Saturday, November 10, 2018


Spiced and skewered chunks of lamb grill just until browned.

Back in balmier days, I had the butcher bone and open out a whole leg of lamb for cooking on the grill. I didn’t use the whole piece of meat, so I stored some of it in the freezer. This week, on the occasion of my birthday, I defrosted it for making lamb kebabs.

My favorite kebab recipe is Persian chelo kebab. Chelo is steamed rice and kebab is marinated chunks of lamb, skewered and cooked on a grill. The marinade of grated onion both tenderizes and flavors the meat. Saffron and sumac plus salt and pepper are the only seasonings used.

This time I planned to experiment with a Spanish-style marinade, using the spice blend for pinchitos morunos. Pinchitos are mini-kebabs spiced in the “Moorish” manner that are favorite tapa bar fare. In Spain they are usually made with small pieces of pork. Just across the Straits of Gibraltar, in Morocco, similar mini-kebabs are made with beef or lamb. The Spanish spice blend is a simplification of the Moroccan ras el-hanout. It can be purchased con pique and sin pique--with or without picante spice of hot pimentón or cayenne.

Ten spices make the blend.
I have both ras el-hanout that I brought back from Morocco and Spanish especia para pinchitos. Both contain potenciador de sabor—MSG, monosodium glutamate, a flavor-enhancing additive. So I mixed my own spice blend.

For kebabs, the meat is cut in good-sized cubes, so that in grilling, it stays medium-rare. Whereas, pork pinchitos are cut very small to cook thoroughly in the time it takes to brown the meat. I used a flat grill pan (plancha), making it easier to turn the kebabs than a ridged pan. The kebabs would also be good on a charcoal or wood fire.

I served the kebabs on top of cous cous with zeilouk, a Moroccan “salad” as accompanying sauce or side dish.

Skewered and grilled lamb is served atop cous cous, with a garnish of pomengranate seeds. Moroccan zeilouk salad on the side serves as a spicy sauce.

Push the meat off the skewers. Mix with cous cous and a spoonful of the zeilouk salad-sauce.

Lamb is browned on the outside, pink on the inside.

Pinchito Spice Blend
Especia para Pinchitos

Use freshly purchased spices or grind them yourself. Double or triple the recipe and store the spice, tightly covered and protected from direct light. The spice blend is good on roast chicken or lamb chops as well as the kebabs.

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot pimentón or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika), not smoked
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Grating of nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the spices in a bowl. Store them, tightly covered, in a glass jar away from direct light. 

Lamb Kebabs
Brochetas de Cordero

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds boneless lamb from leg or shoulder
1 ½ teaspoons pinchito spice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pieces of red bell pepper
Slices of onion

Trim off excess fat.

Remove fat covering from meat. Cut meat into 1 ½-inch pieces. Place in a non-reactive bowl. Add the spice blend, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and oil. Mix well to coat all of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Spices, garlic, lemon juice and parsley for marinade.
Thread the cubes of lamb on skewers (metal ones are best)  with a few pieces of red pepper and onion between the pieces of meat.  

Heat a flat grill pan and brush it with oil. Grill the kebabs until browned on all sides and cooked medium-rare, about 2 minutes per side. 

Moroccan eggplant salad, zeilouk. Recipe is here.

More recipes for kebabs:

Saturday, November 3, 2018


A potato is just a potato, no? That’s what I thought for years, when the only sort of potato I could find was the locally grown “Idaho” variety. It’s terrific for making Spanish potato tortilla and pretty good for patatas fritas (fries). It makes a flaky baked potato. But for making potato salads, it is a disaster, as this high-starch variety tends to disintegrate in boiling. Same issue when cooked in the olla, or stew pot. 

Only in the past few years have a selection of potato types begun appearing in markets. In the big hypermercados they are labelled, para freir (for frying), para asar (for roasting), para cocido (for boiling), para guarnación (small ones, for garnishing). Plus waxy red ones and—new!—purple potatoes.

Potatoes from Galicia.

Recently, I saw sacks of potatoes with Indicación Xeográfica Protexida Pataca de Galicia—protected geographic indication, potato of Galicia (PDO). Knowing Galicia (northwest Spain) is famed for its potatoes, I grabbed a bag.

First, I cut them up and boiled them to make mashed potatoes. These potatoes did not disintegrate! They mashed smoothly, but seemed to require greater quantities of olive oil and milk than I would use with the everyday potatoes. I looked at the labels on the sack again and saw that the PDO potatoes were the Kennebec variety, an all-purpose potato developed in the U.S., especially favored by producers of potato chips (crisps to the Brits).

To honor the Galician origin, I searched for a typical Galician potato recipe and found this nice dish of potatoes stewed with wine and mussels. Tomorrow I'll test them as baked potatoes alongside a Sunday roast chicken. Next week, it's patatas fritas. Galicia's potato for all occasions.

Chunks of potatoes cook with wine, chorizo and mussels for a typical Galician dish.

Crisp Albariño white wine from Galicia is the perfect accompaniment to potatoes with mussels.

Potatoes with Mussels
Patatas con Mejillones (Patacas con Mexillóns)

Some cooks recommend breaking the potatoes into cachos, or pieces, rather than cutting them with a knife. This is because the rough, broken surface supposedly releases more potato starch that helps to thicken the cooking liquid. 

