Saturday, November 26, 2016


Holiday meals go better with pickles! Something tangy to prickle the taste buds and contrast with rich foods. I like to make small batches of pickles and relishes and keep them in the fridge, ready to accompany a special dinner.

Pickled onions and marinated mushrooms are good accompaniments to a selection of pâtés.

The mango chutney I made a few weeks ago was the perfect foil for turkey sandwiches. Thinking ahead to a drinks party—wine, cheese and pâté—I’m fixing some new pickled vegetables to go with it. One is marinated mushrooms. The other, scarlet-pickled onions, will also look festive with Christmas menus.

Pickled oyster mushrooms in the center and two kinds of pickled onions. These are not true conserves, meant for long keeping, but small-batch pickles to keep in the fridge for several weeks.

Bright flavors and colors provide contrast for holiday meals.

Mushrooms marinate with garlic, peppers, onion and herbs.

Red beets color the small onions.

Pickled Mushrooms
Setas en Escabeche

Pickled mushrooms go with grilled foods and make a tangy addition to salads.

Country folk who forage for wild mushrooms have various ways of preserving them, by drying, by pickling. This recipe is not a real preserve, but it keeps well, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks. Spoon the marinated mushrooms over grilled steak or add them to salads or soup.

Oyster mushrooms work especially well, but you can use any variety of wild or cultivated mushroom. Slice or pull apart large ones.

1 pound oyster mushrooms
¼ onion, sliced from stem to root
2 cloves garlic, slivered
¼ cup slivered red bell pepper
1-inch piece of dried red chile
Strip of lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch celery seeds
1 bay leaf
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

Wipe the mushrooms to clean off any soil. Trim away hard stems. Cut large ones into 2 or 3 pieces.

Place in a pan onion, garlic, bell pepper, chile, lemon zest, peppercorns, thyme, celery seeds, bay, oil, vinegar, salt, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms to the pan. Bring again to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes.

Let the mushrooms cool in the liquid 30 minutes. Ladle mushrooms into a glass jar or other non-reactive container. Add enough of the pickling liquid to completely cover them. Cover the container and allow to marinate, refrigerated, at least 24 hours. Keeps up to 2 weeks.

To serve, drain the mushrooms from liquid and serve at room temperature.

Scarlet-Pickled Onions
Cebolletas Escarlatas

Pickles complement rich pâté.

In La Mancha (central Spain) I enjoyed the partridge pâté, a regional specialty. There the pâté usually comes garnished with scarlet-pickled onions. Colored with red beets, the onions make a nice contrast to smooth and unctuous foods such as pâté, but they also add pizzazz to salads or burgers.

Soaking the whole onions in brine makes it easier to slip off the skins—and fewer tears, too.

1 ½ pounds small (1 ½-inch) yellow or white onions (about 32 onions)
1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt
1 medium beet (5 ounces), peeled and quartered
4 cloves
1 cup wine vinegar

Sprinkle the onions with ½ tablespoon salt and cover with water. Let soak for 3 hours. Drain the onions. Peel them, trim root ends, and cut a thin slice off tops.

Place onions in a non-reactive bowl and add water to cover. Sprinkle with ½ tablespoon of salt. Allow the onions to soak for 24 hours. Drain and rinse them.

Combine in a saucepan the remaining ½ tablespoon salt, quartered beet, cloves, vinegar, and 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Skim out the beets and reserve them for another use.

Ladle the onions into sterile jars and pour the pickling liquid over them. Allow the jars to cool.

Refrigerate the jars of pickled onions. The onions are ready to eat in 5 days. They keep, refrigerated, up to 3 months.

More recipes for pickles and relish:

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Wildlife comes with the territory. Where I live, on a hillside at the edge of protected sierra pine forests, at the head of a steep arroyo where a trickle of water runs year-round, I have become accustomed to various sorts of birds and beasts. Foxes, genets, mongooses, martens, rabbits, an occasional mountain goat. Plenty of geckos. Oh, and to the distress of some of my guests, field rats that gorge on wild figs.

From my kitchen window. Much wildlife in the steep arroyo below me--including wild boar.

But recently I have had a new invader. Something digging up the damp earth under a woodpile, trampling the vegetable garden, even overturning big flower pots on a side patio. This was something considerably larger than your standard mole or marauding dogs.

One night, just outside my bedroom window, I heard loud grunting and snorting sounds. The next morning I discovered my plot of newly-planted onions had been rooted up. My invader was a wild boar. Maybe several of them. They root for grubs in damp earth beneath stones, woodpiles and in gardens. (But, they don’t eat the plants!)

Boar have become a real nuisance in this region of southern Spain. They’ve left their wilder habitats to forage in greener pastures, in the lush golf courses of this resort region. Organized hunting and trapping help to control the populations. Unfortunately, these swine have migrated to my hillside.

Initially, I was a little fearful of coming face-to-face with a wild boar in my garden. But it seemed to roam only at night. My son constructed a trap, a pit covered with brush, but we caught not a thing. I hate to think what we would have done if one had been ensnared!

