particularly sentimental?

EP: When I first lived in Spain (nearly 25 years ago!), I shared an apartment with two other girls, one of whom was from Salamanca. I wanted to be able to make a Spanish omelet like the ones I ate in local bars. I made it time and time again. After each try, Marga (one of the roommates) would tell me something along the lines of “you need to cook the potatoes more slowly” or “you need to use thinner slices.” So every time I made it, I would fine tune that omelet according to whatever advice Marga had given me until one day she finally pronounced it as being right. Spanish omelet is also one of the few Spanish dishes that my mother made when I was growing up. Whenever I visited home, my father always requested that I make the omelet. My mother was too worried about his cholesterol and skimped on the eggs. I threw cholesterol to the wind and went for taste and texture.

LTV: What do you think is the biggest misconception about Spanish cuisine?

EP: I think that the biggest misconception is that it’s like the food from other Spanish-speaking countries or that it’s spicy when, in fact, I find that Spaniards are pretty adverse to hot peppers and spices. It’s a Mediterranean cuisine that has grown out of the collective experience of the people who inhabit this particular area, influenced by climate, terrain, and availability of ingredients. Spain isn’t even on the same continent as the rest of the Spanish-speaking world!

LTV: What is your favorite regional cuisine? (Mine is Galician – hands down!)?

EP: Galician food is excellent. I love hake, Galician-style; however, I think that a big part of what makes the food there so great is the exceptional seafood that comes from those waters. The Atlantic there is cold with lots of undercurrents and white water and that makes for spectacular seafood. And you simply can’t find that kind of quality in seafood everywhere, which makes some of the dishes hard to duplicate outside of Galicia. So I guess I’m going to have to bat for the home team and go with Catalonia. The cooking can be both amazingly simple and straightforward (bread with tomato and olive oil) or downright baroque, but it’s always ingenious. I mean, they’ll season meat with cinnamon or thicken and flavor a sauce with ground almonds and hazelnuts. If you want to try a Catalan recipe that you can incorporate into your everyday meal repertoire, try Chicken with Vegetable Medley (pg. 140). It’s easy, healthy, thoroughly Mediterranean, and, of course, tastes good; otherwise, what’s the point of eating it?

LTV: How is life in Spain as an American expat? Do you plan to stay here indefinitely?

EP: I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s certainly a learning experience and I think I’ve grown from it. Some people figure out early on what they want to do and follow a charted course and that’s perfectly valid. Others of us are given somewhat more uncharted maps. I try to be open, to explore what I’m interested in, and not panic! I don’t really know if I will stay here indefinitely or not. I’m divorced with a 10-year-old son and right now my number one priority is taking care of him and making sure that he is stable, happy, and doing well. (He is.)

LTV: Outside of the cuisine, what do you love most about Spain?

EP: I like the villages here. I like being able to disappear into a rural setting with its close contact with nature, the quiet, the architecture, and the slower pace.

Finally, the important part: to win yourself a cookbook, leave a comment below telling me your favorite Spanish dish by Monday, October 10th and I’ll do an extra-scientific hat drawing to pick the winner. Buena suerte!

And you know the drill – if you buy the book via my site, I will get a microscopic commission (we’re talking pennies people).

March 17, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain

We recently moved house. Along with that came more space, a central location, and the image of a fellow on my front door. Yep, it’s Jesus – make that Door-Jesus.

Door-Jesus reminds me that I am indeed in a country predominantly filled with Catholics. That’s cool. I like Door-Jesus and I’m down with all religions, so no problems here. These last days, as I unlock my front door he stares back at me, Door-Jesus has also been reminding me that it is lent. That time of year when Catholics and often non-Catholics alike make 40-day resolutions. (Incidentally, I’m also reminded of the last time I observed lent, which was in college. I abstained from chocolate for 40 days and finished the stint by binging on my forbidden friend and gaining some 10 lbs. No more lent for me!) Along with this tradition, people typically forgo eating meat on Fridays. So, in that spirit, my mother-in-law has a slew of vegetarian-ish dishes that she serves this time of year. Last year I introduced you to potaje de vigilia, and this year I present you with purrusalda. Ta da!

Purrusalda, meaning salsa de puerro (leek sauce) in Basque, is a Spanish stew originating from Basque Country (duh). Its main ingredient is leek, but many ingredients can be used from other veggies, to meat, to fish. It’s not terribly attractive (particularly in this picture), but it’s tasty, healthy, and super easy to make.

