Loosely based on a tapa served in a bar on the Costa Tropical, where mangoes are a popular crop. A ripe, freshly picked mango is a wonderful thing, best served simply. It works really well with soft cheese. The original was stacked millefeuille fashion with goat’s cheese and liberally sprinkled with coarsely grated Parmesan (not a good idea, it swamped the other ingredients). You can either stack or arrange on a plate as here, whatever takes your fancy. We actually like it with Philadelphia, in which guise it could almost be a dessert, but soft sheep’s cheese would work very well too. You can buy reduced balsamic vinegar in Lidl, otherwise it can be made by boiling down (cheap!) balsamic to reduce by 50%. We sometimes use miel de caña instead, which is a type of molasses, a byproduct of cane sugar production.
This is a classic Seville tapa: every bar has a version of it. It might not sound exciting, but you will never regret trying it. It’s delicious and much healthier than the many deep-fried or meat-heavy tapas available. Suitable for vegans as well as vegetarians. We don’t often have it as a tapa at home — it makes a great light lunch or first course, with some flatbread. I use the recipe from my favourite Spanish cookbook, Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table, which I can’t recommend too highly.
We had this “house special” dessert in a restaurant on Spain’s Costa Tropical, famed for its avocado orchards, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to try and reproduce it at home. First I googled in Spanish and found quite a few recipes that would clearly have similar results. I ended up using them to provide the basic idea for the ingredients, and determining quantities and method for myself. I had thought it would need gelatine, and believed there was some in the restaurant version, but decided to try first without. And funnily enough it worked just fine, and set well after a few hours in the fridge. Just as well, as I next served it to vegetarians. It has a lovely fresh lime flavour and a pretty pale green colour, so it’s well suited to entertaining guests. You could serve it with a scoop of sorbet or ice cream on the side, but it’s fine without. One recipe showed it garnished with strawberries, which could be nice too.
It’s a really good way of using avocados that are so ripe as not to be suitable for salad; they need to be soft enough to be easily mashed. Very quick to make, no cooking required, but it does need time to chill. Also note that it won’t go brown as avocados do when exposed to the air, because of the lime juice.
This is a ubiquitous dish in the beach bars of Spain’s Costa Tropical, using locally grown exotic fruits. It’s a lovely refreshing starter which can also be quite substantial, while providing a large contribution to your five a day. We usually share one between two of us before a platter of grilled fish.
I will confess to not being a fan of conventional fruit salad: a variety of soggy fruits swimming in sickly sweet liquid does not float my boat. Bananas are especially loathsome in this context. But ensalada tropical is completely different: the dressing adds a welcome acidity that complements the fruit beautifully.
The recipe allows for considerable variation. The essentials are crisp lettuce, some kind of citrus, and something crunchy (although apple is not tropical, I think a few slices add the necessary texture). You won’t go far wrong by including mango, avocado and pineapple, in fact I think it’s incomplete without at least two of these. Melon in some form is good, and a few slices of kiwi fruit are attractive. We added persimmon to our last one, and that worked well too. I think passion fruit would be a lovely addition. Other than that, use what you like and is available (although I have to say I have never seen one featuring bananas, thank goodness).
We also toss in some of the handy fruit and seed mix sold as “salad mixture” in Spanish supermarkets (I always stock up on it when there). This usually features raisins, chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, and maybe some chopped roasted hazelnuts.
This is a Lucy Bee recipe from a magazine. Described as “traditional Spanish”, it features coconut oil. But I guess that’s because it’s from a book called Coconut Oil: Recipes for Real Life. So naturally we substituted more authentic olive oil. Effort versus results score: excellent. It was really delicious, and a great one-pot meal for cold weather. When we’d eaten all the chicken and veg there was quite a lot of spicy sauce left over, so we had it with pasta later in the week, and it was worth having leftovers just for that. Definitely a keeper.
When in Spain … it has to be arroz con leche, not plain old rice pudding. Truth to tell, the two are almost identical. In Spain, the arroz is always served cold, with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, one of the three spices used in unadventurous Spain (the others are saffron and paprika). And of course the rice used is paella rice (bomba), subtly different from the round-grain Carolina rice we use. Many Spanish recipes specify partly cooking the rice in water and then adding it to the milk, but I don’t hold with that — I like my pudding thick and creamy, and you need all the starch in the rice for that.
TV chef Karlos Arguiñano’s recipe suits me; he cooks it in milk, and the only thing I changed was the amount of sugar (many Spanish dishes are over-sweet for my taste) — plus we had it hot.
I love torrijas — if I see them on a dessert menu in Spain, all the other options immediately become irrelevant. They are basically the same as what Americans call French toast, even though in France they are called pain perdu (lost bread); stale bread soaked in milk and egg and then fried. In this Spanish version they are fried in olive oil and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The perfect accompaniment is a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some butterscotch sauce.
