Saturday, August 29, 2015


Fire up the grill! It’s the last weekend of August—occasion for, maybe, the last cookout of the season. The days are getting shorter, the evenings cooler (although the mosquitos haven't abated yet). Soon I’ll be happy to turn on the oven again. But, for now, it’s a grilling feast.


Meal on the grill--swordfish kebabs, chicken, foil-wrapped ribs and, tucked into the coals, potatoes and onions.

Even though there are only four of us for dinner, I’m making two racks of spareribs, a small chicken and swordfish brochettes. Wrapped in foil and tucked into the coals are potatoes and small, sweet onions. Some tiny eggplant from the garden will be grilled, whole, when the meat comes off. Split open, they need only salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil for a sensational side dish.

I’ve got a huge sack of carbon de encina, charcoal made from wild holm oak, to supplement the olive wood sticks. They make fragrant coals. A twig of rosemary adds a piney aroma.

The ribs I marinate in garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, parsley and Sherry vinegar for several hours. I wrap them in foil and grill about 20 minutes per side or until tender. I remove the foil and brush them with a barbecue sauce—Spanish molasses, ketchup, more garlic and vinegar. The grill meister (son Ben) lets the ribs glaze, about 5 minutes per side.

The chicken, a wee bird, is spatchcocked (backbone removed and breastbone slightly flattened). It marinates in the same garlic-thyme-parsley-vinegar mix as the ribs. The chicken needs only about 15 minutes per side over direct heat. (I’m thinking, this grilled chicken is going to be great cut up and folded in pita with tahina for tomorrow night’s dinner.)

The swordfish brochettes are a treat. Many years ago swordfish was very common in local (Mediterranean) fish markets, displayed on the slab in its enormous entirety, including the impressive head with its “sword.” I cooked it frequently.  Now, I find swordfish only in pre-cut steaks and I’m never sure where it’s coming from. (This is labeled—it comes from the southeast Atlantic and has been flash-frozen and defrosted for sale.) In Spanish, swordfish is pez espada, aguja palá, espardate or emperador.

Cubes of swordfish skewered with tomato, onion, pepper.

This is one of the ways I learned to cook swordfish way back in the village tapa bar where I learned Spanish cooking. In the kitchen there, the kebabs were laid on top of the gas flame. They can also be cooked on a plancha (griddle) or, best, on a wood-fired grill.

How long to grill them? Obviously, it depends on the fire. These needed about 5 minutes per side (the grill rack is not close to the coals).

The vegetables may not be done in the time it takes to grill the swordfish. If you prefer the onions and peppers cooked softer, skewer them separately and give them more time on the grill.

Swordfish Brochettes
Brochetas de Pez Espada

If swordfish is not available, any “meaty,” solid-fleshed fish can be substituted. Possibilities are monkfish (rape); dogfish shark (cazón) or tuna (atún or bonito).

To make 5 or 6 brochettes:

1 ¼  pounds swordfish fillets or steaks
1/3 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (5 cloves)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ teaspoon cumin (optional)
Tomatoes cut in wedges
Onions cut in wedges stem to root
Green peppers cut in squares
Lemon wedges

Remove skin and center bone from swordfish. Cut the fish into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle it with salt.

In a bowl combine 1 teaspoon salt, parsley, garlic, oil, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and cumin, if using. Add the swordfish cubes and mix gently. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours.

Remove swordfish from the marinade, saving the marinade. Thread the cubes on metal skewers, alternating with tomato wedges, onions and green pepper.

Light a grill. Before placing the brochettes on the grill, brush them with some of the remaining marinade. Use a lemon wedge stuck on a fork to wipe the grill rack (prevents sticking). Grill until fish is lightly browned on one side. Brush with any remaining marinade and turn the brochettes. Grill until done on reverse side. Serve accompanied by lemon.

Marinated swordfish doesn't need a sauce.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Cooks love feedback, yes we do. So I was really pleased to find that MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN—the book, not the blog—was Cookbook of the Month, along with THE NEW SPANISH KITCHEN by Anya von Bremzen, on Readers—home cooks—try recipes from the books and share their comments on the website. 