Let’s get to it – here are your marching orders:

    5-6 yellow potatoes (in Spain they call them potatoes for cooking)
    2 leeks
    4 pieces of de-salted cod
    Olive oil

For the cod, you will want to make sure to either de-salt it, or buy already de-salted cod…or if this seems too intimidating (I’m intimidated just typing it), pick another ingredient (our housecleaner swears that clams beat cod when it comes to making an amazing purrusalda).

Chop the leeks, dice the potatoes, and break the cod into bite-sized pieces. In a large pot, fill the bottom with olive oil, about a centimeter or so high, and heat it up. Saute the leeks in the olive oil until they’re soft. Then add the potatoes, followed by thoroughly mixing in a couple heaping spoonfuls of flour (to add thickness). Now, fill the pot with hot water until it covers the potatoes. With the temperature on high, stir the mixture. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the temperature and cover the stew so that it can cook slowly. When the potatoes are just about cooked (about a half hour or so), add in the fish, which will take only a few minutes to cook. Finally, add salt if needed.

And there you have it – purrusalda! Door-Jesus will be so proud.

*Speaking of yummy Spanish dishes, have you checked out the new La Tortuga Viajera recipe section?

May 13, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

So, you think you know what pimientos rellenos are? If you’ve only tried them in the US, then please forget everything you know about them as the Spanish version is in a league of its own. Growing up in California I’d tried them a million times but never was a big fan, so when I moved to Spain, I approached them with the same enthusiasm – “thanks, but no thanks.” Somehow though, I eventually tried them and realized they literally had nothing in common with what I’d tried in the past, except for the pimiento I suppose. Now they are one of my very favorite Spanish foods and a plate that I begged my soon-to-be mother-in-law to teach me how to make. You’re in for a real treat on this one folks!

In Spain, you can find the pimientos served many different ways, but my favorite version is pimientos stuffed with bechamel – yes, the same delicious, magical, creamy stuff that croquetas are made of. Just as with croquetas, the bechamel used for the pimientos can be made with virtually any type of flavor/ingredient – shrimp, jamon, chicken, cod or even mushrooms.

If you see the croqueta recipe on my site, you can learn how to make the bechamel with chicken and jamon, but this time, we’re going to learn how to make it with shrimp and monkfish. As usual, quantities here are not exact – the idea is to achieve the right consistency, so you’ll have to be brave with the amounts you choose to use. Also, note that the recipe below is for a lot of pimientos (so that you can reserve and freeze them), so obviously, if you want to make a lot less, modify the quantities substantially. Let’s get started – here’s what you’ll need:

    Shrimp in their shells (plan for about 1/2 cup shrimp once peeled)
    Fillet of monkfish
    7+/- heaping spoonfuls of flour
    30 pimientos del piquillo (you can find these jarred at the grocery store – and for sure at Whole Foods)
    One large onion
    1 carton of Tomate frito (which Heinz apparently sells in the US)
    4 cups 2% milk
    1/2 cup red wine (well, a whole bottle would be nice, then you can have a couple glasses while cooking!)
    1 egg
    Olive oil
    White pepper

The bechamel
In a medium sized pot, add a fillet of monkfish to boiling water. Once it has cooked for a few minutes, add your shrimp (with their shells!). The shrimp will cook quickly, so you will want to remove them just after a minute or so. Remove the shrimp, leaving the monkfish to cook until it’s fully cooked but still soft – once complete, remove from the water, leaving the water boiling (you will use this water to create your broth).

Now you will want to remove the shrimp from their shells and throw the shells back into the boiling water (heads and all – the Spaniards will always tell you that the heads are the best and most flavorful part!). Let the shells continue to boil in the water while you break the monkfish and peeled shrimp into smaller pieces (once done, set aside). Meanwhile, fill a small pan with milk and turn on medium heat.

After the shells have been boiling for about 15 minutes, you will want reserve your broth by pouring it through a strainer. To extract the maximum flavor, mash the shells into the strainer so that all the flavor and juices are completely removed.

In a medium pot, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot sufficiently. Now heat it up (not too hot). Once warmed start adding your flour one spoonful at a time (plan for about 6 large spoonfuls, but it could easily be more or less depending on the amount of oil you use) – the flour should sizzle, but not so intensely that it burns. You will want to stir the flour until it reaches a pasta or dough-like consistency.

While doing this, if you see that the milk is starting to heat up sufficiently (the top is curdling), turn off the heat.

Now you will want to start adding your milk, using a strainer to remove any of the cream that has accumulated on top. The objective is for your bechamel to achieve a mashed-potato-like consistency, so before you reach that point, start adding some of your fish broth (reserve some of your fish broth for the sauce). If you ever feel like your bechamel is too soft, you can add more flour. Note that how much milk and broth you end up using will depend on the consistency of the bechamel.

