Friday, January 21, 2011


Caldo Gallego--Galician soup with beans and broccoli raab.

In the summertime, I grow a “gazpacho garden”—tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers to keep me supplied with the ingredients for that lovely cold dish. In the winter, it becomes a “soup garden”—leeks, chard and kale for adding to hearty vegetable soups.

This year, instead of kale seeds, I received a packet of broccoli raab seeds. Broccoli raab? What’s that? Although I had never tasted broccoli raab, I went ahead and planted it. Broccoli is a vegetable I really like, so I figured this broccoli cousin would add to my vegetable repertoire.

Broccoli raab.
But when the leaves began unfurling, I was puzzled. Hey, this ain´t broccoli. It looks more like turnip greens—

Then the plants sent up slim stems topped with a sort of broccoli bud look-alike. Before harvesting, I needed to find out how to cook my accidental vegetable. On-line research confirmed that broccoli raab is not related to broccoli, but to turnips. OK, now what? I found some tasty recipes for broccoli raab with penne and Italian sausage. But where does this new green fit into Spanish cooking?

The clue was right there on Wikipedia: broccoli raab (brassica rapa) is also known as rapini, broccoli rabe and grelos. GRELOS! The signature vegetable of Galicia, in northwest Spain. I once went on a pilgrimage in the market of Santiago de Compostela in search of grelos. Alas, in early summer, they were not to be found. Neither do they seem to be grown elsewhere in Spain. Now, in chilly January, I had them in my own garden!  

I flipped through my own cookbook, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, in search of recipes and found two recipes for traditional Galician dishes, lacón con grelos, cured pork shoulder braised with greens, and caldo gallego, Galician soup with beans and greens. In those recipes, I suggest substituting chard, kale, collards or cabbage for the requisite grelos. Now I could make them with the real thing.

Grelos--broccoli raab.
Yesterday I put the beans to soak and today I cooked them with a ham bone, chunk of pork fat, some potatoes and the chopped broccoli raab. Some Galician cooks add chorizo, which colors and flavors the soup. I decided to forgo the chorizo, but added a little pimentón (paprika) instead. And, many suggest mashing up the pork fat to enrich the soup. I skipped that too. 

Whether it’s an Italian recipe for broccoli raab or Spanish grelos, most recipes advise blanching the greens before incorporating them in a dish. This both removes any bitterness and, for the Galician soup, keeps the soup from turning green. Full disclosure: In cooking, the grelos turn a dull green. So, after I blanched them, I saved some of the bright green ones to add to the soup for the photo. As they were picked from the garden and cooked on the same day, the blanched bits were plenty tender and not at all bitter. 

From my soup garden, here is a traditional soup, perfect for a chilly winter day. In Galicia, it is served in cuncas, or “cups,” white porcelain bowls. In Galicia, wine also is sipped from cups.

Galician Soup with Beans and Greens
Caldo Gallego

Serves 6.

Caldo Gallego.
¼ pound dried white beans,
    soaked  overnight
1 bay leaf
½ onion
meaty ham bone or ham hock
1 beef marrow bone or short rib
3 ounces pancetta or salt pork,
      in one piece
1 pound potatoes, peeled and
     cut in chunks
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces broccoli raab or other greens, chopped and blanched
chorizo (optional)
pimentón (paprika), optional

Drain the soaked beans and put them to cook in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off the froth. Add the bay leaf, onion, ham bone or hock, beef bone and pancetta. Bring again to a boil and skim. Simmer for 1 hour.

Add 1 cup of water, the potatoes, salt and the greens, which have been blanched in boiling water. Cook 1 hour more.

Add the chorizo, if using, and cook 15 minutes. If using pimentón, mix it with a little of the broth, then stir it into the soup.

Cut meat off bones and discard bones and bay leaf. Cut pork fat into small pieces OR discard before serving.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I’ve watched as tourists reach up and pick an orange or two from the trees that grow in the village plaza, peel them and pop a bite into their mouths. What an expression as they taste the sour juice!

Orange trees planted in public plazas in Spain, such as the enchanting Patio de los Naranjos adjoining the cathedral in Sevilla, are the bitter orange, the same kind used for marmelade. The peel of the fruit is bitingly bitter; the juice is mouth-puckeringly sour. The bitter orange is used as rootstock for growing sweet oranges and is also grown for its decorative beauty and the heady perfume of orange blossoms in springtime.

The first orange groves in Spain which proliferated during Moorish rule (between the eighth and 15th centuries) were bitter oranges. The sour juice was a useful condiment in ancient times. The sweet orange, as we know it, was unknown until Portuguese travelers in the 15th century brought it from China.

