Saturday, September 16, 2017


I'm going to be away for a few days, so I've invited a guest blogger this week--my son, Daniel Searl, who is a Spanish teacher and Director of Hispanic Student Development Equity and Inclusion at Westminster School in Atlanta, GA. Twice a year Daniel is one of three faculty members to lead a group of Westminster students on the Guatemala Global Education program.

During a nine-day stay in Antigua, Guatemala, using materials purchased through fundraising, students work with Guatemalan families to build affordable and safe homes. The homes are part of a wider campaign, in partner with From Houses to Homes, to connect families with educational, health care, and housing opportunities.

Key delivery for a new home with a real roof to this family in Guatemala. Students from Westminster school collaborated in the building. Faculty advisor, Daniel Searl, is in the center, wearing the black tee-shirt.

Not all is bricks and mortar, though. The kids also enjoy a trek to nearby volcanoes, cycling, sports events with Guatemalan students and even cooking classes.

 The completion of each simple, cement block house is celebrated with  key delivery to the recipient family and a communal meal as sumptuous as a Thanksgiving feast. Daniel sends photos from this summer's Guatemala trip and a recipe for pepián, considered the national dish of Guatemala.

Students and family share tortillas and a feast of pepián, a typical Guatemalan dish with chicken and chilies.

El Señor Max is the man of the 'new' house.  A proud man who worked his tail off everyday, all day, building his new home.

Corn tortillas cook on an outdoor brazier.

The feast is ready--bowls of pepián with chicken, pumpkin seeds, chile-inflected sauce, and rice. The centerpiece is a basket of warm tortillas wrapped in a colorful woven huipil.

The newly constructed house has a skylight that beams light onto the table.
Chicken with Pumpkin Seeds and Chilies
Pepián de Guatemala

Pepián is a simple stew with complex flavors. Layers of flavor are enhanced by roasting each ingredient to bring out the full fragrance of each.*Note: dried chilies and spices can purchased online if not available in your area*

1 whole chicken
2 guaque chilies (dried, de-seeded and de-veined) 
guaque - guajillo
2 pasa chilies (dried, de-seeded and de-veined) 
4 oz raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
4 oz sesame seeds (ajonjoli)
2 medium white onions 
6 large black peppercorns
6 cloves (clavo de olor)
3 large cloves of garlic
1 small bunch cilantro
9 roma/plum tomatoes (approx 1 lb) 
1 Tbsp dried oregano
½ stick cinnamon (canela)
1.5 lbs potatoes
1 qüisquil (chayote or substitute hard-skinned squash)
1 cup corn kernels
Cooked rice to accompany
Tortillas as a side

Cut whole chicken into 8 or more pieces. The chicken can be cooked skin on or off, as preferred. The bones are included and add flavor to the dish. Boil chicken in a stock pot in roughly 3 liters/quarts of water. Water should cover the chicken by about 2 inches. Add 1 heaping Tbsp salt and ¼ onion to the water while the chicken boils.

While the chicken is boiling, roast in a heavy skillet or plancha the dried chilies (de-seeded and de-veined) over a medium low flame until very dry and fragrant. Once roasted, crumble chilies into a mixing bowl. All roasted ingredients will be combined in this bowl.

Roast raw pumpkin seeds until toasted. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast sesame seeds until lightly toasted. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast one whole onion cut into sections with black peppercorns, cloves and garlic. 
Add to mixing bowl.

Toast fresh cilantro on stovetop in a skillet the same as the other ingredients. This will become very fragrant. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast tomatoes. These take the longest to roast. They are likely to become black but should be roasted until soft. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast 1 Tbsp dried oregano. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast ½ stick cinnamon until dry and fragrant. Add to mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl cut peeled potatoes into large chunks. Cut qüisquil into thick slices and peel. Cut remaining onion into chunks. Add these to the chicken pot once chicken is almost cooked.

Combine all roasted ingredients and add 3 ½ cups water. Blend liquid and roasted ingredients in a blender to combine fully. Add the mixture to the chicken pot. Continue cooking at a rolling boil, adding the vegetables part way through cooking, until the sauce reduces and all ingredients are cooked through. The sauce is typically like a thick soup.

Serve with cooked rice and corn tortillas. 

Westminster School 

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Javier López in the Bodegas Hermanas López Lavado, Mijas.

Javier López is a winemaker and he’s making really good wine. His is the first bodega (winery) in 138 years to be established on the Costa del Sol, a touristic region in southern Spain. The bodega and the vineyards are located in the village of Mijas in the province of Málaga, The wines’ label, Viña Tamisa, comes from the Roman name for Mijas.