The Spanish theme continues through August. If you’d like to join the discussion, go to and follow the links to the threads.

Some readers share photos of their finished dishes as well as opinions. Many have how-to questions that others in the community reply to. Lots of them share tips and serving suggestions. (I've quoted some of the comments, but the photos are all mine.)

I am fascinated to follow how home cooks adapt cookbook recipes. because it shows how the recipes I write really work. For instance, pickerel cheeks instead of dogfish shark for cazón en adobo; sea bass instead of halibut or hake; triggerfish instead of sea bream; pork chops for tenderloin, grapefruit for orange; oloroso Sherry instead of fino. Or,  “instinct” calls for less vinegar or more garlic or a different herb. Or, the recipe says cook the chicken 60 minutes, but “mine was done in 20 minutes”.

I love reading the rave reviews: 

Sherried Chicken with Mushrooms.
Sherried Chicken with Mushroom (pollo al Jerez, recipe here).
Allegra: “The Mister declared this the 'Spanish version of chicken marsala' and cleared his plate. I really enjoyed the deep earthy-woodsy notes of these luscious ingredients singing together.”

Pollo al ajillo--chicken with garlic.
Chicken Sauté with Garlic and Sherry (pollo al ajillo, recipe here)

Gio: “Everything came together easily and just as Ms. Mendel states. The timing was perfect. This is a clear, concise recipe to follow, with an informative intro that explains the whys and wherefores, which I love to read. We enjoyed every bite of this dish. The chicken was tender, juicy, and had a delicate but noticeable infusion of deliciousness from the browned garlic garnish as well as from garlic that's cooked with the chicken. All the juices plus the wines created a luscious unctuous sauce that was a delight with each mouthful. I served sauted new cabbage, and steamed rice as sides, but next time - and there will be a next time - Crusty bread will be absorbing the sauce.”

Home-Style Pork Chops in Lemon Marinade (chuletas a la casera).
Nikki: “One of the many things I love about this book is the headnotes. For this recipe, Ms. Mendel mentions the same technique with pork loin slices cooked and slapped on toasted bread as a tapa. yes!”

But, I was devastated to read a scathing review of my paella recipe! 

Fiesta Paella (recipe here).
“I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a bad paella but this was pretty close. I definitely wouldn’t make it again. Here’s why. The cooking process seemed ill-conceived and disjointed. Mussels cooked first then set aside. Some shrimp are cooked in advance, some left to cook in the paella  for 35 mins, ditto for the peas (including standing time), squid cooked for 47 mins. Needless to say, everything but the rice and the mussels were overcooked, the squid was inedible. I omitted the yellow food colouring as well. I’ve never come across that in a paella recipe before. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this one. We drowned our sorrows in a lovely Spanish wine mr bc selected for the occasion. The wine was worthy of a celebration unto itself.”

Not to sound too defensive, but I have to add that Spanish home cooks rarely use real saffron—they use powdered artificial yellow coloring to get that vibrant sunny color for paella. (More about this condiment here ) And, I wanted to make the recipe accessible to American home cooks who might not want to shell out for pricey saffron. In my kitchen in Spain, I only use the best La Mancha saffron--and the paella is never so yellow as the restaurant versions. About the timing, this is what I tell cooking class students:

Paella cooking class: We put in par-boiled green beans, frozen peas and all of the small peeled shrimp. Won’t they be overcooked? That’s not the point. Think of them as flavoring, adding to the total flavor of the rice.
 Many of the recipes from my cookbook that are reviewed on Chowhound have also appeared on this blog. One that hasn’t yet, Chicken Sautéed with Fresh Tomato, is perfect for this end of summer season. I’ll let Chowhound's “Breadcrumbs” provide the commentary.

Vine-ripened tomatoes!

Chicken Sautéd with Fresh Tomato
Pollo con Tomate

Breadcrumbs: “Prep is simple but the cooking time required for the sauce doesn’t necessarily make this the best recipe for a weeknight unless time isn’t an issue at your home. Fortunately for me, today time wasn’t a factor at all except when we started inhaling the tantalizing aromas of this sauce and then it was impatience vs a lack of time that proved to be an issue.

