Saturday, December 15, 2018


When I shop at a big hipermercado down on the Coast, I'm on the lookout for foods and products that I don’t normally find in the village market—kale and quail, venison and violet potatoes. In the snack section, I discovered vegetable chips cooked with olive oil. I always grab a bag of them, to nosh on the drive home. 

The chips are made with beets, carrots, parsnips and purple potatoes. Something about the salty-sweetness of those vegetables makes them addictive. But the little pack is expensive. Why not make these chips at home? They’re perfect with a party dip.

Crispy vegetable chips with a creamy goat cheese dip.

Snack-pack of veggie chips from the hypermarket.

Because potato chips are fried, I supposed that beet and parsnip chips were fried too. I sliced my vegetables paper-thin (by hand, as I don’t have a mandoline) and heated a pan of olive oil. I fried each vegetable (beets, carrots, parsnips, purple potatoes and rutabaga) separately until golden, then drained the chips on a rack.

Fail! They were not crisp. The next day I spread them on a baking sheet and baked them in the oven (300ºF/10 minutes). This crisped the chips a lot. Still, why bother frying if baking does the trick?

Back to the drawing board. Happy to report, my baked chips with olive oil and sea salt turned out great.

Crispy, baked beet chips. They're sweet and salty, with a hint of olive oil. 

Headed for the chipper! Clockwise from upper left, rutabaga (nabo sueco or "Swede"), beets (remolachas), carrots (zanahorias), purple potatoes (patatas violetas) and parsnips (chirivías). Also good for making chips are taro, plantain, sweet potatoes, turnips.

If you don't have a mandoline slicer, use a vegetable peeler to shave thin strips from parsnips and carrots. 

Cut a slice off one side of the vegetable so it has a firm base on the cutting board. Aim for "paper thin"--1/16 inch. Shown are purple potatoes. Aren't they pretty?

A serrated knife works well for slicing beets, potatoes and rutabaga. 

Place each batch of sliced vegetables separately in a bowl and toss them with enough olive oil to coat them. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in preheated oven (325ºF with turbo/fan or 350ºF without fan). Bake 5 minutes and flip the slices over. Continue baking until they are golden and crisped. Time varies with each vegetable. Parsnip chips baked 12 minutes total; beets baked 20 minutes total. Expect the vegetable chips to shrink quite a lot in baking.

Baked chips can be stored in an air-tight container for up to two days. If necessary to crisp them up before serving, spread them on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven at 250ºF for 5-10 minutes.

Chip Dip
Salsa para Hortalizas Curruscantes

Chip dip is made with fresh goat cheese, seasoned with smoked pimentón

This dip starts with fresh, soft goat’s cheese (queso fresco de cabra). If not available use a log of French chêvre, Greek feta or Mexican soft cotija. Taste the dip before seasoning with salt, as the substitute cheeses may be saltier than Spanish queso fresco. Pimentón de la Vera--smoked paprika, either sweet or hot--is the main flavouring. Frying whole cloves of garlic gives them a mellow flavour.

Fresh, soft goat cheese.

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Oil for frying
½ cup soft goat cheese or queso fresco
¼ cup Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon hot pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar

Whole, fried cloves of garlic.

Lightly crush the cloves of garlic, just sufficiently to split the skins. Heat the oil in small skillet and fry the cloves of garlic until golden. Remove. When they are cool, slip off the skins.

Place the skinned garlic in a mini food processor with the cheese, yogurt, pimentón, cumin, salt and vinegar. Blend to make a smooth dip.

The dip keeps, covered and refrigerated, up to 5 days.

I´m thinking I'll buy myself a mandoline for Christmas and make a batch of vegetable chips every time I turn on the oven.

More recipes with beets:
Waldorf Salad with Beets.
Roasted Beet Salad with Grapefruit.
Moroccan Beet Salad.

More recipes with parsnips:
Savory Parsnip Upside-Down Cake.
Roasted Root Vegetables with Quince.

Saturday, December 8, 2018


‘Tis the season for one of my favorite soups, a lavish seafood extravaganza with fish and a couple kinds of shellfish. It’s perfect as a main course for family meals and for casual entertaining--maybe a tree-trimming party?—as well as an elegant starter for the cena de Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve dinner when it’s traditional to serve both  fish and shellfish (as well as meat).

My favorite seafood soup--perfect as a starter for Christmas dinner.

Deep flavour comes from shrimp shells. Soup has shrimp, clams and monkfish.

Or, serve it as a main course for a casual dinner party.

The soup needs a lot of prepping—peeling shrimp, making stock, seasoning and simmering the soup. But all of that can be done in advance. Fish stock can be made weeks before and frozen (or store-bought). Clams can be steamed open a day or two before and refrigerated. At mealtime, you only need to reheat the soup and cook the chunks of fish and the shrimp.