Mijas is my pueblo, where I have lived for the past 50 years. Which is why, when I heard about wine being produced in my own village, my curiosity was piqued. The vineyards are less than a mile from my home, yet I never knew they existed. It was when I attended a cata, a tasting of the wines of Bodegas Hermanas López Lavado that I got excited to know this young winemaker in my community.

A day before the vendimia, grape harvest, vineyards near Mijas (Málaga) on sloping land with views to the Mediterranean.

Javi’s plan when, in 2004, he planted 100 vines on a sloping plot of land just below the village, was to bring back wine-making to Mijas.

Mijas, historically, was one of the most important wine-producing districts in the province of Málaga The municipality, which stretches from high sierra to river bottom to the shores of the Mediterranean, had hundreds of vineyards. Almost every small farmstead had a wine press and the wines were exported as far away as England.

Then, in 1879, phylloxera, a parasite that attacks vine roots, wiped out all of Málaga province’s vineyards, once famous for raisins as well as sweet wines. Over the succeeding 138 years, parts of the province have recuperated, notably the Axarquía, east of Málaga; Manilva, at the western end of the province, and, since the 1980s, the Sierras de Málaga around the inland town of Ronda. (These have Denominación de Origen Málaga and Sierras de Málaga.)

But in Mijas, landowners replanted in olives, wheat, citrus, and, in recent years, avocados, golf courses and tourist resorts. Grapes were grown on an arbor on the patio for consumption fresh, not for making wine.

Javi grew up in a Málaga family connected to wine making there and claims he was interested in wine making from a young age. He married a Mijas girl, Ana María Lavado, and moved to the village.

Javier López, garagiste.

Ana María’s family had grown avocados on a finca below the village for two decades, but lost the entire plantation in a drought in the early 2000s. Javi’s father-in-law put up the land for the vineyards as well as his garage in town, where the bodega is located. The winery is named for the couple’s two daughters, the hermanas (sisters) López Lavado.

Is there a Mijas terroir? Javi absolutely believes so. "La tierra tiene memoria," he says.The land remembers. It has a unique geography and climate. Mijas was once a great wine producing region and it promises to be again.

Javi learned the basics of viticulture and vinification in a two-year professional course at the Instituto Las Viñas in Manilva, a Málaga town known for its wine and raisins. But, in addition to training, it takes instinct, experience and passion to create good wine, Javi says.

Javi’s day job is as a police officer. He works a five-day week, from 8 to 3 in the afternoon. He comes home after work, hangs up his uniform, and heads to the bodega or to the vineyards.

“I’ve learned to compartmentalize my life,” he says. Summer into fall is the busiest time, preparing for the vendimia, readying equipment, monitoring the progress of fermentation, finally bottling and labeling.

Although production is limited by the size of his garage-bodega, Javi has launched his wines commercially. So far they’re available in a few select restaurants and wine shops in the Málaga region.

Javi says he has saved and sacrificed in order to finance the bodega operation but has no plans to expand. He needs to sort out the bureaucracy of legal certification as a vino de la tierra, “wine of the land” for Viña Tamisa. He can’t join up with the Denominación de Origen Málaga, because the Mijas bodega is geographically outside its legal parameter. 

Vendimia (Grape Harvest)

Vendimia, Chardonnay grapes.

The vendimia (grape harvest) came very early this year. On August 5 Javi and a few friends were up at dawn to hand-pick the Chardonnay grapes. To decide the ideal time for harvest, he uses traditional methods of testing the grapes’ sugar content as well as biodynamic charts showing when the alignment of sun, moon and planets will contribute favorable energies for the harvest. 

In the bodega, Javi combined the Chardonnay with Moscatel (bought from vineyards near Málaga).

Javier López in his vineyards.

Tempranillo (red) grapes also were early (August 22), but the Syrah from Javi’s vineyards is late maturing, still to be picked. He also buys grapes--Muscatel, Petit Verdot and Syrah--from other growers.

After picking, the grapes are quickly chilled to preserve their freshness and prevent run-away fermentation. Then it’s all hands—friends and family—for the vinification process. I joined the team in the Mijas bodega as crates of blue-black Tempranillo grapes were unloaded through the garage doors.

A family friend, Cristobal Moreno, helps unload crates of Tempranillo grapes.

Sweet, ripe Tempranillo grapes, ready to become wine.

