Friday, 26 January 2007

Spanish Food, Coming to your kitchen

Slashfood predict that, "Spanish food is likely to move from restaurants into home kitchens", this year following the rapid rise of the trend for tapas and small plates." This, they add, "is a change that should be welcomed, as the food is a welcome mix of traditional and cutting edge, both in flavors and in the dishes themselves." Spain is entirely a mix of seeming opposites: the traditional and the cutting edge. It is, I think, exactly what makes the vibrant culture of Spain what it is: Alive. And Spanish cuisine is either deceptively simple: creating sophisticated flavours from just a handful of the best and freshest ingredients, or it looks easy, but is deceptively difficult.

My paellas are testament to the latter of those two cases.

Spanish food has been a feature of my kitchen, since I live in Spain, for the last decade and a half. This is less to do with "When in Rome" or wanting to try things that may have been new to me and more to do with making my life easier. Whilst packaging is still very much aimed at the traditional Spanish family, one pot dishes abound that make things that are ideal for single cooks to keep or freeze and, fresh, local ingredients have been adapting to the local cuisine for centuries: doing the same seems to me to be the logical "path of least resistance."

Tapas, of course, most people think of as a very social pastime and it certainly is. If there are several of you, you can order a variety of dishes to try a mouthful of everything and never get bored. But they are still very adaptable to one. A combination of two or three tapas produces a substantial and still varied meal, while one tapa, with some of the wonderful fresh, crusty bread we have delivered to the door daily, is perfectly sufficient for a light meal or snack.

The most commonly served tapas dish is Ensaladilla (pictured right), also known as Ensaladilla Rusa (literally, Russian Salad, which never had anything to do with Russia, just as our Arroz a la Cubana (Cuban Rice) never had anything to do with Cuba

ensaladilla Ensaladilla is incredibly simple to prepare at home, can be combined with almost anything you fancy and, keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

Barring a few basic ingredients, it is also pretty much up to you what you put in it and the recipe here also varies depending on taste, location, or availability.

Do bear in mind the warning that Spanish Recipes mention here, in that "A poorly made version will taste like a mouthful of mayonnaise." Actually, they could have said a mouthful of SOAP, which it can, if you don't take a little care. In other words, don't overdo the mayo and, if you wish to leave out the onions, make sure you do have one or other, or both, of the other slightly sharp ingredients, such as gherkins or olives included to lift the overall flavor.

My Ensaladilla above consisted of:

  • 1 packet of frozen ensaladilla vegetables: this includes diced potato, diced carrot, French beans chopped into small pieces and peas. (You can, of course, use fresh ingredients instead of this frozen cheat.)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 small can of tuna in oil
  • 1 small packet of stuffed olives
  • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Put the vegetables on to cook in water in a saucepan and, in another put the eggs on to boil. When both are done, drain the vegetables, then shell and chop the eggs in a bowl. Drain the oil off the tuna and put the meat into the bowl also, breaking it up with a fork. Add the drained vegetables and the handful of olives. Add the tablespoon of mayonnaise and fold everything together, adding or adjusting the seasoning to your liking.

As I said, you can serve this on it's own with a hunk of crusty bread, or combine it with other tapas dishes, which may or may not need cooking. For instance, you could use it to accompany just about any cooked meats from the deli counter. For more Spanish cooking ideas and recipes, Slashfood recommended The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen.

For a book dedicated to tapas on the cutting edge, I thoroughly recommend Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by TV chef and restauranteur, José Andrés and Richard Wolffe. Tapas is a collection of 100-plus recipes for Spain's savory small dishes.

Or, if you prefer, you can purchase all the best that Spain has to offer - including tapas kits, where you just slice up the ingredients and you are ready to go - online from LaTienda.

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