Saturday, June 21, 2014


During my first year living in a small village in southern Spain,  shopping and cooking were a daily adventure. I hung out in the kitchens of local tapa bars. I  collected recipes from Spanish neighbors. In search of recipes, I would be sent off to talk to someone’s grandmother in the barrio at the end of the village, or to a tia way out in the country.

I scribbled notes, filling many notebooks with recipes—I’ve lost count of how many versions of gazpacho I gathered! I borrowed recipe notebooks from friends and transcribed their family dishes, handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, to try in my own kitchen. 

Through the cooking, I learned much about the people, culture and way of life of my adopted village. I made lifelong friends. My cooking articles, cookbooks and, now, this blog have all grown from those early forays into the village kitchen. (Read about my experiences in My Kitchen in Spain, the cookbook.)

Cookbook by Debbie Jenkins. The dish pictured on the cover is Gachasmigas, fried bread crumbs with sausage.

So, it was with much interest that I opened SPANISH VILLAGE COOKING—Over 150 simple, family recipes from a rural village in Spain, by Debbie Jenkins and the Chefs of La Murta (NativeSpain; Great Britain, 2014).  Debbie, who is from Birmingham, England, moved to Spain with husband, Marcus, in 2005.

“We wanted to find a place to live away from the touristy areas, with some land and close to a Spanish village - that's how we found La Murta,” says Debbie. La Murta is a village in the province of Murcia, south-eastern Spain, about halfway between the city of Murcia, to the north, and the seaport, Cartagena, to the south. The village has just slightly more than 100 inhabitants. Debbie and Marcus live on 6 ½ acres of land outside of the village,  in the campo, countryside.

“One of our main plans when moving to Spain was to properly integrate, not to live in an urbanization and converse only with English speakers. So we offered to be on the village fiesta committee.

”Being part of the fiesta organizing gang means you get intimately involved in village life - we cook for a village fund raiser every month and have bigger parties a couple of times a year. We quickly realized that our village likes their food! It's probably the most important part of our village identity. We have three bakeries that supply restaurants in the city. To put that into perspective, 100 people in the village, 3 bakeries producing 600kg of bread per day that gets driven into the city every day by 3 bread vans. That's 200 tonnes per year! We also have our own sausage-making shop, a cake-making shop and our own wine!”

Just as I did all those years ago, Debbie gathered traditional recipes from her neighbors in La Murta. In spite of the words “chefs” in the book’s title, none of the collaborators is a professional cook. Most of the recipes, which are published in both Spanish and English, are extremely local.

In fact, it seemed to me that I could “read” the region’s geography in the recipes. So many called for pine nuts. Yes, confirmed Debbie, there are pine forests in the Sierra de Carrascoy. Almond and olive trees grow on surrounding hills. Huertas—Murcia is known for its market gardens—lead down across the Campo de Cartagena to the sea.  The locals also farm sheep, goats and pigs.

The book opens with a recipe for Michirones—no translation provided! This is a rustic dish peculiar to the Murcia region, made with dried fava beans stewed with ham, pork fat, chorizo and sobrasada, a soft sausage. I think I’ll save that one for cold weather.

The book has a good selection of arroces—rice dishes, not called paella—many with the local vegetables. Rice with rabbit; rice with snails, artichokes and peas; rice with beans, sweet potatoes, artichokes and peas; rice with spare ribs and pork; rice with market garden vegetables; rice with fish and seafood; rice with cod.

Recipes for fish croquettes, meatballs, stuffed squid, rabbit, lamb stew, roast lamb and cabrito, kid-goat, all call for pine nuts. All sound delicious.

The cooks of La Murta seem to be specialists in all types of sweets—puddings, desserts, cookies and cakes—for this section of the book is the longest of all.

There are photos of many of the recipes by Marcus Jenkins. These are especially helpful in picturing how a dish should appear.

I chose two recipes from the book to try out in my kitchen, both using seasonal vegetables.  I’ve left the recipes in metric measures that Debbie uses in the book, but added helpful conversions in parentheses.

Scrambled Eggs & Vegetables

Zarangollo, a Murcia dish of eggs scrambled with vegetables.
I love this typical Murcian dish. Debbie says that in La Murta it is usually served as a light supper. “We also eat it as a side dish at fiesta lunches - but it's more usual for supper. They put all sorts of vegetables in the dish - basically whatever is in season or left over!”

My kitchen notes: I used 4 tablespoons of olive oil to fry 1 ¼ pounds chopped potatoes, 1 cup chopped onion, 4 cups chopped zucchini (1 pound) and 1 teaspoon salt. I couldn’t resist adding a little chopped red bell pepper, definitely a seasonal addition.

Serves 4.

3 potatoes, sliced thinly
1 onion, finely chopped
1 courgette (zucchini), finely chopped
2 eggs
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Slowly fry the potatoes, onion and courgette in olive oil. When softened add the eggs and mix well. Continue cooking until the eggs are firm. Add a little salt to taste.

Pastel de Berenjena
Aubergine (Eggplant) Terrine 

Fried eggplant, ground pork and cheese--a delicious casserole.
My kitchen notes: Use 4 good-sized eggplants, about 3 ½ pounds. You will need quite a lot of olive oil to fry this quantity of sliced eggplant. I tried the recipe both with fried eggplant and with slices that were brushed with oil and baked until soft. The authentic version really is better--frying makes for a juicy and delicious final dish. You will also need about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make the frito of onion, pork and tomatoes. I used 6 slices of cheese (about 4 ounces) between the layers.

Serves 4-6.

2 kg aubergines (eggplants)
500 g (1 ¼ pounds) minced (ground) pork
1 large onion
500 g (1 ¼ pounds) tomatoes
Slices of cheese
100 g (4 oz) grated cheese
1 egg
Knob of butter
Pinch of salt

Cut the aubergines into finger-thick slices. Fry them in olive oil and set aside. Make a frito by frying the minced pork, finely chopped onion and chopped tomatoes until they are softened and reduced, about 20 minutes.

Now make the terrine: place a layer of aubergines(half of them) in a deep oven pan, followed by a layer of the frito (about half of it) and the slices of cheese. On top of that the rest of the aubergines followed by the rest of the frito.

Mix the egg and grated cheese and pour on top with a knob of butter. Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes at 180ºC (350ºF).

A satisfying dish.

Debbie blogs about life in Spain at  The cookbook, Spanish Village Cooking, is available from Amazon.

Murcia is known for its market gardens.


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  2. Last September I tried your Arroz con Pollo which is now one of our regular dishes.This week I think we've found another with the Aubergine Terrine above.We had it with snow peas from the garden and it made a more than acceptable evening meal.Keep posting really like your site.

    1. Anony: Glad you are finding recipes you like here.

  3. We just tried the Pastel de Berenjena recipe. It was terrific! The eggplant took on a creamy texture and all the flavors melded together nicely. I did make two changes. First, I added two cloves of garlic and secondly, we bought a mix of pork and beef (but, I think it is mostly pork). We have really enjoyed and are looking forward to trying other recipes in the book. Thank you!