Javi and a friend climb onto a platform alongside the despalillador, the machine that removes stalks and stems from the bunches of grapes. Another helper lifts the crates up to them. Javi picks out any bunches that appear damaged or under-ripe and drops them into a box below.

Village friend, Miguel Romero, checks the connections of the pipes that pump juice into the stainless deposit tanks.

On one side, Ana María Lavado, Javi's wife, monitors the flow of grape juice and pulp that begins to pour out of the machine. The juice is pumped into a stainless steel, temperature-controlled tank, where it will undergo the first, alcoholic, fermentation.

On the other side, the woody stalks are pushed out. They will later be carried to the vineyards for composting. 

María, left, and Ana, the two hermanas López Lavado, join the mopping brigade.

Miguel Romero, Jr., draws off a glass of mosto, the first sweet grape juice.

The grapes are not crushed, but slowly release their juices from their own weight. The whole process—resulting in about 2500 liters of mosto, grape juice and pulp—takes only about 45 minutes. At a later time, the wine will be pumped off the sediment and the lees will be pressed to squeeze out the last, concentrated juices that add potency to the wine’s organoleptic profile.

Chardonnay-Moscatel bubbling away.

Javi gives us a peek into a deposit tank where the Chardonnay-Moscatel wine, processed several weeks before, is bubbling and frothing. It’s in the second, malolactic, fermentation that changes the fruit’s malic acid into smooth, creamy lactic acid. Once it stops bubbling, he’ll keep it hermetically closed to prevent oxidation until he’s ready to bottle it. 

The Tempranillo has a way to go yet. Javi needs to decide if it’s going to be bottled joven, as a young wine, or as a crianza, with time in oak barrels, and if he will make a single-varietal Tempranillo or a coupage, combining the Tempranillo ,with Petit Verdot and Syrah, yet to come. 

“Normally, I know before picking whether the grapes will be joven or crianza,” he says. He keeps a daily log of lab analysis of sugars, temperatures, humidity. “It takes instinct and experience to produce fine wine."

For young wine, he picks early to keep the grapes’ freshness and acidity. A crianza needs fully ripened grapes to give enough sugar to develop the wine’s expressive characteristics during fermentation and ageing.  This year’s Tempranillo, he thinks, will work best in a coupage with Syrah and Petit Verdot with crianza time in barrels of new French oak.

Although production is limited by the size of his garage-bodega, Javi has launched his wines commercially. So far they’re available in a few select restaurants and wine shops in the Málaga region. “I think I make good wine,” he says. He is gratified when knowledgeable wine experts think so too. 

Javier López presents Viña Tamisa at a cata, wine tasting.
I first tasted the Viña Tamisa wines at a cata, wine tasting and pairing meal at a Mijas restaurant, La Fiesta. 

I tasted an elegant, structured Petit Verdot rosado (rosé) that had five months on oak. It had an intense pink color and paired beautifully with a shellfish timbale.

Rosado and seafood.

Tinto with tuna.

Next was Viña Tamisa Tempranillo-Petit Verdot-Syrah from 2014, with one year on oak and one year in bottles. The aroma of this tinto (red) opened-up with some swishing, releasing lovely fragrance of ripe woodland fruits, a touch of coffee. The intense flavor went nicely with tuna tataki.

Finally, we sampled Viña Tamisa Syrah, the first of Bodegas Hermanas López Lavado to be almost entirely produced with biodynamic methods, creating an expressive wine with more aroma, black cherry color, aroma of ripe fruit, a touch of chocolate, a long finish. The unfiltered wine had 16 months on oak and 12 months in bottle. Javier López is very proud of this wine.

Contact Javier López at . 
Visit the Facebook page of Bodegas Hermanas Lopez Lavado. 

Viña Tamisa vineyards planted in Tempranillo grapes.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


I got overexcited when I saw a few nubbins of zucchini thriving in my vegetable garden. I may be the only person in the world who can’t grow zucchini. The plants flourish and flower, but the baby zukes turn yellow and fall off the vine before they mature. So you can understand the thrill of seeing several specimens growing beyond the infantile stage.

Mature zucchini from my garden--perfect for stuffing.
I allowed them to keep growing, way past their perfect size when the skin is still tender and seeds immature. These got big and bulbous before I finally cut them loose. After admiring my harvest, I realized there was not much to do with mature zucchini except to stuff them.

Don’t peel the zucchini. The tougher skins of mature zucchini help the vegetable keep its shape when stuffed and baked.  At the table, you can scoop out the flesh and stuffing and discard the skin, if preferred.

