Saturday, April 25, 2015


A couple weeks ago I was cooking Chicken Marbella in which the chicken roasts with prunes. I commented then that chicken cooked with fruit is an unusual combination in Spanish cuisine--except for dishes in the medieval style. That inspired me to go searching through my recipe files for an example and I found this gorgeous way to cook rabbit in a sweet and sour sauce with figs and lots of spices. (The recipe appears in my book COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—FOOD OF LA MANCHA, published by Wm. Morrow in 2006.)

Rabbit cooked, Mudéjar style, with figs and medieval spices.
Now that the Easter bunny season is behind us, it’s a good time to cook rabbit. Almost all rabbit is farm-raised and available year-round. It’s a lean, white meat with a delicate flavor.

This recipe comes from Toledo, a city in La Mancha (central Spain). Still enclosed by ancient walls and monumental gates, the old town of narrow, cobbled streets preserves much of its medieval character. Inhabited over the centuries by Romans (the ruins of a Roman circus, one of the largest of the Empire, lies just outside the walls); Visigoths (at least one church originally was Visigothic); Sephardic Jews (two synagogues remain in the old Jewish quarter); Arabs and Berbers (a 10th century mosque is preserved), and Christians, who built an astonishing cathedral and dozens of convents and monasteries, Toledo is at once monumental and intimate.

Toledo cathedral.
The Muslim Arabs (Moors) took Toledo in 712. When King Alfonso VI wrested control of the city in 1085, many of the Moors opted to stay under Christian dominion. Called Mudéjars—meaning “permitted to remain”—they had an enormous influence on architecture, building churches, synagogues and civic buildings in the graceful Mudéjar style, with its low towers, horseshoe arches, plaster, tile, and wood decorations.

The Toledo School of Translators flourished, bringing together Arab, Hebrew, and Latin scholars who translated Greek philosophy, Persian literature, Arabic medicine into Latin and Spanish.

The Mudéjar influence permeated the style of cooking as well, bringing exotic spices from eastern lands into Spanish cooking. This rabbit dish, perfumed with cinnamon, clove, aniseed and saffron, is a delicious example.

Seasonings used in medieval cooking. Clockwise from bottom left: thyme with flowers, mint, pine nuts, shelled and unshelled; almonds; green almonds; figs; nutmeg; ginger root, cinnamon sticks; bay leaves; rosemary, and parsley. On the tray in the center: top row from left: peppercorns, caraway seeds, cumin seeds and aniseeds. In the center, saffron. Bottom row, from left, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds and cloves.
Steep the whole spices and figs in the cooking liquid, then strain the liquid and add to the rabbit. Don’t overcook rabbit; as it is very lean, it easily becomes dry. If rabbit comes with the liver, sauté it and mash to a paste to thicken the sauce. If liver is not available, the sauce can be thickened with a little flour, if desired.

If rabbit is not an option, make this recipe with bone-in half chicken breasts. Serve the rabbit with rice or cous cous and minted carrots.

Rabbit with Figs and Mudéjar Spices
Conejo con Higos al Estilo Mudéjar

A subtle sweet and sour sauce complements delicate rabbit, here served with rice and minted carrots.
Serves 4.

1-2 tablespoons honey (preferably rosemary honey)
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
1-inch piece fresh ginger, cut in half
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon aniseeds
1-inch piece of cinnamon
3 cloves
2 cups water
12 dried figs, stems removed
Sprigs of mint, thyme and parsley
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
¼ cup hot water
¼ cup olive oil
1/3 cup blanched almonds
3 cloves garlic
1 rabbit, 2 ½ to 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
Rabbit liver, cut up (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup white wine

Combine the honey, vinegar, ginger, peppercorns, coriander, mustard, aniseeds, cinnamon, and clove in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the sprigs of herbs and the figs. Cover and let them macerate at least 2 hours.

Crush the saffron in a mortar. Add ¼ cup of hot water and let it steep at least 15 minutes.

