Saturday, April 27, 2019


As I was rolling out matzo balls earlier this week, it occurred to me that, if they were cooked in caramel syrup instead of chicken soup, they might be rellenos dulces, a dessert typical for this time of year in La Mancha (central Spain). 

The rellenos are balls or blobs, sort of like dumplings, made with stale bread—definitely not allowed during the Passover holiday. But they can also be made of ground crumbs, much like matzo meal. Many small La Mancha towns have a repertory of foods—especially sweets—that derive from their Jewish heritage. So, it’s not so far-fetched to make the comparison. In any case, Passover ends at nightfall today, so these dumplings in caramel syrup can be enjoyed by all.

Dumplings made of bread crumbs are first fried, then poached in caramel syrup with cinnamon.

What makes rellenos different from most dumplings is that they are fried in olive oil before being poached. Because they are sweet, not savory, the poaching medium is caramel syrup inflected with cinnamon and orange zest.

In La Mancha, the rellenos are served as dessert. But, their similarity to French toast might make you happy to serve them at breakfast, as well.

This is the sort of homespun dessert that children love. And, it's a great way to use up stale bread.

To serve, sprinkle the dumplings in syrup with pine nuts. Add any fresh fruit.

Dumplings soak up the caramel syrup and become spongy-soft.

Sweet Dumplings in Caramel Syrup
Rellenos Dulces

Use a heavy pot to make the caramel syrup, preferably one with a light-colored surface so you can tell when the sugar becomes caramel-brown in color.

Add hot water to the melted and caramelized sugar very carefully, as it will splutter and foam.

Serve the dumplings chilled, spooning some of the syrup over them. A sprinkling of pine nuts or slivered almonds is typical. Ice cream, whipped cream or—my preference—unsweetened Greek yogurt—makes a lovely accompaniment.

Dumplings start with bread crumbs.
Makes about 20 dumplings.

For the bread dumplings:
10 ounces day-old bread (5-6 thick slices)
¼ teaspoon saffron, crushed (optional)
3 tablespoons hot water
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
Olive oil for frying

For the caramel syrup:
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
4 cups hot water
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

To serve the dumplings:
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Sliced oranges or other fruit to garnish
Whipped cream, ice cream or Greek yogurt to serve

Remove and discard crusts from the bread. Break into pieces and put in a food processor. Process to make coarse crumbs (3 ½ -4 cups). Put them in a mixing bowl.

Saffron for a golden touch.

If using saffron, dissolve it in the 3 tablespoons hot water. Dribble over the bread crumbs with the salt and mix. Add eggs, one by one. Stir to combine very well. Chill the mixture at least 30 minutes. 

Place oil in a deep skillet to a depth of 1 inch and heat on medium-high. Scoop up dough with a tablespoon. Use a second spoon to smooth the dough into an oval shape and slide it into the hot oil.  Continue shaping and frying dumplings, turning them once. When dumplings are golden-brown, remove them.  (Dumplings can be fried up to a day before finishing them in the syrup.)

Fry spoonfuls of the dough in oil.

Dumplings can be made in advance, simmered in the syrup later. They don't need to be crisp.

Sugar melts and gradually turns caramel-brown.

To make the syrup, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy pan large enough to hold all the dumplings. Cook the sugar on a medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely melted and turns an even golden-brown color. 

Remove the pan from the heat. Gradually add the 4 cups of hot water. The molten sugar will sputter and foam at first. Return the pan to the heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved in the water. Add the orange blossom water, if using, the strips of orange and lemon zest and the cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let the syrup bubble gently, uncovered, until reduced, about 20 minutes. Skim out and discard the zest and cinnamon.

After frying, the dumplings are poached in caramel syrup.

Add the fried dumplings to the syrup. Bring again to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer them 15 minutes. Let the dumplings cool in the syrup, then chill them before serving.

Serve dumplings and syrup sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Garnish as desired with sliced oranges or other fruit. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt if you like.

Puffy dumplings in sweet syrup go nicely with a spoonful of unsweetened yogurt.

Recipes for savory dumplings (rellenos):

More desserts made with bread:

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Grelos are leafy greens similar to broccoli raab. They are the emblematic vegetable of Galicia in northwest Spain. I bought this bunch at a supermarket near my home in southern Spain

Finding a big bundle of leafy greens—grelos—at a local supermarket transported me back to Galicia where I first encountered grelos years ago. Here are some excerpts from my trip.