While shopping recently at HiperCor, the supermarket of El Corte Inglés, I found a selection of wild boar meat. Fantasizing the demise of my neighborhood boar, I bought a chunk of lomo, boneless loin. Pretty expensive, €24 per kilo ($11.50 per pound).

Boar loin braised with wine and onions is tender, but not juicy. The onion sauce is fantastic.

Boar meat with a side of parsnips crushed with olive oil. Chestnut puree would be good too. A reserva red wine.

How to cook it? Red wine and autumn wild mushrooms? Sweet-sour flavors (Sherry vinegar and PX sweet wine)? Chestnuts? In memoriam of my destroyed onion patch, I decided to cook it encebollado, in a red wine-onion sauce.

Wild boar is somewhat like pork, but a little gamier and a lot leaner. Tender cuts such as loin and tenderloin can be cooked quickly and served slightly pink, while cuts from the shoulder or leg need long braising.

I maybe made some wrong choices. After marinating, I slow-cooked the loin. Although it was tender, it was awfully dry.  I probably won’t buy boar again. I used the rest of the delicious onion sauce to cook a chunk of pork loin. Delicious! And, should I ever catch a boar, I’ve got some recipes waiting.

The meat I bought had been soaked in a salmuera, a light brine, so it would keep, refrigerated, for a longer period of time. For this reason, I did not add salt to the marinade. If using fresh meat, add about 1 teaspoon of salt to the marinade.

Loin of Boar in Onion Sauce
Lomo de Jabalí Encebollado

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds boneless loin of wild boar or pork
1 ½ cups red wine
2 slices orange
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves
1 teaspoon juniper berries (enebro), optional
1 sliced leek
3 large onions
¼ cup olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped

Red wine and herb marinade for wild boar.
Place the loin in a glass or earthenware bowl just large enough to hold it. Add the wine, bay, orange slices, peppercorns, cloves, juniper berries and sliced leek. Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours, turning the meat at least once

Remove the meat and pat it dry. Strain the marinade and save the liquid. Discard the solids.

Cut the onions in half, then slice them crosswise. Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until they are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Tilt the pan so the oil drains to one side and lift out the onions and reserve them.

Slowly brown sliced onions, then brown the meat.

Lightly dust the meat with flour on all sides. Place it in the pan and brown on all sides. Add the carrot, garlic and browned onions. Add the strained red wine marinade. Cook the meat, covered, turning occasionally, until it is tender, about 1 hour. If liquid cooks away, add a little water or meat stock. The onion-wine sauce should be quite thick, almost jammy.

Let the meat rest 10 minutes on a cutting board. Slice it crosswise and serve with the hot onion sauce.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


A Spanish friend of mine was extolling the virtues of ginger. He said he likes to finely chop ginger in a food processor, put it in ice cube trays and freeze it. Cubes of ginger, ready to pop into a curry, a cocktail, a pot of herbal tea.

I was surprised, as ginger is a spice that is hardly used at all in Spanish cooking, at least not since medieval times. He inspired me to delve into my ginger repertoire.

Ginger is a rhizome, not a root. Knobs of it with fresh sprouting tips can be planted in a pot for an exotic house plant. Ginger in Spanish markets (jengibre) is imported from China.

I adore ginger. So when I get a taste for that lively, piquant spice, I turn to other cuisines—Chinese, Southeast Asian, Indian, Moroccan. Luckily, I can find most of the ingredients I need in Costa del Sol supermarkets.

On the palate, ginger is at the same time “hot,” as in biting, sharp, and “cool,” as in refreshing. It's slightly bitter and also subtly fruity-sweet. Ginger combines especially well with tropical fruits, such as mango, banana and pineapple. But it complements fruits such as apples, pears and cranberries as well.

Ginger is a natural with carrots, pumpkin, cabbage and eggplant. (I’m thinking Brussels sprouts with ginger and pumpkin pie with ginger instead of the ubiquitous pumpkin pie spice.)

In Asian cooking, ginger is essential with fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, and with shellfish such as shrimp and crab. It is used with meat such as pork and sausage; with game and with variety meats such as kidneys. Ginger is a perfect seasoning for chicken, duck and turkey.

And, of course, there’s gingerbread, in all its variations. While usually made with dry, powdered ginger, these cakes and cookies can also be made with grated fresh ginger.

Here’s my ginger-themed dinner party menu.

Ginger in everything! At the top are hors d'oeuvres--quail eggs with gingered fish paste, wrapped in spinach leaves, and chopped fish steamed in banana leaves with ginger, coconut milk. On the left is a noodle salad with squid, shrimp and mango. The main dish, served with jasmine rice, is a Thai curry with chicken, coconut milk and peanut sauce. On the right is sambal, chiles with ginger.

Pink ginger ale (recipe below).