Once you’ve achieved the ideal consistency, add a little bit of nutmeg, salt and white pepper, and then finally the shrimp and monkfish. Stir and then test to see if it needs more salt. Now your bechamel is done and you will want to set it aside (likely in the refrigerator) to cool while you prepare your pimientos.
Gambas and monkfish

The pimientos
The amount of pimientos you need will depend on the amount of bechamel you’ve made. Start by removing the pimientos from their container, reserving the container liquid for later use. When removing the pimientos, be sure to extract the extra liquid with your fingers, adding the liquid to the other reserved container liquid. Lay out your pimientos side by side so that they are ready to be filled. With your cooled bechamel, you will want to begin filling your pimientos fully (if you have leftover bechamel – use it to make croquetas!).

Meanwhile, fill a deep pan with oil (preferably olive oil) and heat it up on high. Separately, fill a plate with flour. Also, beat one egg and reserve it in a bowl.

Once your pimientos are all stuffed and the oil is heated, you will want to roll your pimientos first in the flour and then in the egg. The next step will be to add them to the oil, but try to have several floured and egged pimientos completed before adding them to the oil so that they are all cooking for about an equal amount of time. Once in the oil, you will want to turn them regularly until they reach a dark golden brown color. When they achieve this color, remove them from the oil and set them aside on a paper towel to drain. After you’ve completed all of them, you will want to place them side by side in a large dish (or multiple dishes) to prepare them for the sauce and finally the oven.

The sauce
In a large pan you will want to begin sauteing your diced onions and also one chopped garlic clove. While it’s cooking, add one heaping spoonful of flour and mix in thoroughly. When your onion is cooked, you will add a cup of fish broth followed by tomate frito, the remaining liquid from the pimientos and a half cup of red wine. Stir and let cook until your sauce has reached a thick, smooth consistency. Once your sauce has thickened, you will pass it through a strainer in order to remove the pieces of onion and garlic so that you are left with a smooth sauce (although, I admittedly don’t see anything half bad about a chunky sauce).

When your sauce is done, just cover your dish of pimientos fully with it. Then you must put your dish in the oven at a very high heat for about 15 minutes so that your sauce thickens even more and almost becomes crispy on top.

Now you can be a pimiento relleno lover just like me. Sadly, though, the Mexican pimientos rellenos will never be able to compete – lo siento.

April 3, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Traditions

Potaje de garbanzos
There are many Spanish dishes that I’ve fallen in love with since living in Spain, so I have a pretty set list of favorites. What I didn’t expect was to be adding this easy-to-make stew to the list, but it so yummy and healthy that it just knocked my socks off. As usual, Jacob’s mom, a Spanish cuisine expert if there ever was one, taught me how to make this delicious dish.

Potaje refers to the base of the stew which usually is always made with water, flour, onion, garlic and garbanzos. But really you can add a variety of things to it, from different vegetables, to even meat. Often this dish is called “potaje de garbanzos” or even “potaje de vigilia” (meaning potaje of abstinence or vigil) as it is typically made without meat and during lent to be eaten on Fridays – a time when the Catholics do not eat meat. It’s a hardy, healthy dish that is especially perfect for the cold days of winter (and apparently the cold, early days of Spring as well!). Even better, like most all stews, it keeps well and tastes more delicious with each day!

    500g dried garbanzo beans
    1 onion
    2 bags (10 oz) of frozen chopped spinach
    Cod (optional)
    2 hard-boiled eggs
    A few cloves of garlic
    A couple large spoonfuls of flour
    Olive oil

First, it’s important to note that the quantities above are approximate. When Jacob’s mom cooks, she uses a little of this, a lot of that, and very rarely a specific amount. So feel free to alter these quantities, as they are just estimations.

The day/night before making your stew you’ll want to soak your garbanzos in hot water (must be hot and not cold!). Be sure to cover them thoroughly with water as they will expand and grow, and be sure to use a large pot as this will be the pot you use for your stew. If you decide to use cod, which usually comes salted in Spain, you will also want to put the cod in cold water the night before in order to extract some of the salt and return moisture to the cod (I’m truly ignorant as to how cod is sold in the States – this process would not be necessary if the cod is not salted). You may also want to hard-boil your eggs so that they are ready for the next day.

The next day, when you’re ready to make your dish, your first step will be to dice your onion and chop a few cloves of garlic. Then you will want to saute these in ample olive oil (at least enough to cover the bottom of your frying pan), as you will also use this oil for the potaje.

