Sunday, March 27, 2011


Looking for the history of olive oil in Spain? Bio notes of Ferran Adrià? Where to eat tapas in New York City? Want to import foods from Spain? Discover how to make sofrito or escabeche? Looking to find ibérico ham on the hoof?

You will find answers to all these inquiries and many more at this new interactive web portal, FOODS FROM SPAIN. Sponsored by ICEX, Spain’s institute for foreign trade (a division of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade), the FOODS FROM SPAIN web site is mainly aimed at professionals in the food sector (importers, distributors, journalists, cooking schools, etc.), but it’s jam-packed with food stuff for absolutely everybody with an interest in Spain (yes, school kids, you’ll find everything you need for that report for Spanish class).

Here are some of the features: calendar of food events—trade fairs, festivals, courses, gourmet summits (will you be attending Madrid’s Salon de Gourmets, April 11-14?); a blog written by young interns from abroad training with Spanish chefs; news tidbits; tapa routes; recipes (cool feature: click to change measures from U.S. to metric to British imperial); glossary, from almadraba (term for tuna fishing in the Mediterranean) to zurito (short glass of beer in Basque-speak); who’s who in Spanish culinary circles (yep, I’m here, along with José Andrés, Ferran Adrià, Gerry Dawes, Karlos Arguiñano, Peter Kaminsky, Simone Ortega); a concise tourist guide to culture, geography, regional tourism. Some interesting FAQ: did you know that in 2009 Spain was the third most visited country in the world?

Right next to the feature about avant-garde chef, Ferran Adriá (foams, liquid nitrogen, gelification), are links to articles about traditional cooking techniques, written by ME. Here you will find everything about sofrito and escabeche.

Click on “Shop, Travel, Dine” for tastings outside of Spain, "A Touch of Spain in New York  by José Guerra   and, within Spain,  Tasting Tapas in Málaga, by Janet Mendel . These photos are from my Málaga tapas tour.

Bar Orellana, Málaga

El Pimpi, Málaga

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Hooray, Carnaval! Cancelled two weeks in a row because of rain, today carnaval processions hit the streets in my village with raucous banging, ringing, singing and dancing.

Carnavales are the pre-Lenten bacchanalia that, by the Church calendar, should have ended a week ago. But, all that planning for costumes shouldn’t go by the wayside because of a few rainstorms!

After the groups make their way through village streets, everyone congregates in the big plaza for more music, shenanigans, showing off and awards for best costumes. And, of course, food. On this sunny afternoon a couple of bars are serving drinks and snacks.

Pinchitos are spicy mini-kebabs grilled on a plancha. Also from the plancha are hamburgers and thinly-sliced pork loin placed on mini-buns and garnished with lettuce and tomatoes. A huge paella gets a final garnish of shrimp before being served up to the crowds.

Another stall (this one in benefit of a charity) sells small bowls of potaje de callos, a tripe and sausage stew with garbanzos (the recipe is here).

Later in the afternoon, ladies fire up a vat of oil to fry buñuelos, small crullers or doughnuts, so good with the thick, thick hot chocolate ladled from a big pot. (The recipe for drinking chocolate is here.)

Mini-Kebabs with Moorish Spices

Pinchitos Morunos

Exotic Moorish spices from nearby Morocco give the meat—usually pork—a lot of flavor. In Spain, spice vendors sell a ready-mixed blend, especia para pinchitos, pinchito spice, which contains lots of cumin, coriander, red chile, turmeric and ginger. If you can´t get the spice mix, use instead a spoonful of curry powder combined with ground cumin.

The trick is to cut the meat into quite small pieces, so that it cooks in the few minutes it takes to brown. Thin metal skewers work best and can be reused. If using bamboo skewers, soak them first in water and take care that they don´t come in contact with the heated griddle.

Makes 16 mini-kebabs.

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut in ¾ inch cubes
6 tablespoons chopped parsley
10 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup fresh lemon juice

Combine the cumin and curry powder. Place half the cubes of pork in a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle with half the parsley, garlic, salt, spice mixture and lemon juice. Add remaining pork, then parsley, garlic, salt, spice and lemon juice. Marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 24 hours. Turn the meat 2 or 3 times.

