Saturday, November 12, 2011


Some of my favorite Spanish tapas.
Got a question about Spanish cooking? Looking for a recipe? Need some tips on paella making? Searching for instructions to prepare bacalao? Ask me! I’m the expert on Spanish cooking. Just leave your question in the COMMENTS.  I’ll either reply in the comments or, if it’s an inspiring question, write a blog posting about it.

Garlic Soup
Recently a fellow-American living in Spain, Ansley Evans, an instructor of English at the University of Murcia, asked me a bunch of questions, about me, about Spanish food. The interview was an assignment for an online Food Writing course she is taking. She asked some very good questions.

She posted the interview on her blog (read the whole interview here). Here are some excerpts.

Ansley: When I first moved to Spain nearly three years ago, I had done very little Spanish cooking. As is the case with many foreigners who land here, it didn’t take long before I was enamored with the food. I soon found myself wanting to learn as much as I could about Spanish cuisine from a range of perspectives, which led me to American journalist and cookbook author Janet Mendel.

Stuffed olives.
Mendel’s Traditional Spanish Cooking was the first Spanish cookbook written in English I bought. I loved how she captured the essence of simple, flavorful and seasonal village cooking from across Spain. The delicious simplicity of the dishes Mendel includes helped me understand why tradition remains so strong in Spanish kitchens today.

I have been inspired by Mendel’s work, and was thrilled when she agreed to answer my questions.

AE: One thing I appreciate about your books and blog is your voice. The stories you tell are just as welcoming and giving as all those cooks who have invited you into their kitchens. I particularly feel this in your cookbook My Kitchen in Spain (which is really part memoir, as well). While reading the stories and recipes within, it is as if I have been invited into a Spanish home. I get the sense it hasn’t just been the recipes and flavors that have inspired your writing, but also the generous spirit of all the people you’ve broken bread with in Spain.

Revuelto--eggs and vegetables.
JM.You’re absolutely right. In the first place, seeking out recipes was a way to get to know people—village housewives, the guys in the market, the butcher, the baker, the basket maker. Talking about food gained me entry into homes—and hearts—of the people I was living amongst. Maybe it’s because I am, not a culinary professional, but a reporter. I like telling people’s stories, and those stories often revolve around food.

AE: I find that Spain sparks the imagination of foreigners (such as myself) more than many other countries, with its fiestas, boisterous bars, flamenco and siestas. While you have lived here for many years and are a true local, your voice remains one of enchantment with the country and its cooking. I really appreciate that. How do you keep the spark alive?

Salad with oranges, olives and shrimp.
JM. Perhaps it’s because there are always new “sparks”—a new region to visit (I first visited the Sierra de Aracena, where Jabugo ham comes from, last year and was enchanted by the region); a new food; a new perspective (I enjoy watching Un Pais para Comerselo or José Andres Made in Spain because they give different perspectives); etc. Spain continues to amaze and enchant with the diversity of landscapes, monuments, cuisines.

Migas--fried bread crumbs.

Thank god, Ansley never asked the dreaded question, “What’s your favorite Spanish dish?” Which, of course, I could never answer. But the pictures on this page suggest at least some of the answer.

You can read more about me here and more about the cookbooks I’ve written here. I look forward to hearing from you, fielding your questions about Spanish food.

Fried calamares.


  1. Janet,

    Thank you SO MUCH for your blog. I anxiously wait each week for your update and then devour it nearly as quickly as I would your food! I'm a Spanish teacher in Birmingham, AL and studying in Spain. I left my soul there and you provide me weekly visitation right. Thanks!
    My question is about mazapan. I want to make Ponche Segoviano which is a sponge cake layered with crema and yema and covered with a sheet or marzipan. In the US, all of the marzipan is aweful and I am wondering how to make my own. I knew you would have the best recipe. Also, Ponche Segoviano call for the "yema". I know this is some sort of egg yolk custard - do you have the recipe?

