Sunday, April 24, 2016


What to serve for dessert for a dinner party or holiday occasion is, for me, always a dilemma. That’s because I don’t eat sugar. None whatsoever. (I am borderline diabetic and determined not to cross over.) So the usual cakes, pastries and puddings are out-of-bounds. I usually resolve the issue by going ahead and making a sweet dessert, then sitting back and watching my guests enjoy it. 

Slivered almonds top a sugar-free almond torte.
This week I decided to try a cake with artificial sweetening in place of the sugar, so that I could eat it too. I started with my basic recipe for a gorgeous almond torte known as torta de Santiago (that recipe is here ). I used all ground almonds, eliminating the flour, so the cake is also gluten-free. I used olive oil instead of butter. And I substituted white stevia powder for the sugar.

A tiny bit of (optional) honey with lemon juice gave the cake a slight glaze and helped slivered almonds adhere to the surface. I served the cake accompanied by unsweetened whipped cream and unsweetened berries. My guests thought it was terrific and I enjoyed a nice serving too. I never fessed up to leaving out the sugar.

Serve the torte with berries and cream, a lovely spring dessert.

Almond meal and olive oil make a moist cake.

So good with a dollop of cream and strawberries.

Almond Torte
Torta de Almendras

Serves 8.

7 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup stevia (white powder sweetener)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 cups ground almonds (unsweetened almond meal)

Glaze (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Oil a 9-inch springform pan.

Carefully separate the eggs. Place the whites in a medium bowl, the yolks in a large mixing bowl.

Beat the whites at high speed until stiff. Beat in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Beat the yolks until they are slightly thickened and increased in volume, 4 minutes. Beat in the oil, then the stevia. Add the grated zest.

Fold the whites gently into the yolk mixture. Fold in the ground almonds in 4 additions.  Pour the batter into the springform pan. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool the torte in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

For the glaze, combine the honey and lemon juice in a small bowl. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds, or until the honey is fluid. Prick the surface of the cake with a toothpick. Brush the honey lemon glaze over the cake. Sprinkle with almonds.

Dense, moist and just sweet enough with sugar substitute.

Green almonds from the tree--promise of next year's crop.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Maybe you’ve heard that kale’s popularity has peaked. Not so in Spain, where this “foreign” vegetable is only just being discovered. It’s now being grown extensively in Murcia (eastern Spain), a region famous for its market gardens. Most of it goes for export, but, finally, kale has begun showing up in local markets here. TV programs feature this nutritionally-packed vegetable.

Bountiful kale harvest.

I’ve been growing kale in my huerta, vegetable garden, in order to assure enough of the leafy green for winter soups. Planted in the late fall, it provides handfuls of greens all winter long. Now, I’ve got to pull it all up to make way for the tomato plants.

I strip the leaves off, discarding the stems, and blanch the leaves in boiling salted water. Drained well, they are packed in plastic bags and tucked in the freezer.

Because kale is such a novelty in Spain, there really aren’t any traditional recipes for its preparation. Inspired by the similarity in nomenclature—kale and cole, the Spanish word for cabbage (kale is a member of the cabbage family)—I’ve adapted a very traditional Andalusian recipe, using kale in place of cabbage.

Beans cook with kale and other vegetables.

Potaje falls somewhere between a soup and a stew. It is usually served as one dish, unlike cocido, which may be separated into a first course of soup followed by a platter of meats and vegetables as second course

Potaje usually contains legumes and vegetables. Many are loaded with pringá, meat, bones, fat and sausage. Ham bone or añejo, salt-cured meat, contribute a lot of flavor. After cooking, cut the meat, fat and sausages into chunks for serving. Each person adds them to bowls of beans or mashes them up on top of a slab of bread.

The pringá--salt pork, fatty meat, sausages. Cut into chunks to serve with the beans.

In my village, the typical potaje de coles, cabbage pottage, is made with both chickpeas and cannellini beans. Or chickpeas and black-eyed peas. In other towns, only chickpeas are used.

This potaje makes generous servings of beans, vegetables and meats.

Cut the sausages and meat into chunks and serve with the beans.

Pottage with Kale and Beans
Potaje de Coles (o Kales)

Serves 4 to 6.

Top left, pellejo, salted pork skin.
12 cups water
6 ounces pork shoulder
6 ounces spare ribs
Beef marrow bone (optional)
3 ounces salt pork or pancetta
Ham bone, añejo or pellejo
1 pound cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1-2 carrots, peeled
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chopped kale (or cabbage)
4 ounces morcilla (blood sausage)
2 chorizo sausages
Use kale instead of cabbage.
8 ounces pumpkin or butternut squash cut in chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon smoked pimentón
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin
Sprigs of fresh mint

Place the water in a large pot. Add the pork shoulder, ribs, marrow bone, salt pork and ham bone. Bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat so the water bubbles gently. Partially cover the pot and cook 30 minutes, skimming occasionally.