The banana leaves cut from the neighbors' garden proved too stiff to fold around the fish mixture. So these patties (right) were steamed in aluminum foil. Combine the chopped fish (I used corvina)  with Thai red curry paste, coconut milk, grated ginger, nuoc mam fish sauce, rice flour and beaten egg. Place a spoonful on banana leaf squares or foil, fold. Cook in a steamer over boiling water for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold.   The hard-boiled quail eggs (left) are encased in a surimi fish paste with egg white, wrapped in spinach leaves and steamed 5 minutes.

Gingery squid, tangy dressing with rice noodles, tart mango and fresh herbs--this salad makes a good starter for an Asian-inflected dinner. I served chile sauce on the side, as several guests (and one child) were averse to "hot".  (Recipe below.)

The main dish, Gai Tua, Chicken in Peanut Sauce, served with rice. This recipe comes from The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan ((Perigee Books; 1981). I made the basic Thai  red curry paste using Spanish piquillo peppers instead of chilies. Besides ginger, the paste includes caraway, cumin, coriander, lime zest and garlic. The peanut sauce contains more ginger, coconut milk and peanut butter.

Dessert--a rich mango-ginger pudding with toasted coconut (recipe below).

Pink Ginger Ale
Refresco de Jengibre

This makes a refreshing non-alcoholic drink or a great mixer for highballs with gin or rum.

You can finely chop the ginger and lemon in a mini-processor. Hibiscus tea (malva in Spanish) gives the drink it’s lovely rose color. Sweeten the beverage to taste with sugar syrup or stevia or else use a sweet lemon-lime soda in place of the soda water.

Makes 6 drinks.

¼ cup minced ginger (2-inch piece)
1 slice lemon, minced
2 hibiscus tea bags
Sprig of lemon verbena (hierba luisa), optional
4 cups boiling water
Sugar syrup or liquid stevia to taste
Ice cubes
Soda water

Place the ginger, lemon, tea bags and lemon verbena, if using, in a heat-proof pitcher. Pour over boiling water. Cover and allow to steep 15 minutes. Strain the liquid into a clean pitcher or jar. (Minced ginger and lemon can be saved for another use. Discard tea bags and lemon verbena.) Sweeten the beverage with sugar syrup or stevia.

When liquid is cooled, refrigerate.

To serve, pour the pink ginger ale over ice in tall glasses and fill with soda water.

Noodle Salad with Squid, Ginger and Mango

Prepare the squid at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours in advance. Use green or unripe mango for this salad. I used two medium squid and a whole package of rice vermicelli for this salad to serve six. But the quantities can be freely varied.

Squid, cleaned of skin and innards
Chopped ginger
Rice vermicelli
Asian dressing (recipe below)
Green mango, shredded
Lemon or lime juice
Cooked and peeled shrimp
Celery, thinly sliced
Green beans, cooked and sliced crosswise
Sliced limes
Sliced scallions
Sliced cucumbers
Sprigs of mint and basil

To prepare the squid:  Cut the body pouch open lengthwise. Place it, skin side down, on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, score the flesh in ¼ -inch crosshatching. Cut the squid into 1 ½-inch pieces. Score the wing flaps in the same way.

Cross-hatched squid curls when cooked. Add ginger.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Drop in the squid pieces and the tentacles and cook just until the pieces curl and turn opaque, about 30 seconds. Drain and put in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and place the squid in a bowl. Add chopped ginger. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Cook the vermicelli according to package directions. Drain and refresh in cold water. Drain well. Place in a bowl and mix with part of the dressing. Save remaining dressing for finishing the salad.

Place the shredded mango in a small bowl and sprinkle with salt and lemon juice. Allow to stand 15 minutes.

To assemble the salad: Place the noodles on a rimmed platter. Scatter the pieces of squid and ginger on top. Add the shrimp, celery and beans. Spoon remaining dressing over the salad. Scatter the shredded mango on top.

Garnish the platter with sliced lime, scallions, cucumbers and sprigs of mint and basil.

For the dressing:
½ cup lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam or naam pla)
½ teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Chilies, minced, to taste, or sriracha chile sauce
Warm water

Combine all ingredients. Add enough water to dilute the flavors to taste.

Mango-Ginger Pudding
Espuma de Mango y Jengibre

This is somewhat like panna cotta. Coconut milk can be substituted for part of the milk to emphasize the tropical flavors.

Serves 6.

Grate ginger.
1 ½ cups milk
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 cup cream
Sugar, about ¼ cup
1 cup pureed mango
Sugar to taste
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Toasted grated coconut (optional)

Place ½ cup of the milk in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow to soak 5 minutes. Heat, stirring, until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Add the remaining 1 cup milk, the cream and the sugar to the pan. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in the mango, ginger and lemon zest.

Divide the mixture between 6 ½-cup bowls or glasses. Refrigerate until the pudding is set, at least 12 hours.

Serve the pudding in the same bowls garnished, if desired, with toasted coconut.

More recipes with ginger:
Quince and ginger olive oil cake.  (This recipe is from Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.)