Thread 4 or 5 pieces of meat onto thin metal skewers. Cook them on a hot griddle, turning until browned on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


 Families and Food

If you live in the US and have an interest in the food of Spain, you likely have heard of La Tienda, an on-line retail store that specializes in foods imported from Spain. Not so many years ago, before pimentón, chorizo, olive oil from Spain, serrano and ibérico ham became popular in many American supermarkets, La Tienda  was one of a very few places to find authentic Spanish products.

La Tienda is featuring recipes from one of my cookbooks, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN on its web site. TAPAS, with scrumptious photos by Michelle Chaplow, was published by Santana Books in Spain. La Tienda has a near-exclusive stock of this book in America. The current recipe is “Piquillo Peppers Stuffed With Prawns.” Piquillo peppers imported from Spain are available from La Tienda. Have a look at the recipe here . Should you wish to order the book from La Tienda, just click on the picture of it at the end of the recipe.  (And, my blog about piquillo peppers here .)

La Tienda is a family business that was founded in 1996 by Don Harris and his wife, Ruth. The couple lived in Spain with their children during the 1970s, in El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz), when Don was stationed at the nearby naval base of Rota.

Explained Don, La Tienda was a way to share a taste of Spain as well as the country’s  grace, warmth and traditions that have brought so much to the lives of their family.

“Family is our focus,” Don writes on the web site. “Just as the family is central to life in Spain, we hope to share that emphasis with everyone we work with: our customers, our employees, and our vendors. And, of course, nothing brings a family together like a wonderful meal!” Two of their three sons also work in the business. All make frequent trips to Spain, renewing friendships and searching out products.

Now Don has written a book, THE HEART OF SPAIN—FAMILIES AND FOOD (Duende Press; Williamsburg, VA.), telling about the producers and purveyors and their families in Spain as well as some of the background about certain products. He takes you to visit a cheese maker in La Mancha, Sherry families in Jerez, bean producers in La Granja, ham on the hoof, saffron in the field, shopkeepers, cooks and sauce makers. The book is a little bit of a travel guide, but always illustrated with personal encounters. If there were a “cloud” of most-used words, it would emphasize the words “family,” “traditional,” “values,” “warmly,” “dignity,” “friendship,” “continuity,” “spirituality”  

There are no recipes in THE HEART OF SPAIN, so I selected a recipe from one of my own books, using a product from La Tienda. This is Chocolate a la Taza, thick drinking chocolate, often served with churros, fried strips of batter, for dunking. La Tienda sells Valor brand chocolate a la taza for making drinking chocolate.
In his book, Don Harris relates the story of King Philip II, an early (16th century) aficionado of chocolate. The king, a pious Catholic, faced a dilemma: if chocolate was considered a food, then he would be deprived of it during Lent. But, if the Church classified chocolate as a beverage, he was within bounds, for beverages were not included in the rules of fasting. His confessor assured the scrupulous Philip that drinking chocolate was exempt from fasting requirements. Chocolate continues to be a sweet and comforting delight during the otherwise austere Lenten fast leading up to Easter.
The squares of chocolate already contain sugar and thickening. All you do is add squares of the Valor bar to milk, simmer it on the stove and stir occasionally until it reaches desired thickness. The thickness can be adjusted by the number of chocolate squares used and how long it is heated. On average, 2-3 squares per cup of milk and around 2 minutes simmering time  produces a delicious mug of hot chocolate!

The following recipe is for making Spanish-style drinking chocolate if you don’t have tablets of Valor chocolate a la taza handy. It is adapted from MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, the cookbook. There is no recipe there for churros, the fried strips of batter to accompany the chocolate, as I find them difficult to make in the home kitchen, but there is a recipe for buñuelos, also served to accompany chocolate. (That recipe is here.)

 (Photo of chocolate and churros by Jerónimo Alba from COOKING IN SPAIN.)

Hot Drinking Chocolate
Chocolate a la Taza

This is more like liquid chocolate pudding than like cocoa. It’s thick enough to coat a spoon. It can be prepared with water, milk or a combination.