Par-boiling the zucchini makes it easier to hollow out the shells and drain off excess moisture (zucchini contains a lot of water). One cup par-boiled zucchini pulp reduces to about ½ cup when cooked.

These zucchini "boats" are stuffed with vegetables and quinoa, a fine vegetarian main dish.

Oversized zucchini (3 inches diameter) is cut crosswise and hollowed out to make "tubs" for shrimp filling. Topped with grated cheese and browned, these are a lovely starter.

Zucchini Tubs with Shrimp Stuffing
Cuencos de Calabacín Rellenos de Gambas

Choose zucchini that are at least 3 inches in diameter, so that the hollowed out “tubs” are big enough to hold the stuffing. Par-boil the zucchini to make it easier to scoop out the pulp. Seeds are edible, but if they are very large, discard them. If the zucchini has a thin “neck,” not suitable for stuffing, finely dice it and add to the pulp.

If you are starting with whole, unpeeled shrimp (you’ll need 12 to 16 ounces), peel the shrimp and use the heads and shells to make a quick stock. If shells are not available, use chicken or fish stock. Small shrimp can be left whole. If using large ones, chop them. Use all shrimp or shrimp plus white fish such as monkfish, halibut or cod, cut into dice.

Serves 4 as a starter.

Scoop out pulp to make tubs.
1 or 2 large zucchini
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup peeled small shrimp or shrimp + chopped fish
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon diced red bell pepper
¼ cup white wine or Sherry
1 ½ tablespoons flour
1 cup shrimp, fish or chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/3 cup grated cheese

Trim away the ends of the zucchini. Cut the zucchini crosswise into 4 pieces of approximately 2 ½ inches. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and add the vinegar. Cook the zucchini pieces about 8 minutes. Drain well.

When zucchini is cool enough to handle, use a spoon or melon ball scoop to hollow out pulp, leaving a shell of flesh. Save the pulp, discarding seeds if they are very large. Sprinkle the shells with salt and invert them to drain in a colander.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the shrimp and fish, if using. Let it cook on a hot fire for 1 minute. Toss and cook 1 minute more. Tilt the pan so oil drains to one side and remove shrimp with a slotted spoon.

Add the shallot and red pepper to the oil in the skillet and sauté 2 minutes. Chop the pulp that was scooped from the zucchini tubs and any raw zucchini. Add it to the skillet and cook, stirring, until fairly tender, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to cook off.

Stir in the flour. Add the stock and cook the sauce, stirring, until thickened. Season with salt to taste, pepper and cayenne. Add the shrimp and fish to the sauce. Remove from heat and allow to cool. 

Zucchini shells can be filled in advance of baking. Top with grated cheese before placing in the oven.

Divide the shrimp and sauce between 4 zucchini tubs. (Zucchini can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated until time to finish in the oven.)

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Place the 4 zucchini tubs in an oiled baking dish.  Sprinkle the tops with grated cheese. Bake until zucchini is easily pierced with a skewer, about 20 minutes. Turn the broiler on “high” and brown the tops, 2 minutes.

Shrimp in a savory sauce fill the zucchini cups.

Zucchini Boats Stuffed with Vegetables and Quinoa
Canoas de Calabacín Rellenos de Quinoa

Chewy quinoa and smoky pimentón give this vegetarian stuffing a very meaty flavor. Use grated cheese such as Manchego for the gratin topping.

Serves 4 as a main dish.

2 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón
1 cup grated tomato pulp
2 tablespoons brandy
1 cup cooked quinoa or rice
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped
¼ cup chopped green olives (optional)
½ cup grated cheese

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil with the vinegar. Add the halved zucchinis and cook 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Sprinkle the zucchini “boats” with salt and invert them to drain in a colander.

Melon ball scoop to hollow zucchini.

Use a spoon or melon-ball scoop to remove pulp. Discard any seeds that are very large. Chop the pulp.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion, green pepper and garlic until softened. Add the chopped zucchini pulp and sauté 5 minutes. Stir in the pimentón, then immediately add the tomato pulp. Add the brandy and ½ teaspoon salt. Raise the heat until the mixture bubbles, then reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes are thickened.

Add the quinoa, chopped egg and olives, if using. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. 

Fill the zucchini "boats" and top with grated cheese.

Divide the tomato-quinoa mix between the four zucchini shells. Place them in a lightly oiled oven pan. Sprinkle the tops with grated cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until zucchini is easily pierced with a skewer. If desired, place under hot broiler for 2 minutes to brown the tops.

More recipes with zucchini:

A meat stuffing for vegetables  here.