Affectionately called cachorreñas, bitter oranges are used in quite a few Andalusian dishes. The following recipe is for an unusual fish soup that is subtly flavored with the sour juice. At its simplest, the soup is concocted with small bits of salt cod (bacalao) and served as a starter. I like to turn it into a main course, using big pieces of fresh hake. You could use cod or haddock instead of hake or any flavorful rock fish. If possible use head, bones and trimmings to make stock.

In the U.S., look for bitter oranges at Hispanic markets during winter months. (December-March). If they are not available, use half orange juice and half lemon juice in this recipe.

Fish Soup with Sour Orange 

This recipe comes from MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, the book (HarperCollins).
Serves 4.

2 pounds whole hake, filleted, bones reserved (or 1 ½ pounds fillets)
2-inch strip of orange zest, blanched in boiling water
1 tablespoon salt
sprig of parsley
½ onion
1 tomato
1 small green pepper, seeds removed
1 bay leaf
1 cup lightly packed bread crumbs (2 ounces)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika, not smoked)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup juice from bitter oranges (or orange and lemon juice)
thinly sliced orange for garnish
chopped scallions for garnish

Place the fish head, bones and trimmings in a soup pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Add the orange zest, salt, parsley, onion, whole tomato, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. (If head and trimmings are not available, cook the zest, parsley, onion, tomato, pepper and bay in water for 15 minutes.)

Strain the liquid into another pan. Discard the fish heads and bones, parsley, zest and bay leaf. Remove and discard the tomato core. Place the tomato, onion and pepper in a blender with ½ cup of the reserved liquid. Sieve the puree to remove skins and seeds. Return to blender with the bread crumbs, oil, garlic, pimentón and cumin. Blend until smooth.

Add the tomato mixture to the soup. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes.

Cut the fish fillets into 4 pieces. Add them to the soup and cook 5 minutes more. Hake is very delicate, so take care not to break it up. Stir in the orange juice and cook 1 minute more.
Serve the soup into 4 soup bowls, each with a piece of fish, garnished with a thin slice of orange and a sprinkling of scallions.

Cachorreñas-- Fish Soup with Sour Orange

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I’ve been writing about Spanish food for 40 years and counting! Food from every angle—recipes, restaurants, trends, ingredients, seasonal produce, holidays. Articles and cookbooks. The writing is easy. Recipe testing is not easy, but I’ve gotten better at it over the years. People tell me my recipes really work.

But, a food blog, I’ve discovered, is much more than just writing or good recipes. It’s really about the visual impact—pictures of the food or the place or the event are what entice readers in the blogosphere. And, that’s where I am still completely a newbie, a beginner. My files are packed with great recipes, some from cookbooks I’ve written, others that I’ve developed. I have lots of  ideas for blog posts on all kinds of exciting topics. But, I still have to shoot them. I need the pics.

My usual method when starting a blog post is to cook something, carry the food out into bright sunlight and shoot it. (Or take the camera out to my huerta, vegetable garden, and shoot.) But, that doesn’t work inside dim tapa bars or at dinner time, with no natural light. Do I need a new camera with low-light aperture ? A studio set-up with good lighting?

I recently met an accomplished professional food photographer, Nancy Bundt,, an American who lives in Norway. She was visiting friends in the Spanish village where I live. Nancy’s photos appear in a gorgeous book about the food of Norway, En Smak Av Norge (which means "A Taste of Norway") published by Schibsted Forlag, Oslo, and she’s working on a book about American food. Nancy and her friends, also photographers, gave me a few tips (“indirect light,” “bounce the light,” “use white cardboard to reflect light back onto the food”). That’s what I did on this photo of glowing oranges and lemons—such a bright spot on a winter’s day.

Any suggestions? What are you looking for in food pictures on a blog?

What am I going to do with all those oranges? What we don’t eat right away, I’ll use to make this intensely orange syrup. You can spoon it over puddings, sponge cake, ice cream or breakfast toast or use it in mixing cocktails. Combined with bubbly cava, it is sensational.

Intensely Orange Syrup
Jarabe de Naranjas

Makes 1 ½ cups.

Zest from 1 orange
3 cups fresh orange juice (from 8 to 10 oranges)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar

Cut the orange zest into fine julienne slivers. Blanch the zest in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain. Blanch again for 2 minutes and drain. Reserve the zest.

Combine the orange juice, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and skim off the froth. Finely chop the orange zest and add it to the pan. Lower the heat so the orange juice bubbles gently. Cook until thickened and reduced by half, about 40 minutes.

Cool the syrup. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Two more recipes with oranges appear here.
And my beginner's photos aren't so bad.