Galicia, which occupies the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, a chunk of Spain set above Portugal, is like another country altogether. Green pastures, Atlantic mists and grey stone remind you more of Brittany or Wales, perhaps. Certainly not of Mediterranean Spain, which is where I live.
   We drove through rolling countryside where spumes of mist floated over the green of vineyards, in and out of chestnut forests, through small villages. Interior Galicia is intensely rural. Small garden plots are tended by women, who seemed everywhere to be digging in the dirt—hoeing, sowing, weeding, plowing behind a team of oxen.
    Around lunch time we stopped at a village shop that doubled as a bar and restaurant, and bought cheese, ham, tomato, and the local wine, intending to put together a picnic. But the shop had no bread. The shopkeeper, a woman, who also tended the bar and two small children, directed us through a village backstreet, past hórreos, to the panadería or bread bakery.
    We bought a simple wheaten loaf; admired a roscón, a sponge cake baked in a ring mold. The village baker, having sold most of the morning’s loaves and banked the oven’s fires, was disposed to chat with a couple of foreigners. Turns out he was also the postman, so could tell us local lore.
    We pointed across the road. What are those plants growing in that garden? We had seen them in fields everywhere—stalks, about knee-high, with big leaves. He said it was grelos, a member of the turnip family. The stems and leaves are cooked with pork and potatoes. The root of the plant, a knobby turnip, goes for animal fodder.

My bunch of grelos inspired me to try some Galician recipes. The two most typical are caldo gallego, a soup with pork, potatoes, white beans and grelos, and lacón con grelos, greens cooked with cured pork shoulder, plus the essential potatoes.

Galician soup, caldo gallego, has chunks of cured pork, chorizo, potatoes, white beans and grelos.

An adaptation of lacón con grelos--roast pork hock with grelos and potatoes. Serve this meal with a red wine from Ribeira Sacra.

I had my grelos, but now I needed the lacón.

Lacón is the Galician term for the front leg of a pig, fresh or cured. Cured lacón is more like American southern country ham than like Spanish serrano ham. It’s salt-cured and air-dried, sometimes smoked. After curing, lacón has to be soaked in water to remove the salt, then fully cooked, either by simmering in water or roasting, before eating.

Once upon a time in a bar in Orense. A van pulled up at the curb and the baker’s boy got out carrying a huge tray, squeezing past us to deliver it to the bar. The tray held a whole lacón (front leg) of roast pork. The barman poured off the juices into a pitcher. Then he sliced the pork, put it on a split bread roll, crossed it with strips of roasted peppers and dribbled some of the juice over. And served us a free tapa. Delicious.
I found packets of cooked and sliced lacón—perfect for sandwiches or adding to soup—I couldn’t find a big joint. Nor a whole bone-in fresh shoulder cut. I finally settled on codillo, pork hock or knuckle, in salmuera, brine.

The traditional way of cooking lacón (a bone-in piece of about 4 pounds), once it has soaked 48 hours, is to put it in a big pot, cover with fresh water and cook with sliced onion and bay leaf until completely tender (30 minutes per pound), about 2 hours. You add potatoes and chorizo during the last 30 minutes, then the grelos at the very end (10 minutes).

The same caldo, or broth, can be used to make caldo gallego, soup with white beans, potatoes, chorizo and grelos.

I used one of the pork hocks to make the soup and, following a recipe for lacón asado, roast fresh pork shoulder, in a Galician cookbook, Cociña Galega by Álvaro Cunqueiro, I roasted the second hock and served it with grelos, chorizo and potatoes from the caldo.

Traditionally, the lacón and accompanying potatoes and grelos are served with nothing more complicated than extra virgin olive oil to dress the vegetables. Nevertheless, I served mine with sharp mustard and a tangy salsa verde.

To accompany the food, try a red Mencia wine from Ribeira Sacra, the Galician wine that’s not Albariño.

“Ribeira Sacra” means “the banks of a holy river”--so-called because the River Sil is on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela. A string of Romanesque monasteries, dating from between the eighth and twelfth centuries, occupies spectacular sites along this river bank.
    We caught our first glimpse of the River Sil, which cuts a canyon through the highlands, on the steep descent to the Monastery of San Esteve, which nestles into the forest over the river far below. The river is wide and twists in S-curves through green banks. If the sun is shining, the water is blue. If not, it can appear grey or even black.

