Saturday, March 29, 2014


Chard and cheese pie for a vegetarian meal.
A friend recently asked me for suggestions for Spanish vegetarian dishes. Uh, well, hmmm. Oh, yeah, tortilla de patatas, potato tortilla (eggs, potatoes, olive oil). Truth be told, I couldn’t think of another dish that vegetarians would find everywhere in Spain.

In your own kitchen, it’s easy to adapt Spanish recipes to a vegetarian diet. All those great legume stews, rice dishes, vegetable-based soups—all you have to do is omit the meat or fish.

But, for a tourist traveling in Spain and dining out all the time, apart from dedicated vegetarian restaurants, the pickings are slim. There are some seriously good vegetable dishes—fava beans, spinach, green beans—but they are invariably cooked with bits of ham or sausage. And the wonderful legume soups/stews, with chickpeas, lentils or beans, almost always contain meat, pork fat, sausages, ham bone, just for the flavor they contribute.

During Lent, cuaresma, observant Catholics in Spain (as well as those who honor traditional foodways) abstain from eating meat. But, rather than consume vegetarian meals, they are more likely to replace meat with bacalao, salt cod, or other seafood.

The section of the menu that most reliably includes vegetarian possibilities is Eggs. Besides the classic potato tortilla, other omelets, with cheese or vegetables, are good choices (assuming, of course, that the vegetarian diners are not vegan). Another category of egg dish is the revuelto, a sort of egg scramble with mushrooms, asparagus and garlic. Although revuelto often includes ham or shrimp (as do the versions I’ve published before on this blog), because it is made to order, it may be possible to order it without the meat/fish. 

A great tapa bar dish, huevos rotos, eggs “broken up” with fried potatoes, usually comes with ham, but can be ordered without. Another, patatas a lo pobre, “poor folk’s potatoes,” is often served as a side with fish or meat, but makes a great vegetarian entree.

Gazpacho is vegetarian as is traditional sopa de ajo, garlic soup, made with water, not stock.  One great dish that is not only vegetarian, but vegan, is espinacas con garbanzos, a pimentón-flavored soupy-stew of spinach with chickpeas, a tapa bar specialty in Sevilla.

Here are links to the spinach-chickpea recipe and some other vegetarian recipes that have appeared on this blog.
Espinacas con garbanzos, spinach with chickpeas  (the vegetarian recipe appears alongside one for a stew chock-full of sausages!)

Pisto, vegetable medley (somewhat like ratatouille, with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and onions cooked in olive oil).

Patatas a lo pobre, "poor folk's" potatoes (potatoes layered in a cazuela with peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, olive oil).

Paella, vegetarian paella (my version is with brown rice, legumes and lots of veggies).

Nuts and raisins add texture to the chard.

The vegetarian menu at my house this week features Chard and Cheese Pie,  a recipe from COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN, FOOD OF LA MANCHA. The cheese is actually requesón, similar to ricotta. In La Mancha, where Manchego cheese comes from, it would be made with sheeps’ milk requesón, but any ricotta, feta or well-drained cottage cheese may be substituted.

Flaky, olive oil pie crust for the pie.

I’ve used a really easy, all-olive oil pastry dough for the pie. It makes a rich, flaky crust. No reason you can’t substitute store-bought pie crust.

Pie has a layer of requesón cheese (like ricotta) in the middle.

Chard and Cheese Pie
Torta de Acelgas con Queso

If you are making the Flaky Pastry (recipe follows) using two egg yolks, use the whites with one whole egg in this recipe. Otherwise, use two whole eggs.

Serves 8.

Chard from the garden.
1 recipe for flaky shortcrust pastry dough (below)
2 pounds chard, stems and leaves chopped (12 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 egg + 2 egg whites or 2 eggs
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons raisins
1 ½ cups (10 ounces) requesón (ricotta)

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Flatten the pastry dough to make a disk. Place it in a 10-inch tart pan with removable sides. Press the dough firmly to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes and remove from oven.

Lower oven heat to 350ºF.

Cook the chard in boiling, salted water until tender, 15 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Drain very well, pressing to eliminate all liquid.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the pine nuts or almonds until they are lightly toasted. Skim them out and reserve.

Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté until onion is softened, 5 minutes. Add the chard to the onions and sauté a few minutes more.

Beat the egg and egg whites in a bowl with the pepper, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Add the chard, raisins and half the pine nuts. Combine well.

Spread requesón on the chard.

Pour half of the chard mixture into the crust. Spread the requesón on top. Cover with the remaining chard. Scatter the pine nuts over the top and press them gently into the chard.

Bake the pie until pastry is lightly golden, 35-40 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Release the crust from the sides of the tart pan. Remove the outer ring. Serve warm or cold.

Flaky Shortcrust Pastry Dough
Pasta Quebrada

Use this dough for empanadas and both sweet and savory pie crusts. Be sure to let it rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour. The dough works well whether the crust is filled with raw ingredients and baked, or baked “blind” and then filled with a cooked filling. The dough freezes well. Thaw completely before rolling out on a floured board.

Makes enough dough for a 10-inch pie crust.

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling out dough
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons water

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.

Mix oil and egg into flour.
Make a soft dough.
Combine egg yolks and the oil. Make a well in the flour and pour in the yolks. Use a fork to blend the flour into the yolks. Add enough of the water to make a soft dough that can be patted into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a pastry board and knead it very briefly. Cover and let it stand at room temperature for at least one hour. (The dough can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper or press it into the pie pan.

As starter or main, chard pie is a lovely springtime dish.

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