Saturday, December 20, 2014


Chef Samuel Perea

While shopping this week at El Corte Inglés , Spain’s largest department store chain, looking for ideas for holiday meals, holiday gifts, I chanced upon a special event in the local store’s restaurant-cafeteria. La Cocina con Sabor a Málaga was a celebration of Málaga foods, interpreted by Chef Samuel Perea , a Malagueño who, as a sort of culinary ambassador, also cooks in Israel.

Chef Samuel was cooking a special menu featuring foods of Playas, Montes y Huertas—beaches, mountains and fields of Málaga. From the fields, an intensely flavored olive dip; from the sea, an escabeche of fresh anchovies with bitter orange; from the hills, roast baby kid-goat (and many more dishes). Chef Samuel, a self-taught cook, told me his dishes are mostly interpretations of the food he remembers from his childhood.

“When I was working in Cairo,” Samuel explained, “I missed my mother’s cooking and asked her to send me some recipes. That’s when I started cooking.” But, recipes, he said, are like a music score. They provide the “notes,” but each individual lends the interpretation—the sentiment,  experience and emotion—that makes them original.

He has worked in restaurants in Madrid and Málaga and, notably, with María José San Román  of Restaurante Monastrell in Alicante. With Chef María José, Samuel said, he made a qualitative culinary jump, putting together techniques, vision and food memories.

Samuel first went to Israel in the 1980s, sent by his Spanish company to do a course in border security. There, he set up a company commercializing skin products made with minerals from the Dead Sea. Returning frequently to Israel—including every Christmas to carry Christmas cards to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for blessing—Samuel made many friends, including in the culinary world. Collaborating with Israeli restaurateur Victor Bloger, he founded Cocina por la Paz, Cooking for Peace, an NGO to foment convivencia,  “living together,” amongst Jews, Muslims and Christians in Mediterranean countries. (Chef Samuel Perea will be at Restaurant Chloélys in Tel Aviv, Israel, cooking with Victor Gloger December 30 and 31.)

When peoples of various faiths sit down to share a meal at their special gatherings, Samuel said, they drink a toast to friendship and peace with olive oil.

Creamy olive dip, molturado de aceitunas.

Molturado de Aceitunas
Milled Olives

Chef Samuel said this smooth olive paste was inspired by the powerful aroma of fresh olives being molturado, crushed, at the mill. The resulting olive pulp is then pressed (or, in modern mills, put through a centrifugal extractor) to release the extra virgin olive oil.

I decided this olive oil dip would be the perfect dish to serve at a Hanukkah dinner this week. After all, Hanukkah is a celebration of olive oil. The holiday marks the victory in the 2nd Century BC of the Jewish Maccabees over an occupying force and the re-lighting of the menorah in the Temple. The olive oil for the menorah, enough for a single day, lasted for eight days and nights.

Adapted from the recipe by Samuel Perea.

Pitted Manzanilla olives.

Chef Samuel’s recipe calls for Aloreña Manzanilla olives (Álora is a town in Málaga province; Manzanilla is a variety of olive.). I used my own home-cured Manzanillas. Spanish brine-cured olives are usually whole, split open, and flavored with garlic and herbs. It’s easy to remove the pits—just squeeze them out or press them with the side of a knife on a cutting board. Brine-cured olives usually have enough salt that it’s not necessary to season them.

The original recipe by Chef Samuel calls for huevina (powdered egg), avoiding the issue of using raw eggs. As I couldn’t get powdered egg, I substituted whole raw egg in the recipe.

Serve the olive paste as a dip, a sandwich smear, a sauce. It's a wonderful accompaniment to grilled tuna, roast lamb, leftover turkey.

Grind in processor.

1 cup, packed, drained and pitted brine-cured olives
1 egg
½ tablespoon water or olive brine
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (Verdial, Hojiblanca or Arbequina variety) plus additional to serve
Regañas (crisp crackers), if desired

Set aside a few olives for garnish. Puree the rest in a food processor until smooth.

Place the egg, water and olive oil in the container of an immersion blender. Blend at high speed without lifting the blender until the mixture emulsifies. Then raise the blender wand and blend to incorporate any oil that is still unmixed.

Separate ½ cup of the oil/egg emulsion (this is olive oil mayonnaise) and reserve for another use (season with salt and lemon juice). Add the olive puree to the mayonnaise in the blender and blend until smooth. Chill the puree before serving.

Serve on a dish with additional olive oil and garnished with a few olives. Accompany with regañás crackers for dipping.

The sauce and the reserved mayonnaise keep, covered and refrigerated, up to one week.

Fresh anchovies in escabeche marinade with saffron and zest of bitter orange.

Manojitos de Boquerones en escabeche de Naranjas Cachorreña
Anchovy Bunches Marinated in Bitter Orange Escabeche

Chef Samuel’s recipe calls for the dried skin of a “cachorreña” orange. Cachorreña is a Málaga name for the bitter orange, the sour orange, beloved for marmalade and used also for sauces and soups. The fresh skin is mouth-numbingly bitter—so I chose to blanch it first. The juice is sour—a wonderful condiment in dressings for vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes. Look for bitter oranges in Latin markets at this time of year. If not available, substitute sweet orange and/or lemon.

Small, fresh anchovies are ideal for this dish, but if not available, try sardines or fillets of mackerel, herring or trout.

Serves 4.

½ pound small fresh anchovies (about 20)
Flour for dredging the anchovies
Olive oil for frying
1 bay leaf, lightly toasted in a skillet
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
6 peppercorns
1 strip zest from a bitter orange, blanched
Pinch of saffron, crushed
¼ cup white wine vinegar
Olive oil for frying plus additional to serve
Water (about ½ cup)
Lettuce, to garnish
Sliced orange or lemon, to garnish

Clean the anchovies, removing heads and guts (it is not necessary to fillet them). Rinse and drain well. Sprinkle with salt.

Heat the oil to a depth of 1 inch in a medium skillet. Gather 4or 5 anchovies together by the tails, dredge them in flour and, pinching the tails together, lay them in into the hot oil. Turn the anchovies when they are golden on one side and fry on the reverse side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Continue with remaining anchovies, making bunches, flouring and frying.

Place the anchovy bunches in a single layer in a shallow bowl.

In a small bowl combine the bay leaf, crushed garlic, peppercorns, blanched and chopped orange zest, saffron and vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon of the hot oil in which the anchovies were fried. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Pour this marinade over the anchovies with enough water to just barely cover them. Cover and marinate 2 hours or, refrigerate, and marinate up to 12 hours.

Lift the anchovies out of the marinade and place on serving plates with lettuce and sliced orange to garnish. Drizzle with additional olive oil to serve.

© Janet Mendel
Marinated anchovies--nice starter for a holiday meal.

Olive oil lamp for Hanukkah or Christmas. HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

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