Saturday, January 30, 2016


I eat a big salad for lunch almost every day, year round. But when the weather turns blustery and wet, I don’t really want to tramp through the muddy garden to pick lettuce or arugula. And, just the thought of washing lettuce gives me chilblains. I want soup! 

I make homemade soup a couple times a week. Recently, a broccoli puree with cheddar and a quickie minestrone, with lots of veggies, but no legumes or pasta as I’m still cutting carbs. (See last week's post for more low-carb advice.)

Robust tomato soup with bacon and cheese discs.
Today, it’s a traditional Spanish tomato soup. No, tomatoes aren’t really in season. But I found good plum tomatoes from the Canary Islands, really cheap. Canned tomatoes are just as good for winter cooking. Sun-dried tomatoes, an ingredient I found in La Mancha, give extra depth of flavor.

Tomato Soup with Bacon
Sopa de Tomate con Bacón

Tocino--salt pork fat.

The old-fashioned version of this soup calls for tocino—fatty salt pork. The rendered fat plus olive oil give the soup a rich creaminess. Bacon can be substituted for the tocino. (Or, omit completely if you’re doing a vegetarian version.) Smoky pimentón de la Vera gives this simple tomato soup a heady aroma, with or without the bacon.

Use any well-flavored stock—chicken, beef, or lamb—or, for a vegan version, mushroom.

Usually this soup is slightly thickened with bread. Since I’m  avoiding carbs, I eliminated the bread, but added about ½ cup of chopped zucchini to add a bit more body.

For a silky texture, first purée the soup in a blender, then pass it through a conical chinois strainer. You will be surprised how many tomato pips get strained out. Serve the soup garnished with discs of cheese flan or with croutons of fried bread. If desired, add pasta, such as fideos, to the soup.

Serves 4 to 6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 thick slices bacon, chopped (½ cup)
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
(¼ cup fine, fresh bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
Pinch of cayenne or hot pimentón de la Vera
4 cups peeled and crushed fresh plum tomatoes (about 2 ½ pounds) or canned  tomatoes
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
6 cups bone broth or any meat or vegetable stock
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of dried thyme
1 tablespoon parsley leaves
Sprig of fresh mint
Fresh herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, or mint) or scallions to garnish
Cheese flan to garnish, if desired (recipe follows)

Heat the oil in a soup pot and fry the bacon until lightly crisped. Skim out the bacon and reserve. Add the onion, garlic and celery to the fat and sauté on a medium heat until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs, if using, and fry 1 minute longer.

Remove pot from the heat and blend in the pimentón and cayenne. Add both kinds of tomatoes and return to a high heat. Cook 5 minutes until tomatoes begin to sweat out their liquid. Stir frequently.

Add the broth, salt (quantity depends on saltiness of the broth), pepper, thyme, parsley and mint. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, 45 minutes. Cool slightly 20 minutes.

Sieve the soup.

Purée the soup using an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Pass the soup through a chinois strainer, pressing on the solids. Discard solids.

Reheat soup before serving. Serve garnished with reserved bacon bits, chopped fresh herbs, and, if desired, discs of cheese flan.

Discs of cheese flan to serve with soup.

Kid-pleasing variation--add diced carrots and fideo noodles to the soup. Grilled cheese and bacon on the side.

Manchego Cheese Flan
Flan de Queso Manchego

Flans baked in mini-muffin pan.

I baked this cheese “pudding” in mini-muffin pans, creating 2-inch discs. Otherwise, bake the flan in a cake or pie pan. The flan puffs up in the oven, but immediately deflates.

I was surprised to find caraway seed, which I associate with German rye bread, widely used in La Mancha cooking. It definitely complements the cheese.

Add these cheesy discs to soup or serve as a snack with wine.

3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups whole milk
Pinch cayenne
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces cured Manchego cheese, grated (about 1 ½ cups)

Preheat oven to 350º.

Combine the eggs, milk, cayenne, thyme, caraway, salt, and cheese. Ladle into two mini-muffin pans that have been lightly oiled or one 8-inch cake pan.

Bake until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean, about 30 minutes for the mini-muffins. Remove the flans from the pan while still warm and let them cool on a rack.