Save the heads and tails to add depth of flavour to the soup.

Crustacean shells (shrimp, lobster or crab) give this soup real depth of flavor, so, if possible, choose shrimp with heads and shells. If these are not available where you shop, buy extra shrimp to use in building flavor for the soup base. Shrimp for the soup can be small, medium or large, your choice. While the “vein” (it’s not really a vein), like a dark thread running the length of the shrimp, is edible, in jumbo shrimp it’s aesthetically unpleasing. Pull or cut it out. In small shrimp, the vein may not even be noticeable—don’t bother removing it.

Building flavour--shrimp heads and shells flavor the olive oil to cook the sofrito.

Two fillets of monkfish (not all of it is needed for the soup). The enormous monkfish head was used to make fish stock.

Use a solid-fleshed fish that won’t disintegrate in cooking. Monkfish (rape),halibut, snapper, grouper (mero) or bass (lubina) are all good. Monkfish is my favorite—the huge head is perfect for stock (below is a link to another post with a recipe for fish stock) and the tail is easy to separate into two bone-free segments, perfect for cutting into bite-size pieces.  Add the chunks of fish to the finished soup shortly before serving. They need only 5 to 10 minutes to cook.

If you leave the clams in their shells (typical), provide bowls at the table for discarding the shells. If you prefer, remove the shells after they are steamed open and before adding to the soup.

The fish soup is usually served with strips of bread fried in olive oil, although any crusty bread is fine. It can be embellished with cooked rice or vegetables (I used beet greens in one iteration).

Typically, the seafood soup is served with strips of bread fried in olive oil.

Holiday Seafood Soup
Sopa de Pescados y Mariscos

Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main.

1 pound whole, unpeeled shrimp
1 pound clams and/or mussels, scrubbed
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped leeks (white part only)
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped carrot
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup peeled and diced tomatoes
¼ cup brandy
½ cup white wine
½ teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
8-9 cups fish stock
Pinch of cayenne
Salt to taste
Pinch of saffron threads, crushed
Sprig of thyme
1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 slices toasted bread
1 pound boneless monkfish, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup cream (optional)
Chopped parsley, to garnish
Fried bread to serve (optional)

Peel the shrimp, devein and reserve them, refrigerated. Keep the heads and shells, refrigerated or frozen

Put the clams in a small pan with ½ cup water. Cover and place them on a high heat until shells open. Reserve clams, refrigerated. Pass the liquid through a fine sieve. Add it to the fish stock.

Heat 1/3 cup oil In a deep pan. Add the shrimp heads and shells (or other crustraceans). Fry them, turning and pressing them with a wooden spatula so they release all their juices into the oil. Place a heat-proof strainer over a bowl. Empty the oil and shells into the strainer, allowing the oil to strain into the bowl. Discard the shells.

Return the shrimp-flavored oil to the pan. To prepare the sofrito, sauté the leeks, onion, carrots and garlic, stirring frequently, until onion begins to brown, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and continue frying until tomatoes are deep red and reduced to a jam consistency.

Add the brandy (you can flambé it, if you like) and let it cook off. Add the wine and stir until alcohol is cooked off (2 minutes). Stir in the pimentón.

Add 2 cups of the fish stock. Season with cayenne, salt, saffron, thyme and fennel. Cook until vegetables are soft, 15 minutes. Break the toasted bread into pieces and add it to the vegetables. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes more.

Discard the sprig of thyme. Puree the vegetable-stock mixture in a blender or food processor. If you want a really smooth soup, pass it through a chinoise strainer. 

Put the puree in a soup pot with the remaining fish stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for salt. If fish stock was salted, the soup may not need additional salt. (The soup can be prepared in advance up to this point. Cool it and store, refrigerated, until ready to finish.)

Shortly before serving time, bring the soup to a boil. Add the chunks of monkfish and cook them until done, 8-10 minutes. Add the steamed clams to the soup to reheat. 

Sauté the peeled shrimp in a skillet with remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Keep them warm. Add the cream, if using, to the soup and heat. Add the shrimp to the soup and serve immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Recipe for fish stock and another seafood stew here.
Another recipe with monkfish: Monkfish, Mariner's Style.

Sunday, December 2, 2018


Only 25 days till Christmas! As the holiday countdown begins, I’ve put together a sort of Advent calendar of Spanish foods--from ham to cheese, from olive oil to marzipan--to help you with shopping, gift lists and menu planning

Many of the foods listed rate right up with the world’s gastronomic treasures (ibérico ham and saffron, for example). Others are splendid, but everyday foods that, none the less, light up the holiday season (eg., Valencia oranges). Many of my selections have denominación de origen (DO); denominación específica (DE) or indicación geográfica protegida (IGP). These designations represent controls of geographical origin and guarantee of quality.