Leaving the car, we could hear only the twitter of birds and, somewhere nearby, the rhythmic sound of somebody hoeing in the garden. We imagined a monk tending the herbs and vegetables, but, in fact, the monastery is long in disuse. On our visit we encountered no one at all.
    A Romanesque church, flanked by a tiny graveyard, adjoins the monastery, where we wandered through the cloisters. Gargoyles keep an eye on all that passes through these silent courtyards, while deep naves lead to solitary niches where one can contemplate the beauty of the valley. We visited on a day of sparkling sunshine, but frequently the valley fills with swirling mists that drift up to the monastery’s portals. On such occasions, you might feel transported back to medieval times, when this isolated monastery was a center for the meditative life. (The monastery has since been converted to a Parador Nacional, a beautiful hotel.)
    The steeply terraced land is planted in vineyards right down to the banks of the river. The wines of Ribeira Sacra date from Roman times, but became renowned during the medieval era, when vineyards were tended by monks in the several monasteries. Today they are small family holdings, cultivated on a very local scale.

Roast pork hock (not actual lacón) served with traditional accompaniments of grelos, potatoes and chorizo, with olive oil to drizzle on the vegetables.

Roast Pork with Greens
Lacón Asado con Grelos 

Use soft, cooking chorizo, preferably smoked Galician or Asturian chorizo. Use either ordinary sweet or smoked pimentón (paprika). If grelos or broccoli raab are not available, try turnip greens, kale, chard or collards in their place. 

If you are using fresh pork, brine it before roasting. If you have a (cured) picnic ham or authentic lacón gallego, prepare it for cooking according to package directions. 

Serves 4-6.

Pork hocks after brining.
For the pork:
4 ½  pounds bone-in pork hocks, picnic shoulder or Boston butt
6 cups water
½ cup kosher salt for brining
12 cloves garlic
10 peppercorns
2 cloves
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons oregano
½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 cup white wine
Water or meat stock

Two days before roasting the meat, prepare the brine.

Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and stir to dissolve it. Remove from heat and add 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed; peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. Let the brine cool completely.

Place the pork in a non-reactive container and pour the cooled brine with spices and herbs over it. Place a plate on top of the meat to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours. Turn the meat once a day.

Drain the pork, discarding the brine.

In a small bowl combine the remaining 6 cloves of crushed garlic, oregano, pimentón, pepper, oil and vinegar. Spread this mixture on all sides of the pork. Place the pork in a roasting pan and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Roast the pork for 30 minutes. Pour over the wine. Roast 60 minutes more. Add additional liquid (wine, water or meat stock) as needed, so there is always some liquid in the pan.

Raise heat to 450ºF. Roast the pork until the skin is browned and crispy, about 15 minutes.

Remove pork from the oven and place on a cutting board. Reserve pan juices. Allow the meat to stand 10 minutes. Remove skin and slice the meat off the bone. Arrange it on a platter with the cooked greens, potatoes and chorizo.

This is the pork hock that cooked with beans to make caldo, soup. Pieces of the pork went back into the soup with the beans, potatoes and grelos.

To accompany the pork:
1 ½ pounds grelos or other greens
4-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half
2 chorizos
Extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Cut off and discard thick, fibrous stem ends from the grelos. Discard any yellowing leaves. Fill a basin with cold water and wash the greens very well. Twist and snap the stalks into three or four pieces. Drain the grelos.

Grelos after blanching in boiling water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the grelos and blanch them 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and refresh in cold running water.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook 10 minutes. Add the grelos and the whole chorizos. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes longer.

Remove potatoes and greens with a slotted spoon and place on serving platter with the sliced meat. Remove the chorizos to a plate. Use scissors to cut them into smaller pieces. Place the chorizo on the platter. Drizzle oil over the greens, potatoes and meat.

The recipe for Caldo Gallego is here.

About Lacón Gallego.
About Grelos de Galicia IGP.

Parador (hotel) de San Estevo.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


Te conozco, bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazao,” is an old Spanish saying, meaning “I know you, codfish, even if you come in disguise.” It’s roughly the same as “pull the wool over your eyes,” deceive someone to prevent them from discovering something. Considering the thousand-and-one ways of preparing salt cod during the Lenten period, it’s also a sly way of saying, “you can’t fool me, no matter how you doll it up!”