Serves 4.
  8 ounces (8 squares) semi-sweet chocolate
3 cups water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Break the chocolate into pieces and put in a pan with 2 cups of the water. Heat, stirring, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Stir the cornstarch with 1 cup water until it is smooth. Return the chocolate to the heat. Beat in the milk, sugar and cornstarch. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Add additional sugar, if desired.

Pour into mugs and serve. The chocolate can be kept hot in a double boiler over simmering water. It can be reheated in a microwave.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


On a sunny Sunday in Málaga, neighbors gathered for a Carnaval street party featuring music and a hearty traditional stew called berza.  Forty kilos (almost 90 pounds) of chickpeas along with a similar amount of sausages and pork went into four enormous ollas, stew pots, making enough to serve 800 people.  Local politicians (municipal elections are in May) came along to stir the pots and chat with constituents.  Bands of murgas y comparsas, singers performing ribald and satirical numbers, entertained the crowds, warming up for the contests that take place during Carnaval.

Carnaval—the Spanish version of Mardi Gras—celebrates Don Carnal, Mister Flesh-pot, a last pig-out before Lenten austerity. Into the pot go the tag ends of winter’s ham, salted pork belly, sausages (phallic symbol intended)  along with chickpeas and vegetables. Chock full of fatty meat and succulent pork belly, it’s the sort of meal that would send old Jack Sprat into shock and fill his wife with glee.

Then, once Lent begins, chickpea stews with spinach or salt cod replace the porky stuff. 

Look here for more about garbanzos (chickpeas) and additional recipes in my article, "Spain Elevates the Garbanzo Bean," in this week’s Food section of the Los Angeles Times.

Andalusian Vegetable and Sausage Stew
Berza Andaluza

Morcilla, blood sausage, and chorizo, garlic-pimentón sausage, punch up the flavor in this vegetable stew. If you don’t have morcilla, add a pinch of clove, a spoonful of pimentón (paprika) and crushed garlic to the vegetable pot.

Serves 6.

½  pound chickpeas, soaked overnight
¾  pound beef shin or pork shoulder
½  pound meaty pork spareribs, cut crosswise into short lengths
small piece of ham bone (optional)
2 ounces pancetta
12-ounce bunch of chard
1 carrot, chopped
½ pound pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut in chunks
6 ounces morcilla (blood) sausage
6 ounces chorizo
5 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks

Drain the chickpeas of soaking water. Put them in a large soup pot with 8 cups of hot water. Bring to a boil and skim off froth. Add the beef, pork rib, ham bone, if using, and pancetta. When water boils, skim again.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Chop the chard. Add to the pot with the carrot and pumpkin. Prick the morcilla and chorizo several times with a skewer (so they don’t pop open when steam accumulates) and add them to the pot. Add the peppercorns and salt. Cover and simmer 30 minutes more.

Add the potatoes. Cook 30 minutes more. Remove several chunks of potatoes and pumpkin and mash them smooth. Stir the mash into the pot to thicken the broth.

Let the stew settle 10 minutes before serving. Use kitchen scissors to cut beef, pork rib, and sausage into pieces. Serve the chickpeas, meats, vegetables and broth in shallow soup dishes.

Berza is an Andalusian stew with garbanzos, sausage and chard.

Spinach with Chickpeas
Espinacas con Garbanzos

This is popular in tapa bars in Seville.

Makes 8 tapas or 4 main dishes.

12 ounces washed and chopped spinach or chard leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 (20-oz) jars chickpeas
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked pimentón
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup water
2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Place the spinach in a pot with a little water. Bring to a boil and cook until spinach is wilted. Drain and reserve.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or earthenware cazuela. Sauté the onion until softened, 3 minutes. Add the tomato and sauté 2 minutes.

Crush the saffron in a mortar. Add the garlic and salt and grind the garlic to a paste. (This can also be done in a blender.) Add the pepper, pimentón and cumin. Stir the water into the paste. Add the spice mixture to the pan. Add the chickpeas without draining. Add the spinach and vinegar. Bring to a boil then reduce heat.

Cover the pan and simmer the chickpeas 15 minutes. Serve hot.