In a cazuela or large sauté pan heat the oil and fry the almonds and garlic until they are lightly golden. Skim them out and reserve.

Add the rabbit pieces and liver, if using, to the hot oil and sauté on medium heat until they are lightly browned on all sides. (Remove the liver pieces, if using.) Add the chopped onion and continue sautéing.

Put the fried almonds, garlic and liver, if using, in a blender with the wine and process to make a smooth paste.

With a slotted spoon, remove the figs from the spiced liquid and reserve them. (Don’t worry if some spices cling to the figs.) Strain the liquid and reserve it. Discard the spices and herbs. Add 1 ½ cups of the spice liquid to the rabbit with the saffron. Stir in the almond paste. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add the figs to the rabbit and cook until rabbit is tender, another 15 to 20 minutes.

Rabbit--the other white meat. 

More rabbit recipes here:
Rabbit in Wine Marinade (Conejo al Salmorejo),

Rabbit, Sierra-Style (Conejo a la Serrana),

Rabbit with Beans and Pasta (Conejo con Gurullos)

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Let there be peas! Garden peas, almost ready for picking.

And, glory be, so it has come to pass. Sweet garden peas. At first, just a handful at a time. My grandson Leo shells them and eats them raw. Within a few days, I have enough for a couple of servings, quickly blanched and spritzed with a little olive oil.

Now, I’m picking a small basketful every other day. Sure, I could freeze them. But they are so delicate and sweet when freshly picked that I’m trying to use them fresh while they last.

Easy-peasy to shell.

Fresh-picked peas are so sweet.

Peas from the garden have natural sugars that start turning to starch as soon as they are picked. To keep that sweetness, I shell the peas immediately after picking and blanch them, then store them, refrigerated, until I’m ready to use them. (To blanch the peas, bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the peas and return the water to a full boil—about 1 ½ minutes. Drain and rinse in very cold water.) 

Peas are really easy to shell. On the convex curved side, get the side of your thumb nail into the pod and just sort of unzip the shell.

Peas in a pod.
Shelling peas are in local markets now too. I bought a handful for comparison. They are bigger than my garden peas (in the photo at right, the market peas are on the right) and starchy rather than sweet. They would be fine for slow-cooked dishes or for soup.




Here are some of the ways I prepared peas this week.

Peas sautéed with serrano ham.

Rice with cuttlefish, peas, fava beans and artichokes.

Salad with peas, potatoes and fresh mint. The wildflowers bloom right next to the pea patch.

For a rainy spring day--split-pea soup with carrots, chard and fresh peas.

Salteado de Gusiantes con Jamón
Sauté of Peas with Ham


With poached egg, peas are a main dish.
This is the sort of dish that might be served as a starter or tapa in Spain. Garnish with a little chopped cooked egg, if desired. Or, top a serving with a poached egg and serve it as a luncheon or supper dish.

For this recipe, I used garden peas that had been blanched, so they only needed to reheat in the sauté pan. If using frozen or raw peas, let them cook for 5 minutes.

You will need about 1 ¼ pounds of peas in their pods to make 1 cup shelled peas.

Serves 6 as a starter or side; 3 as a supper dish.

3 cups shelled peas (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped spring onion or scallions
1 clove garlic (optional)
3 ounces chopped serrano ham (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon dry Sherry or white wine (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Eggs (optional), hard-cooked and chopped or poached

Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the onions and garlic, if using. Sauté very gently until onion is almost melted, about 6 minutes. Add the ham and sauté 2 minutes. Add the Sherry, if using, and cook until liquid has evaporated and ham is sizzling in the oil again.

Add the peas to the skillet. Sauté, stirring, until peas are cooked, about 5 minutes for fresh or frozen peas. Season with salt to taste and pepper.

Serve hot or room temperature. Garnish, if desired, with chopped hard-cooked egg. Or, top each serving with a poached egg.

Cool way to poach eggs. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap. Add a little olive oil. Break an egg into the bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Twist the plastic to close tightly and tie. Submerge the egg packets in boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer. Poach eggs 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the packets. Untie the plastic and carefully roll the eggs onto the plate of peas and ham.