But, here’s a recipe for salt cod that might fool anyone! It’s a garlicky, creamy dip or schmear that might remind you of hummus or Greek skordalia or taromosalata. This one, from the Axarquía region east of Málaga, is somewhat like Catalan brandada and atascaburras or ajoarriero from La Mancha. But, it has, besides salt cod and garlic, a big dose of pimentón (paprika) that gives the mixture a ruddy hue. 

Ajobacalao is a dip or spread made with salt cod blended into a creamy mixture of garlic, bread and olive oil. Pimentón (paprika) gives it a reddish color.

Spread the ajobacalao on crusty bread for a satisfying snack.

A tasty spread for canapés. In Málaga, local green olives are typical, but the black ones make nice contrast.

Use breadsticks as dippers.

The resulting thick spread can be slathered on bread or toasts for a satisfying snack, spread on crisp crackers as a canapé or dipped with breadsticks. Serve it as a luncheon entrée with artichokes, quartered hard-boiled egg and lettuce. 

Salt cod is to fresh fish as cured ham is to fresh pork. The process of salting and curing changes both flavor and texture. Salt cod has to be soaked in several changes of water before being incorporated in any recipe. It needs very little cooking on gentle heat. 

In Spain, it’s easy to find bacalao in many different cuts. I used a packet of bacalao desmigado, scraps of cod with no skin or bones. The small pieces needed only 12 hours soaking. If you have a thick, loin cut of bacalao, it may need as long as 48 hours to soften and lose excess salt. 

And, if you’re really, truly not into bacalao, disguised or otherwise, try making this spread with canned, water-pack tuna, well-drained. You can tell folks it´s bacalao---

Salt Cod-Garlic Spread

In bygone times, this traditional dish was made in a lebrillo, a large clay bowl, or a wooden mortar, the ingredients mashed together with a pestle. Nowadays, a food processor makes quick work of it. It's important to mix very well to emulsify the oil and bread.

Use extra virgin olive oil. In the Málaga area where this is a popular dish during Lent (Cuaresma) the local oil is made from the Verdial variety of olive. The pimentón is normal, sweet paprika, not smoked. Use additional hot pimentón or cayenne to taste.

Bacalao desmigado.
6-8 ounces dry salt cod
1-2 cloves garlic
8 ounces day-old bread (4-5 slices)
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
Cod cooking liquid
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, if necessary
Bread, toast, breadsticks or crackers to serve

Wash the pieces of cod and place them in a bowl. Cover with cold water. Refrigerate, covered, 12 hours, changing the water twice. 

Drain and rinse the pieces of cod. Place them in a pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer (bubbling gently) and cook 1 minute. Drain, saving the cod cooking liquid. When the cod is cool, flake it with the fingers, discarding any skin or bones. Reserve cod and liquid.

Ingredients for ajobacalao--day-old bread, extra virgin olive oil, pimentón, garlic, cod that has been de-salted, cooked and flaked and lemon juice.

Finely chop the garlic in a food processor.

Remove crusts from the bread. Break it up and add to the processor with the garlic. Add the two kinds of pimentón. Grind the bread into fine crumbs. Add ½ cup of the reserved cod cooking liquid and process until it is absorbed by the bread. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Process until the oil is completely absorbed and mixture is very smooth. Add the lemon juice and 2 or 3 tablespoons more of the reserved liquid to make a smooth, thick cream. 

Add the flaked cod and process a few seconds more to combine well. The cod does not have to be completely pureed. Taste and add salt if necessary.  

Cover and refrigerate the cod until serving time or up to 3 days. Serve with bread, toasts, breadsticks or crackers.

Feliz Semana Santa.

Recipes for similar salt cod spreads:

Saturday, April 6, 2019


Succulent ibérico ham. Sizzling, garlicky shrimp. Potato salad with chunks of tuna. Rings of crisp-fried calamares (squid). The possibilities at a typical tapas bar are enough to make a vegetarian weep in frustration. What to eat that doesn’t have meat, poultry or seafood? There’s always the fabulous tortilla de patatas made with eggs and potatoes (unless you are vegan and don’t eat eggs). Maybe a few salads and not much else. 