1Ham, jamón.
The whole ham--good excuse for a party.  
(Photo of serrano ham by  ©Pilar Esteban-Ordorica from the book Slicing Spanish Ham.)

Get your ham today and, unless you will be doing a lot of entertaining, it should see you through the holiday season. Will it be ibérico or serrano?

Ibérico designates a breed of pig. The ibérico breed has the unique characteristic of storing fat infiltrated in the flesh, making for exceptional cured hams.

When buying ham and comparing prices, pay attention to the labels. Ibérico hams have four different categories (and corresponding prices). Black label designates “bellota 100% ibérico,” meaning it comes from thoroughbred (100 percent ibérico breed) pigs that have been fattened on acorns (bellotas). Red label is for “bellota ibérico,” meaning it’s from pigs that are cross-breeds (at least 50% ibérico) and finished on acorns. Green label is “cebo de campo ibérico.” These hams come from free-range pigs that can be thoroughbreds or cross-breeds, but are fattened on natural pasturage and pig feed. White label hams are “cebo ibérico,” from cross-breed pigs raised in feed lots and fed only on pig feed.

In ibérico hams, look for DOs Jabugo (Huelva), Los Pedroches (Córdoba), Guijuela (Salamanca) and Dehesa de Extremadura (Cáceres and Badajoz).

Serrano ham (pictured above) comes from non-ibérico pigs. Much is raised on an industrial scale and cured in big meat-processing plants. A few have designations: DO Teruel and IGP Trévelez (Granada) and Serón (Almería).

2. Raisins and dried fruits (pasas).

Christmas is not Christmas without the sweetness of dried fruits. Famous are the sun-dried muscatel raisins of Málaga (DO Pasas de Málaga). Look for them in handsome gift packages. Also typical are dried figs (higos) and apricots (orejones).

 3. Liqueurs (licores).

Aguardiente is anisette liqueur, both sweet and dry. It’s typically served, along with Brandy de Jerez, with a plate of holiday pastries and cookies.

 4. Saffron (azafrán).

Saffron is like gold--precious and expensive. It's expensive because it takes the tiny stigmas of 75,000 crocus sativus to make a half-kilo of the spice.  The finest saffron comes from La Mancha (DO Azafrán de La Mancha).

5. Oranges and clementines (naranjas y clementinas).

Winter sunshine. A splendid way to celebrate the winter solstice. (IGP Citricos Valencianos, Clementinas Tierra del Ebro).

 6. Olives (aceitunas).

To see you through every holiday occasion. Every olive-producing region in Spain has its distinctive varieties and methods of curing and flavoring olives. Try Andalusian aceitunas partidas, cracked, brine-cured and flavoried with garlic and thyme (DO Aceituna Aloreña de Málaga). Fancy, stuffed Sevilla olives. Empeltre olives from Aragón, Arbequina from Catalonia or Cuqillo from Murcia.

7. Piquillo red peppers (pimientos de piquillo).

Essential for holiday meals—for their inimitable bright color, sweet and piquant flavor. Stuff them with shrimp in sauce, toss them in salads, lay strips across the tops of canapés for vibrant garnish. (DO Pimiento del Piquillo de Lodosa).
8. Quince paste (membrillo).

 Serve sweet quince paste (sometimes called quince jelly) on a cheese board or as dessert. It’s an easy ingredient for making puddings and ice cream as well.

9, 10, 11. Cheese, cheese and cheese (queso).

With more than 100 different regional cheeses in Spain, you could conceivably have an “advent” calendar with a cheese a day! So, how about a cheese tasting party for your holiday festivities? Some cheeses are so distinctive that they have DO labels. Others are produced in such small scale that they are only available locally. 

A few to consider: DO Queso Manchego (sheep’s milk, La Mancha), Roncal (sheep’s milk, Navarra), Mahón (cow’s milk, Menorca), Idiazábal (latxa sheep’s milk, Basque), Zamorano (sheep’s milk, Castilla), Tetilla (cow’s milk, Galicia). Additionally, there are myriad goat’s  milk cheeses from many regions of Spain. Notably, are those of Málaga, fresh, white queso fresco and crumbly, aged cheese.

12. Nuts (frutos secos, nueces).

Almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are all produced in Spain (as well as pecans, pistachios and more). A basket of them with a nutcracker next to the hearth is a jolly way to spend Christmas Eve. Use them in both sweet and savory dishes. (DO Avellana de Reus, hazelnuts of Reus, Catalonia.)

13. Pimentón de La Vera, smoked paprika (pimentón de La Vera).

Pimentón just means “paprika.” But that produced in La Vera, Extremadura, is smoke-dried over smoldering wild holm oak. Smoking produces an intensely red spice and adds an ineffable natural smokiness that complements many foods. It comes both sweet, dulce, and “hot,” picante. (DO Pimentón de La Vera.)