Arroz con Guisantes y Sepia
Rice with Peas and Cuttlefish

A simple paella: rice, cuttlefish, vegetables.
This Alicante dish is a simplified paella, containing only cuttlefish (use squid, if preferred) and vegetables. Use fresh or frozen small fava beans and peas. If using fresh artichoke, cut it in quarters and add immediately to the pan—no need to soak in lemon-water.

Instead of a whole head of garlic, I used a stem of immature garlic from the garden.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small head of garlic
1 pound cleaned cuttlefish, cut in pieces
1 tomato, grated (½ cup pulp)
1 small artichoke
¼ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
¼ cup hot water
1 ½ cups rice
3 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup shelled fava beans
1 cup shelled peas
Lemon slices, to serve

Heat the oil in a paella pan or deep skillet. Fry the whole head of garlic. Add the pieces of cuttlefish and sauté for a few minutes. Add the grated tomato pulp.

Strip off and discard outer leaves from the artichoke. With a serrated knife, cut the artichoke into quarters. Use the tip of a small knife to nip out the fuzzy choke. Add the quartered artichoke to the pan.

Add the wine and cook until wine has evaporated.

Place the crushed saffron in a small bowl and add the hot water. Allow to infuse for 5 minutes.

Add the rice to the pan and allow to sauté a few minutes. Add the water, salt, fava beans and the saffron-infused water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow rice to bubble for 10 minutes. Add the peas. Place the head of garlic in the center of the rice. Reduce heat and cook until liquid is absorbed and rice is nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Don’t stir the rice.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to set for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon slices.

Ensalada de Patatas y Guisantes
Potato and Pea Salad with Mint

Mint leaves lend a fresh springtime flavor.

Mint gives this salad a fresh, springtime flavor. Stir the cooked peas into the potatoes and dressing immediately before serving, so the vinegar dressing does not leach the green color from the peas.

Serves 6.

¾ pound small new potatoes
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup shelled peas
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water to cover until they are tender. Drain and let them cool. Cut the potatoes in quarters and place in a bowl.

Combine the mustard and vinegar. Whisk in the oil until dressing is emulsified. Season with salt. Pour over the potatoes. Let them marinate at least 1 hour or, refrigerated, overnight.

Cook the peas until tender, 5 to 7 minutes for frozen or shelled peas; 2 minutes for small garden peas.

Immediately before serving, stir the peas into the potatoes with some of the chopped mint. Place on a serving plate and sprinkle remaining mint on top. Serve room temperature.
Wildflowers, garden peas, April showers. Must be springtime.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Marbella (the word means “beautiful sea”) is a town not far from where I live on the Costa del Sol, southern Spain. It’s a lovely town with gorgeous beaches on a beautiful sea, the Mediterranean. Marbella is a first-class resort, with fine hotels, beachfront apartments, hillside villas, yacht harbors, a charming Old Town with typical tapa bars and trendy boutiques. (See ravishing photos on the marbella.turismo Facebook page.)

La mar bella--the Mediterranean.

The traditional cooking of Marbella reflects its geography—fishing port, olive groves, irrigated farmland and citrus orchards, upland game reserve. It also has cocina de vanguadia, avant-garde cuisine, such as that presented by two-Michelin-star chef Dani García at his eponymous restaurant at the Puente Romano Beach Resort. Chef Dani makes a cherry gazpacho with cream cheese, anchovies and pistachios that is a tongue-in-cheek take on traditional food and, at the same time, supremely delicious.

But nowhere in Marbella is there anything quite like Chicken Marbella, a recipe that appears in a classic American cookbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins ((Workman Publishing; 1979). Because the recipe is so un-Spanish, in spite of its name, I’ve always skipped over it.

But, recently, I read an article in The Tablet (an online daily magazine of Jewish news and culture) proclaiming Chicken Marbella as one of “our favorite recipes for the Passover seder.” (The Passover holiday ends today.) I decided it was time to take another look at that recipe.