Serve hot or room temperature to be added to the soup at the table.

Here are more hearty, vegetable-based soups:
Cauliflower soup with cheese flan. 
Meatball and vegetable soup.
Wild fennel soup.
Pumpkin soup.
Broccoli-rabe and beans.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


If it’s January, it must be diet season. The diet is going just fine—I´m down a pound or two (not yet a kilo!). My problem is how to cook and write about Spanish food while dieting. Is there anything in Spanish cuisine that doesn’t require bread, potatoes or rice?

Even if those favored carbohydrates are not part of the recipe—think gambas al ajillo, ibérico ham, boquerones en vinagre—they are essential as an accompaniment. How can you just eat the shrimp and not sop up the sizzling garlicky olive oil in the cazuelita of gambas al ajillo?

For a couple of weeks, I’m “doing Atkins,” so it’s low, low, low carbs. As a food-centric person, dieting is engaging—planning what to eat and how to cook it is as challenging as planning a dinner party!

Kernels of chopped cauliflower stand in for rice in this paella with typical ingredients.
So, I’ve managed to come up with a dish with real Spanish flavors—paella—but without the carb-heavy rice! Cauliflower, chopped to rice-size kernels, takes the place of rice. Most of the other ingredients are typical to Spanish paella.

While it may not rate highly on anyone’s paella list, let me tell you, it’s probably the best cauliflower in the world!

Chicken, shrimp, mussels, squid, chorizo, artichoke--and saffron-tinted cauliflower "rice."

Cauliflower "grains" have a slight crunch.

Low-Carb Paella

Ingredients similar to traditional paella.
Serves 4 to 6.

1 ½ -2 pounds cauliflower (to make 5-6 cups “rice”)
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup green beans, cut in short lengths
6 mussels, scrubbed
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed
¼ cup hot water
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 large, unpeeled shrimp
1 small artichoke
1 small squid, cleaned and cut in rings
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped tomato
3 ounces chorizo sausage, sliced (or 1 teaspoon pimentón)
Bay leaf or sprig of rosemary
½ cup chicken stock
Canned red pimiento
Lemon wedges to serve

Process cauliflower to kernels.
Cut out and discard the center stalk of the cauliflower. Cut into florets. Working in two batches, add the florets and small stems to food processor and pulse until they are chopped to the consistency of rice grains. Reserve.

Cut the chicken thighs into three or four pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the green beans in salted water until crisp-tender. Drain and reserve. Steam the mussels open. When cool enough to handle, discard empty shell. Reserve mussels on half-shell. Place the crushed saffron in a small bowl and add hot water.

Heat  oil in a paella pan or large skillet. Sauté the whole shrimp, turning once, until they have changed color and cooked through. Remove and reserve for garnishing the finished paella. (Sauteeing the whole shrimp flavors the oil.)

Add the chicken pieces to the pan on medium-high heat, turning them to brown both sides. Strip outer leaves from the artichoke. Cut it in quarters. Scoop out the fuzzy choke and place the artichokes, cut-side down, in the oil. (If added to the pan immediately, no need to soak them in lemon water.) Sauté the artichokes, turning them occasionally.

Sofrito of chicken and vegetables.
Add the cut-up squid, green pepper and garlic to the pan and sauté 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and sliced chorizo. Cook chicken, artichokes, squid and vegetables 10-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Add the saffron-water and stock. Taste the liquid in the pan and add more salt if necessary. Add the bay leaf or rosemary. Bring to a boil and add the cauliflower “rice.” Stir to combine all the ingredients, arranging them in the pan. Add the reserved green beans. Place the cooked shrimp on top and the mussels around the edge of the paella.

Cook on a medium heat (liquid just bubbling) until cauliflower is done to your liking—7 minutes for a slight crunch, up to 15 minutes for soft (you may need a little more stock). Move the pan around on the stove, so it cooks evenly, but don't stir.

Discard bay leaf or rosemary. Garnish the top of the paella with strips of red pimiento. Let set 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges. Guests peel the shrimp at the table. To eat the artichokes, pick them up by the tip and bite the thick heart. Discard the leaves and tips.