    Thanks so much in advance!!


  2. Nick: Glad that my posts give you a taste of Spain. Your question about marzipan deserves a blog posting. Coming in a few weeks--- Meanwhile, you can order good Spanish marzipan from La Tienda or The Spanish Table. In my recipes I have usually swapped ordinary custard for the egg-yolk filling called yema.

  3. Dear Janet, I am an australian living in Sevilla with my wife and 3 young kids. I have your 'Cooking in Spain,' and especially enjoy your pollo al ajillo. Each week we have a few spanish couples to dinner in our house, and we share the preparation. They cook the most delicious food, and are happy when we give their dishes a try. I had a practice at solomillo al whisky today, in preparation for dinner with our friends this Tuesday night, using some recipes I found on the net. As I was looking for the recipes I stumbled on to your blog - I hadn't seen it before, but I look forward to checking it out. The solomillo al whisky test today was disappointing. It didn't turn out nearly as nicely as I've had in bars and restaurants here. The fillets came out well, but the flavour wasn't great. I'd really appreciate your advice on how to prepare it properly. I used 10 fillets, half a head of garlic, half a cup of whisky, the juice from one lemon, and half a cube of caldo de carne in half a cup of water, and salt and pepper. I'd be grateful for any help you might be able to offer. It's one of my favourite dishes, and I'd also love to share it with my family in Sydney over Christmas. Many thanks! Ian.

  4. Ian: Truth be told, I've never made solomillo al whisky. Maybe because whisky is hardly Spanish. Try using dry Sherry, Pedro Ximenez or Brandy de Jerez instead of whisky. Lots of olive oil to keep the meat moist.

  5. Several years ago we spent an April driving all over Spain in search of birds migrating from North Africa into Europe. We enjoyed a wide range of foods, from starred places in the big cities, to whatever was on offer that day at small hotel/restaurants 'way out in the countryside (like Alcantara on the Portuguese border.) One quick lunch staple which I've been trying to reproduce without much success was a pork tenderloin sliced a bit over 1/4 inch thick, marinated, and cooked quickly on the flat top, accompanied on a good oblong roll by fried onions and green peppers. Most bars seemed to have a vat of pork in marinade on the counter top or behind it, which looked like oil, paprika, salt, pepper, and maybe water and some vinegar. Meat seemed to be pork loin, not tenderloin. I've been pursuing "Sanduiche de Lomo de Cerdo," but tha's not working out.
    Any ideas what will bring back the magic?
    Paul & Linda

  6. Paul & Linda: What you describe is a "planchita," a thin slice of boneless pork loin, sprinkled with salt, garlic, parsley and lemon juice, then quickly grilled on a "plancha," or griddle. If served atop bread, it might be called a "montadito." Sometimes it is marinated "en adobo." Here is that recipe that appears in my book TAPAS--A BITE OF SPAIN. In this version, the pork is pan-fried, but you can cook it on a grill as well.

    Hope this captures the magic for you!

    Montaditos de Lomo en Adobo
    Marinated Pork Loin on Toasts

    Makes 12 tapas or 6 lunch servings.

    12 slices pork loin, 1 cm / ½ in thick (about 900 g / 2 lbs)
    ½ teaspoon salt
    Coarsely ground black pepper
    1 teaspoon oregano
    ½ teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
    4 cloves coarsely chopped garlic
    2 bay leaves, broken into pieces
    4 cloves
    1 tablespoon vinegar
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    12 slices bread or toasts
    Coarse salt
    Strips of red pimiento, optional

    Place the slices of pork loin in a nonreactive container. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, oregano, pimentón, garlic, bay leaves, cloves and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, turning the meat once or twice.

    Remove the pork from the marinade, discarding the bay leaves and cloves. Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Fry the pork slices until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Remove and place on top of toasts. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Place a few strips of red pimiento on top of the pork. Serve hot or room temperature.