The brilliant bit about the recipe is its ease of preparation. It calls for four chickens, meant to feed a crowd. You put the quartered chickens in a marinade, overnight or longer, then put them in roasting pans, add prunes, olives and wine and bake until tender and golden.

Marinated chicken bakes with prunes, olives and capers.

The marinade calls for vinegar and oregano. That, indeed, is a typical Spanish adobo, commonly used with fish, pork, or poultry. Then, you add prunes, olives and capers. Spanish cooking occasionally combines meat and poultry with fruit (I have a Moorish-inflected recipe for lamb with prunes) and also with olives (chicken or duck). But, both? Well, I’ll give it a try.

Then, you place the chicken pieces in baking pans, spread brown sugar over them and add white wine. Sugar!

An earlier article in The Tablet included an interview with Julee Rosso, one of the authors of The Silver Palate Cookbook, who said their recipe was inspired by food they encountered while travelling in Spain and Morocco. The “prunes were very much Marrakech tagines; the green olives were Marbella, Spain.” That sounds about right. But, the sugar is pure American! Maybe that’s why it’s such a popular dish. But, not in my kitchen! No sugar, no way. 

Here is my interpretation of the classic Chicken Marbella. I made it with one chicken, to serve four. I’ve eliminated the sugar totally. If you like the sweetness, I suggest using sweet wine such as muscatel, PX or sweet Sherry. I used Sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar in the marinade and dry Sherry instead of white wine as called for in the original recipe. I loved the sweet jammy baked prunes with the briny olives and capers.

Chicken with Mediterranean flavors.

Chicken Marbella

You can use all legs and thighs instead of a whole quartered chicken.

Serves 4.

1 chicken, about 2 ½ pounds, quartered
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon brine from capers or olives
8 (or more) pitted prunes
1 tablespoon capers
¼ cup pitted brine-cured olives
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
1/3 cup dry fino Sherry
Chopped parsley or cilantro to garnish

Place the chicken quarters in a non-reactive container (glass or ceramic). In a blender or mini food processor, combine the salt, pepper, oregano, vinegar, oil and brine. Spread half of it over the chicken. Turn the chicken pieces and spread remaining marinade on the chicken. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Place the chicken pieces in a roasting pan. Scrape all the marinade over them. Tuck the prunes around the chicken. Add the capers, olives, bay leaves and coriander seeds. Pour the Sherry around the chicken.

Bake the chicken, uncovered, basting with pan juices every 15 minutes, until chicken is tender and lightly browned on top, about 60 minutes.

Transfer the chicken, prunes and olives to a serving platter. Discard the bay leaves and pour the pan juices over the chicken. Scatter chopped parsley or cilantro on top.

Chicken Marbella.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Adding flour to the levadura madre, the starter dough for making bread. We are preparing dough for hornazos, bread rolls with eggs, a traditional Easter snack.
Con las manos en la masa-- Hands kneading dough to make traditional Easter breads, hornazos.      
Once the dough is kneaded until it is no longer sticky, Antonio Garcia shows the particpants how to pinch off pieces and shape them into small balls to enclose a raw egg.

Each person gets to shape the hornazos. Most are simple little rolls; others are boats, baskets, turtles. In my village, the hornozos are made of basic bread dough with a little matalahúga, aniseed. In other towns, they may have oil or lard, sugar or honey added. 

Many hands roll out the dough.

The rolls are covered and left in a warm place to rise. Here, an electric heater underneath is the heat source.

Antonio puts the first tray of hornazos into the wood-fired oven. This oven is similar to the traditional bread ovens.

Fresh out of the oven--a tray of hornazos, bread rolls with eggs.

The Mijas village tourism department gives away bags of hornazos to visitors on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

Grist for the political mill. The current mayor of Mijas, Angel Nozal (Partido Popular), who is running for re-election next month, dumps wheat in the mill for grinding and gets his manos en la masa as well.

Freshly-ground wheat flour.

Hornazos, a typical Easter bread, with egg baked in the dough.