They are so popular in some parts of Spain that bakers sell special pan para torrijas (torrija bread). This is a brioche-like loaf with quite a dense crumb that stands up well to being soaked in milk without falling apart. So a counsel of perfection is to use this, although failing that stale French baguette or any good white bread is fine (for heaven’s sake don’t try to use wrapped white sliced bread for this). If you do want to try the genuine article, I searched the web and eventually found a Spanish recipe for pan para torrijas, and adapted it for the bread machine — see below. I always make two loaves, cut them in half, and freeze them. Once thawed, I leave them to go stale — the staler the better, you can leave this bread hanging around for a couple of days. It makes good toast too.
This is a truly classic Catalan sauce. Pounded nuts, usually almonds, are a strong feature of Catalan cooking, used to thicken sauces, whether savoury or sweet. Romesco sauce is very versatile: you can serve it with plainly grilled or baked fish, for example. Or steak. Or even escalivade. A very traditional combination is with calçots, young green onions that are grilled over an open fire in winter and early spring. They’re served on a roof tile to keep them warm, and eating them (with your fingers) is a messy business; when I ate them in a restaurant, I was provided with a bib!
It’s an uncooked sauce which is ridiculously easy to make — it will take you five minutes if you use a jar of peppers and a food processor or blender. I used the method in this video, substituting salt for the anchovies. Anchovies are not traditional, and they make the sauce unsuitable for vegetarians.
This book is based on a deep knowledge of everyday life in Spain, which shines through most notably in the chapters on rural life (the author lives on a smallholding in Extremadura). He does a good job of explaining the differences between regions; and Spain is above all a country of very diverse regions. I liked the organisation too, starting on the coast, then going inland to rural Spain, and finally visiting cities. Some chapters were very evocative — the one about Asturias immediately made me want to visit — though it’s clear that the author knows some regions of Spain much better than others. I was a little disappointed in its thin coverage of the Basque country, basically dwelling on San Sebastian and haute cuisine.
In fact, there’s a little too much emphasis on haute cuisine and meticulous accounts of meals in Michelin-starred restaurants, where the chef just happens to be on hand to present him with his very own menú degustación and a friendly chat. Not that these aren’t important — you can hardly write a book about food culture in Spain and not mention Ferran Adria and Martin Beresategui – but they don’t reflect the food world of most Spaniards. His views are at times a little rosy — or else stretching the truth. On several occasions he arrives in a strange town, selects a restaurant apparently at random, and has a wonderful lunch. In real life, this Would Not Happen. At least, it would occasionally, but you would be bound to stumble into one of the majority of indifferent Spanish restaurants and have a terrible, if cheap, meal. It’s obvious he’d done research beforehand — he’s a food journalist for heaven’s sake — so why not say so?
Ferran Adria has it right: “People accuse me of lowering standards: ‘It’s your fault there are so many young kids trying to do modern food, and doing it badly.’ Maybe, but isn’t it much worse that there are millions of tortillas and paellas all over the country that are cooked so badly? Ordinary food in Spain is in a much worse state than haute cuisine, and that’s a fact.”
For me the key feature of Spanish food is that Spain was virtually a third-world country in terms of living standards until about the 1970s. So it’s hardly surprising that food was cheap and filling, the stuff of poverty. There was no Spanish tradition of haute cuisine as there was in France — which is why the Basque chefs looked to France for their inspiration:
More than anything, the cooking of rural Spain is a collective response to the realities of climate, weather, organised religion … and, above all, the need to provide the body with the calories needed for hard physical work. (p 97)
I was surprised that Richardson didn’t mention the culture of the menú del día in Spain. I’m sure I read somewhere that Franco instituted it to ensure that manual workers had a large, nutritious meal at lunchtime, and it must have played a large part in maintaining the dead hands of tradition and cheap stodge that still weigh heavily on Spanish restaurant food outside the rarefied temples of gastronomy. But it was interesting to read about the revolution that started in San Sebastian on the death of Franco, asserting Basque identity through modern riffs on traditional food, and then spread through the country. He makes it clear too that it’s no accident that the most creative and adventurous chefs are from the rich provinces of the Basque country and Catalonia, both with easy access to mountains and sea, and with richer culinary heritages because of their voyaging past.
Further interesting facts: I knew that the Reyes Católicos were responsible for the Spanish obsession with pork, promoting it because it was a good way of winkling out closet Jews and Moors. But I hadn’t heard that in the 1950s, as part of a deal with the Americans over military bases, the Spanish government imported millions of litres of American rapeseed oil. Spaniards weren’t going to let go of their aceite de oliva without a fight, so in order to shift the imported oil a publicity campaign was started to convince them that olive oil was thoroughly unhealthy. Consumption plummeted until the scandal of the contaminated vegetable oil in the early 1980s that killed over a thousand people and persuaded the Spanish to switch back to the home-produced stuff.
Anyway, I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it — it’s a great read for foodies planning to travel to Spain and wanting to understand more about the country and its culture. He even has a list of recommended restaurants, if your wallet will stretch to them.
This recipe was inspired by a tapa in an Andalusian bar, in a village surrounded by thousands of avocado trees. The dressing is a version of a recipe I learned from Jim Fisher at Cook in France. There, we used grain mustard and served it on a salad of blanched spring vegetables and poached eggs. I toned it down a little here so as not to overwhelm the avocados. I like this colourful salad so much I’m already imagining variations: crumbled feta cheese on top, for example.