In Sevilla tapa bars you’ll find a traditional tapa that’s vegetarian—vegan even—and truly satisfying. Espinacas con garbanzos, or garbanzos con espinacas—spinach with chickpeas or chickpeas with spinach. While it’s popular year-round, the dish really comes into its own at this time of year, during Lent, when observant Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Then it’s served as a starter or main dish for a comida de vigilia or fasting day meal.

A vegetarian dish of chickpeas and spinach, typical of Sevilla tapa bars.

Tapa-size servings in small cazuelitas with fried bread to accompany.

A main dish serving might be topped with hard-cooked egg.

Olive oil, plenty of garlic, pimentón (paprika) and cumin flavor the combo of vegetable and legumes. If you don’t like the assertive flavor of cumin (it will remind you of Moroccan and Mexican food), reduce the quantity. If you want the dish even spicier, try using especia para pinchitos, a spice blend for brochettes that includes cumin as well as coriander, ginger and cayenne.

I cooked a big pot of chickpeas (1 pound) and used some in this recipe and put the rest in the freezer. You’ll need about 10 ounces dry chickpeas to make 4 cups drained, cooked chickpeas. Soak the chickpeas in water overnight (8 hours). Drain and cover them with hot water. Add salt, sliced onion, bay leaf and a whole tomato. Cook until the chickpeas are tender, about 90 minutes. Save the cooking liquid to use in the recipe. Add the cooked and skinned tomato to the bread and garlic in place of chopped tomato.

In an attempt to keep the fresh spinach bright green, I cooked it very briefly then plunged it in ice water before draining. I added the spinach to the chickpeas at the very end of cooking. This made for an attractive dish. However, when I reheated leftovers the next day, the spinach turned dark. Though, it was just as delicious!

As served at bar El Rinconcillo in Sevilla, the dish has more spinach than chickpeas. Spinach slow-simmered with the spices loses its fresh green color.

In Sevilla tapa bars, the dish is usually made with lots of spinach and few chickpeas. But it is just as authentic the other way around, which is how I decided to make it. It’s not a soup. Add enough liquid to the chickpeas to keep everything juicy, but not soupy. If you’re cooking chickpeas from scratch, use the cooking liquid. If you’re using canned chickpeas, use water.

The pimentón (paprika) is ordinary sweet pimentón, but a smidgin of smoked pimentón in addition adds a nice background flavor. Hot pimentón or cayenne is optional.

Fried bread for thickening the sauce and to serve as an accompaniment to the finished dish.
A few slices of fried bread go into the blender to thicken the chickpea liquid. If you want to serve fried bread with the dish, fry more slices at the same time.

This is the lechoso variety of chickpea, generally used in Andalusia. It is plumper than the castellano varieties.

Spinach with Chickpeas
Espinacas con Garbanzos

Serves 4.

6 cups packed fresh spinach (about ½ pound, to make 1 ½ cups cooked, drained and chopped)
Ice water
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 slices baguette, crusts removed
4 cloves garlic
Chickpea cooking liquid or water
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
1/8 teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 plum tomato, peeled and chopped, or cooked tomato from chickpeas
4 cups cooked and drained chickpeas.
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Hard-cooked egg, quartered (optional)
Fried bread to serve (optional)

Chop spinach after blanching in boiling water.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl with ice and water. Add the spinach to the boiling water and cook 1 minute. Skim it out and into the ice water. When spinach is cooled, drain it well and squeeze out excess water. Chop the spinach and reserve.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or pan. Fry the slices of bread until golden-brown on both sides. Remove. Add the peeled garlic to the pan and fry until golden. Remove. 

Break up the fried bread into a blender container. Add the garlic and ¼ cup of cooking liquid or water. Add the vinegar, pimentón, hot pimentón, if using, cumin and tomato. Blend to make a smooth paste. 

Stir the bread-garlic paste into the oil remaining in the pan and fry it for a minute. Add the chickpeas and about 1 ½ cups of the chickpea cooking water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. 

Immediately before serving, stir in the chopped spinach. Heat thoroughly. Serve the chickpeas and spinach in bowls with quartered egg, if desired.

Chickpeas and spinach are saucy, not soupy.

Leftovers the next day: I added more liquid to make a soup and garnished with a dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped green onions and chopped cilantro. 

More vegetarian dishes:

Another recipe with chickpeas and spinach: Chickpeas and Spinach with Cod Dumplings.