Once the onions and garlic are golden, you will want to start adding the flour to the same frying pan. During this process, you’ll want the oil to be warm, but not super hot (as it could burn the flour). Be sure that you mix in the flour well so that there are no remaining chunks. Once it is fully mixed in, add some dashes of paprika and mix thoroughly.

Now you’re ready to combine your mixture with the pot of DRAINED garbanzos (that you’ve let sit over night). After everything is well mixed, you will want to add HOT water – enough to cover the garbanzos, and then some. Stir your mixture and add salt to taste. Once it has sufficient salt, you’ll want to cook your stew – if you have a pressure cooker, you’ll cook it for about 35 minutes. If you don’t and you’re just cooking it in a regular pot, then it will take about an hour and half, and you will just need to taste it regularly to see if your garbanzos are cooked (softened, but still slightly firm).

While your stew is cooking, you can prepare your spinach by draining it of any water and then cutting it into smaller pieces, if necessary. You will also want to do the same with the cod so that it is in very small chunks. Set these ingredients aside while you remove the hard boiled eggs from their shells, and chop the eggs up into small pieces.

Once your stew is done cooking (your garbanzos are softened, but firm), turn off the heat so that your stew stops boiling. It is important to note that once you stop boiling your garbanzos, they will stop cooking (and not get any softer), so if you decide during this process, and before the garbanzos are finished, that you need more broth/water in your stew, then be sure to add only boiling water. At this point, by allowing your stew to stop boiling you will maintain the firmness of your garbanzos while you cook your stew further (with the spinach, fish and eggs).

Once your stew has stopped boiling and cooled, turn the heat back on so that you may add and cook your spinach and cod. You will want to let them cook for about 10 or 15 minutes before finally adding your chopped hard-boiled egg. Don’t forget to continue to taste your stew to ensure it has the right amount of salt (if it has too much, just add more water).

Now your stew should be ready. Hopefully warm weather is right around the corner so that we can replace this yummy potaje with some refreshing gazpacho!

March 30, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

I thought I’d take advantage of my two-week trip to the US to post some of the traditional Spanish recipes that I’ve been accumulating. This latest one comes from Carolina – resident Spanish expert on flan. Hers is the gold standard, and the best flan around as far as I’m concerned! Here’s what you will need:

    4 eggs
    1 can of condensed milk (14oz)
    Just under 3 1/4 cups (exact measurement is 3/4 liter) of non-fat or 1% milk (do not use whole milk)
    5 spoonfuls of sugar
    Flanero (special pan for making flan)

Begin by heating up your milk in a small pot. You will want to watch it closely as once your milk starts to boil and rise, you will want to remove it from the heat. Once you remove it from the heat and the milk simmers back down, put it back on the heat until it does it again – you will repeat this process three times. (If you are a fan of coffee flavored flan, you may also want to add a splash of coffee to the milk at this time as well.) While your milk is boiling, cover the top with cinnamon (you can add more or less depending on your love for cinnamon – more for me!).

While your milk is heating, mix your eggs and your can of condensed milk. Once your regular milk has boiled three times, you will add it to the eggs and quickly use a hand blender to mix your eggs and milk (to of course prevent the eggs from cooking). Now you will add another several more shakes of cinnamon, mix and set aside.

Now it is time to make the caramel for your flan. In your flanero, add the majority of your sugar so that it covers the bottom, then set on medium heat. Let the sugar melt, moving it regularly so that the bottom doesn’t burn. Add the rest of your sugar as the existing sugar melts. Once all the sugar is fully melted, move it around the flanero so that it covers all sides. Now you can fill the flanero with your egg/milk mixture. Set aside.

In a pressure cooker, or a very large large pot, heat up enough water so that it reaches a couple of inches high in the pot (so that you can create a water bath – or Mary bath, as they call it in Spanish!). Once your water starts to steam, but not boil, put your closed/locked flanero into the water and cover your pot.

From here, if you are using a pressure cooker, you will wait until the water boils (steam is exiting from the top of the pot) and from there you will leave the flan closed inside for another 5 minutes. In a regular pot, it will be more like 15 minutes, once the water has begun to boil.

After this, you will need to remove the flanero and the hot water in the pot, and replace with cold water where you will then place your flanero again so that it may cool. Once the flanero has cooled in the water a bit, put it in the refrigerator so that it may cool thoroughly (and harden) over the course of a couple hours.

Once cooled, you will just need to remove the top from the flanero and replace it with a shallow bowl (you will need a bowl rather than a plate in order to hold the liquid from the caramel) and then flip over your flanero so that the flan can be served.

Thank you Carolina for sharing your delicious recipe!

Tags: , ,