14. Andalusian Christmas cookies (mantecados, polvorones, roscos de Andalucía).

In southern Spain, these distinctive cookies, usually made with lard, are produced just for the holiday season. Shops stock boxes of them in all sizes, offering a selection of the crumbly mantecados and polvorones and the tiny roscos or ring cookies. Every household has a platter of them to offer visitors who might come to see the Belén, the family’s nativity figurines.

15. Cherimoya, custard apple (chirimoya).

Cherimoya is a gorgeous—and exotic—winter fruit. Stocking stuffer? (DO Costa Tropical Granada-Málaga).

 16, 17, 18. Wines, cava, Sherry (los vinos).

For every festive occasion there is a perfect Spanish wine. Take a tour of the regions and choose the ones to accompany your holiday parties.

Will it be Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) to start (DO Cava)? Or, perhaps a fino Sherry (DO Jerez-Xeres-Sherry y Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda? With the seafood course, a fresh and fruity Verdejo white (DO Rueda) or a citric, minerally Albariño (DO Rias Baixas). A medium-bodied crianza red will pair very nicely with hearty winter stews (DO Jumilla or La Mancha). And big, impressive Tempranillo reds to go with beef or venison (DO Ribera del Duero, Rioja or Somontano). For dessert, one of the luscious sweet wines, Pedro Ximenez (DO Montilla-Moriles) or muscatel (DO Málaga).

19. Avocados (aguacates).

Grown in southern Spain, avocados are in season in winter. The perfect starter for a lavish holiday meal.

 20. Seafood in cans; air-dried tuna (pescados en conserva; mojama).

Anchovies in olive oil, mussels in escabeche, sardines in spicy sauce, squid in its own ink—canned fish and shellfish are convenient and delicious ingredients for turning into party canapés. .(D de calidad Anchoa de l’Escala). A luxury amongst the fish conserves is mojama, air-dried tuna (pictured). Slice it thinly and serve as an aperitif

21. Almond nougat (turrón).

In Spain, this is a classic Christmas sweet—almond nougat bars. Soft turrón, made of ground almonds, is like fudge in consistency. Hard turrón is a white nougat studded with almonds. Try the variations on the originals, with chocolate, hazelnuts, sesame. (DO Jijona y Turrón de Alicante.)

 22. Olive oil, extra virgin (aceite de olivo virgin extra).

You’ll need it for cooking; it also makes fabulous gifts. Look for single-varietal oils—Hojiblanca, Arbequina, Picual are some of them—and single-estate oils. Keep several on hand to change the flavors for fish, meat, vegetables, salads. (Currently 28 extra virgin olive oils with DO.)
23.  Shellfish (mariscos).

 In Spanish homes, shellfish is typically served as starter at a traditional cena for Noche Buena, the late Christmas Eve dinner. From the simplest cooked shrimp, for guests to peel themselves, to elaborate sauced lobster dishes. Prices for fresh shellfish skyrocket in the week before Christmas. For that reason, many shoppers buy early and freeze their seafood. Wild-caught shellfish won’t have denominación de origen (DO), although some varieties do have surnames. Such are the famed langostinos (jumbo shrimp) from Sanlucar de Barameda (Cádiz), pictured above, and from Vinarós (Castellón). Atlantic farmed mussels do (DO Mejillón de Galicia).

24. Lamb, baby kid, capon (cordero, cabrito, capón).

The Christmas Eve feast often features baby lamb, kid-goat or fat capon. (I.G.P. Cordero de Navarra and Pollo y Capón del Prat;  DO. Cordero Manchego, Lechazo de Castilla-León and  Ternasco de Aragón.) Chivo Lechal Malagueño, pictured above, is baby kid from Málaga.
25. Marzipan (mazapán).

Happy Christmas! Let’s have marzipan to celebrate.  Marzipan is a paste made by grinding and kneading sweet almonds with sugar. It is shaped into charming figures, glazed and decorated. While it is confected in various regions of Spain, Toledo (Castilla-La Mancha) it the capital for marzipan. (DO Mazapán de Toledo.)

Many of these Spanish food products are available in the US at grocery stores and from La Tienda,
The Spanish Table and de España.

Recipes using some of these foods:
Winter Salad with Oranges.
Saffron Ice Cream with Pine Nuts.
Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Shrimp.
Olive-Cream Cheese Dip
Squash Salad with Raisins.
Quince Sorbet.
Carrot Cream Soup with Goat Cheese.
Fish in Pimentón Sauce.
Apricot-Nut Bars.
Andalusian Christmas Cookies (Mantecados).
Cherimoya Tart with Chocolate.
Shellfish Cocktail with Avocado.
Pasta with Mojama Tuna.
Almond Nougat Mousse.
Roasted Kid-Goat with Potatoes
Christmas Almond Soup.

To order the book, Slicing Spanish Ham by Pilar Esteban-Ordorica, go to