Break, not cut, pieces.

To prepare the potatoes in this manner, cut them lengthwise in half or, if large, into quarters. Pick up one piece and, with a knife, start to cut a ½-inch slice. But don’t cut all the way through; break off the piece of potato with your fingers. Turn the potato quarter, make another incision and snap off the piece.

Chorizo in this recipe acts as a flavoring agent. Use cooking chorizo rather than dry-cured chorizo. If you choose not to use it, use an extra tablespoon of olive oil and stir in a heaping teaspoon of pimentón (paprika, smoked or unsmoked). 

If possible, use Padrón peppers in this dish. Padrón peppers from Galicia are bittersweet, with an occasional "hot" one. If not available, use any green or red pepper, cut in strips.

Chorizo adds flavour to the potatoes and mussels.

Serves 4.

2 pounds mussels
2 pounds potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup green pepper, cut in thin strips
1 (3 ½-ounce) chorizo, sliced (optional)
½ cup white wine
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Pimentón and chopped parsley to garnish

Scrape the mussels and remove beards. Wash them in several changes of water.

Peel the potatoes and cut/break them into slices. Cover with water while prepping other ingredients.

Heat oil in a cazuela or deep skillet with a lid. Sauté the onion slowly until softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic, green pepper and sliced chorizo. Fry, turning the chorizo to brown both sides. 

Drain the potatoes well and add them to the pan. Stir them with a wooden paddle to combine with the other ingredients. Pour over the wine and cook off the alcohol, 2 minutes. Add water to partially cover the potatoes, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Use a wooden paddle to turn the potatoes occasionally while cooking. Add additional water if needed, so that potatoes always have a little liquid and don’t scorch on the bottom.

Place the mussels on top of the potatoes. Cover the pan and continue cooking until most of the mussels have opened, 6-8 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Allow the potatoes and mussels to rest, covered, 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with a sprinkling of pimentón (smoked or unsmoked) and chopped parsley.

These peppers are tipo Padrón, not the authentic ones. If possible, use Padrón peppers with the potatoes and mussels.

All about potatoes here.
More recipes for potatoes;

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Roasted root vegetables.are easy, tasty, but pretty mundane. But, sneak in an imposter—chunks of fruity quince—and this popular side dish sings a different tune. 

Quince, an autumn fruit, joins up with a pan of root vegetables.

Quince (membrillo) is an autumn fruit. It looks like an oversized knobbly yellow-green apple, with a spicy fragrance and a slightly grainy texture. It is rock-hard, even when ripe, and must be cooked to be edible. It has an abundance of pectin, which allows the fruit when cooked with sugar to set up as a solid jelly or paste..

Peeling and coring quince is tough work. But if you first cook it for 15 minutes, it becomes easy to peel and cut into cubes.

What vegetables to use? Carrots (zanahorias), turnips (nabos), parsnips (chirivías), rutabaga (colinabo), sweet potatoes (batatas, boniatos), celeriac (apio-nabo), small onions (cebollas franceses), beets (remolachas), potatoes (purple potatoes are pretty), and, while not a root vegetable, pumpkin or other winter squash. Combine them in any quantity you like.

After prepping the vegetables, I par-boiled all of them for 5 minutes, which cut the roasting time to just 45 minutes. They can slide into the top shelf of the oven while a roast is finishing up below. (I saved the vegetable blanching water, a well-flavored vegetable broth, for cooking lentils another day.)

I seasoned the vegetables and quince with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Other possibilities are rosemary, sage, bay leaf, garlic and/or spices such as pimentón (sweet or hot, smoked or unsmoked); allspice, ginger, nutmeg, caraway, cumin or fennel seeds.

Vegetables can roast along with chicken or meat.

There's an imposter with the root veggies--chunks of fruity quince.

Exposed! Cooked quince is slightly pink in color.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Quince
Verduras Asadas con Membrillo

Spread vegetables in a single layer to roast.

My vegetable mélange included, besides quince, 3 large carrots, 1 large parsnip, 1 turnip, ½ celeriac (celery root) and 6 French onions, weighing about 3 ½ pounds in total.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

1 large quince
3-4 pounds assorted root vegetables
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbs and/or spices
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cut the quince in half. Peel and cut carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, etc., in approximate 1 ½-inch pieces. Peel the onions and cut a notch in root end.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook quince in the water for 15 minutes. Skim out the two halves and drain. Cook all the remaining vegetables, two or three at a time, in boiling water for just 5 minutes. Lift them out with a skimmer or slotted spoon and drain well.

When quince is cool enough to handle, peel it and cut out core and seeds. Cut the quince into pieces about the size of the vegetables.

Combine all the vegetables and quince in a large bowl. Add the oil, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables on an oven tray or sheet pan. Scatter herb or spice over vegetables.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place the tray of vegetables on the top rack of the oven. Roast them, turning occasionally, until they begin to show brown spots, about 45 minutes (longer if roasting at lower oven temperature). Sprinkle with lemon juice and keep the vegetables hot until serving.

More recipes for roasted vegetables:
Roasted Beet Salad.
More recipes with quince:
Quince Jelly; Braised Lamb with Quince.
Quince and Ginger Olive Oil Cake.