Recipes for paella with rice: (vegan)
Paella with pasta:
And, more diet suggestions:

Saturday, January 16, 2016


My friends sure know what pleases me—gourmet gifts. I’ve recently enjoyed a prize-winning goat cheese from El Bosque (Cádiz province), packets of the best acorn-finished ibérico ham from Jábugo (Huelva province), morcilla sausage from Burgos (northern Spain) and mojama, superb dried tuna from Barbate, on the Atlantic coast of Cádiz (southern Spain). (Thanks, Julianne, Nancy, Charlotte.)

Mojama is air-dried tuna. Serve it with extra virgin olive oil, coarsely ground black pepper and grated lemon zest.
Mojama, sometimes called the “ham of the sea,” is an unusual product, not so widely known, although it has been produced on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts for millennia. The Phoenicians, who founded the city of Gadir—Cádiz—around the year 1100 BC, exploited the copper and silver mines of western Andalusia and took over trading routes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Salted fish, made from abundant  tuna that migrated through the Straits of Gibraltar,  was a product that could be kept on long sea voyages and traded at far-away markets.

Mojama is made from thick slabs of tuna—bluefin, albacore, yellowfin—that are packed in sea salt for a day or two, then washed and hung to air-dry. The process, indeed, is similar to that for producing serrano and ibérico hams. The salting draws the moisture out of the flesh. As it dries, the flesh becomes firm, compacted. The flavor intensifies.

Lovely gift--12-ounce package of mojama from Barbate.

The best quality mojama is cut from the lomo, side of the tuna, closest to the center spine. It is veined with fat which keeps the flesh fairly soft and pliable.  Outside cuts taken from near the skin don’t have this streaking and become stiffer in the drying process. I have had mojama that was like cardboard or tough jerky. 

The taste of mojama? Salty, like good ham, not like anchovies. It has marine overtones, a subtle iodine, but is not “fishy.” It’s a rich, umami taste. Because it’s a concentrated flavor, a little mojama goes a long way.

Slice mojama thinly--about the width of a knife blade (1/16th inch). Marinate in extra virgin olive oil for 30 minutes before serving.

Good quality mojama is thinly sliced, moistened with extra virgin olive oil and served with bread. It can also be cut in dice or, if very firm, grated, and used as a flavor garnish. Unlike another dried fish, bacalao, salt cod, mojama is not soaked before using. It is never cooked.

In addition to the simple, classic presentation, I’ve discovered that mojama can be used in dishes in place of anchovies or canned tuna. Here are some suggestions. Fino Sherry or manzanilla is the best wine with mojama, in my opinion.

Breakfast or apéritif?  Here sliced mojama tops toasted bread spread with grated tomato and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Mojama with Andalusian tapas--bottom, salad with oranges, onions and olives; left, salmorejo, a thick gazpacho cream; top, stuffed eggs.

Stuffed eggs with mojama.

To make the stuffed eggs: Hard-cook eggs. Separate the yolks and mash them with a spoonful of Dijon mustard, lemon juice, chopped red pepper, chopped mojama and a little mayonnaise to make a smooth mixture. Fill the whites and top them with strips of mojama.

This Málaga salad is usually made with salt cod. Layer sliced oranges, onions and sliced mojama on a serving plate. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes and black olives.

Pasta with mojama, garlic, chile and sun-dried tomatoes.

Pasta with Mojama and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Mojama tuna replaces anchovies in this version of  pasta alla puttanesca.

 Serves 2 or 3.

1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, slivered (¼ cup)
Hot water
8 ounces linguine, spaghetti or fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
Hot pepper flakes or sliced chile
1 heaping tablespoon capers
2 ounces thinly sliced mojama, cut into pieces
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon zest

Place slivered tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.

Heat oil in a skillet. Add sliced garlic to cold oil. When garlic begins to color, add pepper flakes and sun-dried tomatoes. Cook 4 minutes. Add the capers.

Drain the pasta, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Swirl the liquid into the skillet. Add the cut-up mojama and the parsley. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. (Salt may not be needed.) Serve the pasta into heated bowls and grate a little lemon zest over each serving.