Skim the froth that rises to the top.
Drain the soaked beans and add them to the pot with 1 teaspoon salt. Bring again to a boil and skim. Cover partially and cook 30 minutes.

Taste the liquid and add more salt if needed. Add the carrots, potatoes and kale to the pot. Simmer 15 minutes. Add the morcilla, chorizo and pumpkin. Cover and cook until beans are completely tender, about 15 minutes more.

Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the onions on a low heat until softened, 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 3 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the three kinds of pimentón and the cumin. Add this sofrito to the pot of beans and kale. Cook 5 minutes more.

Let the stew settle for 10 minutes. Remove the pork, ribs, salt pork, ham bone and sausages from the pot. Cut them into pieces, discarding the ham bone or añejo. Place the meat and sausages in a shallow bowl for serving. Ladle the beans and vegetables into bowls. Add sprigs of mint immediately before serving.

Waiting in the wings--tomato seedling will replace the kale in the garden.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


In the first cookbook I ever wrote (COOKING IN SPAIN; 1987), there were three recipes for cooking tongue. (As well as five for liver, two for kidneys, two for tripe and one each for brains, sweetbreads and testicles.) When I revised the book for a new edition (2006), I thought, “does the world really need three different recipes for tongue?” I cut two of them.

The one that appears in the newer edition is Estofado de Lengua a la Andaluza—Braised Tongue, Andalusian Style. Anything cooked in “Andalusian style” usually means a rich sauce made in the mortar (or blender) of almonds, garlic, saffron (or coloring) and spices.

Tender slices of beef tongue cooked in a rich sauce with almonds and saffron.

Although the original recipe calls for pork tongues, which are relatively small, I’m cooking a big beef tongue using the same recipe. I simmer it first until completely tender. At this point the tongue can be sliced and used as a cold cut (great on sandwiches with coarse salt, Dijon mustard and pickles) or cut up to finish cooking in the sauce.

The cooking wine, Andalusian style, is one of the wines of the region—Sherry (from Jerez, in Cádiz province) or a similar fino from D.O. Montilla-Moriles (Córdoba province). The fino, usually served as an aperitif wine, goes very well with the braised tongue as a dinner wine.

Use this basic recipe for the braising sauce, with almonds, garlic, saffron and Sherry, for cooking beef, lamb and chicken stews. 

Potatoes cook with the meat; peas are added at the end of cooking.

It's fine to serve fino Sherry as a dinner wine. It's especially good with this Andalusian sauce.

Braised Tongue, Andalusian Style
Estofado de Lengua a la Andaluza 

Serves 6.

Whole tongue, before cooking.
1 beef or veal  tongue (approx. 2 ½ pounds)
12 cups water
1 tablespoon vinegar
Black peppercorns
1 stalk celery
1 onion, quartered
1 leek, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
Bunch of parsley
2 bay leaves

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed
5 cloves garlic
1/3 cup skinned almonds
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 clove
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed
½ cup fino Sherry or Montilla-Moriles
2 potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 cup cooked peas

Wash the tongue in running water. Put it in a basin and rub it all over with salt. Cover with water and allow the tongue to soak in salt water for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse again. (The soaking removes any blood from the tongue.)

Put the tongue in a large pot with the 12 cups of water. Add 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns, the vinegar, celery, onion, leek, carrot, parsley and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the tongue until tender when probed with a fork, about 2 hours. Turn the tongue once or twice during cooking.

After cooking, tongue is peeled and sliced.
Remove the tongue from the pot, reserving the broth. When the tongue is cool enough to handle, slit the skin and peel it off. Cut the tongue crosswise into thick slices or chunks.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or pan and fry the bread with 4 cloves of the garlic and the almonds, turning until they are browned. Remove.

Add the onion to the oil and sauté until softened. Add the tomatoes and fry a few minutes.

Crush saffron and spices in mortar.
In a mortar, crush the saffron with 10 peppercorns, the clove and ½ teaspoon salt. In a blender or mini-processor, grind the fried bread, garlic and almonds with remaining clove of garlic. Scrape the saffron-pepper mix into the blender and add the fino Sherry. Process until fairly smooth.

Pour the paste from the processor into the pan with the tomatoes. Add 2 cups of the reserved broth in which the tongue was cooked. Add the pieces of tongue and the potatoes. Simmer the stew, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Add the cooked peas shortly before serving.