“Once the chicken is cooked, the sauce must then reduce to the consistency of a jam and this, my friends, is what takes time and patience. The sauce is well worth the wait, sweet, jammy and velvety. I think I’d have been happy with a bowl of sauce and some crusty bread, chicken be damned! I served this atop some lovely steamed fingerling potatoes. It would be equally comfortable with rice or pasta.

“Mr bc allotted this a 9 out of 10 and managed to consume a whopping 5 pieces of chicken! This is definitely worth a try. I think Kalamata olives would be lovely in this sauce and if mr bc had left me any, I’d be having the sauce with olives with an egg poached atop for breakfast tomorrow.”


Fresh tomatoes cook to a thick, jammy consistency.

Chop tomatoes in processor.

2 pounds chicken legs and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds fresh tomatoes (5 ½ cups chopped)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brandy
Chopped parsley to serve

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.

Plunge the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water until the skins split, about 45 seconds. Drain, cool, then slip off the skins. Alternatively, cut out the cores and microwave them for 2 minutes on one side. Turn and microwave for 2 minutes more. Drain, cool, then slip off the skins. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and squeeze out the seeds and discard them. Chop the tomatoes coarsely (they can be chopped in a food processor).

Heat the oil In a cazuela or deep skillet and brown the chicken pieces. Remove when browned. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat.

Add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, pimentón, bay leaves and brandy. Cook the tomatoes on a high heat for 5 minutes.

Return the chicken pieces to the pot. Cook on a medium heat, partially covered to prevent the tomato from splattering, until chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Remove chicken pieces when they are done.

Continue cooking the tomato sauce on a medium heat until it is very thick and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes more. Return the chicken to the pot and reheat. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Chicken braises in fresh tomato sauce.

Here are the two Cookbooks of the Month on Chowhound:
MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN by Janet Mendel (HarperCollins; 2002) 

THE NEW SPANISH TABLE by Anya von Bremzen (Workman Publishing; 2005)

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Whatever am I going to do with a heaping basket of thumb-sized carrots? Pulled from a garden patch that hadn’t been thinned, they never got a chance to be grown-up roots. Scrubbed, they’re great for eating raw. But, still, that’s a lot of infant carrots.

I decided the carrots—tiny ones left whole, larger ones lopped into two or three pieces—needed to be cooked with grains, rice or bulgur, maybe, for a vegetarian dish that could be a substantial side or even a main dish. Or, how about some alternatives?

Which is how I came to make millet and carrot pilaf.

Millet pilaf with carrots, peppers and zucchini.

Pearl millet.
Millet (mijo in Spanish) is the seed of a type of cultivated grass. It may be familiar as bird seed, but in many parts of the world (Africa and India) millet is an important food crop. The most common variety, pearl millet, once hulled, is a tiny round, pale golden grain. It is gluten free, but has a protein content similar to wheat. Once cooked, it makes a good substitute for rice, for bulgur, for cous cous, for small pasta such as orzo.

I made a large quantity of millet pilaf with carrots. I served it as a vegetarian main dish, topped with grated cheese.

Pilaf as a side with lamb kebabs.

I used leftovers, reheated, as a side for lamb and vegetable kebabs. I recycled the cold pilaf as tabouleh salad. I’m thinking it also would be good for stuffing eggplant and zucchini, with a cheesy topping.

Where to go next with millet? Paella?

Millet pilaf, a vegetarian main or side dish.

Turn left-over pilaf into tabouleh salad. Garnish with ripe figs.

Millet and Carrot Pilaf

The quantity of liquid in this recipe makes millet that is al dente. If you want a creamier grain, use ½ cup more liquid and cook an additional 4 minutes. Allow to set 10 minutes. Chicken stock can be used instead of water—but I preferred to keep the dish vegetarian.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced carrots
¼ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 clove chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup diced zucchini
1 cup pearl millet
2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
Chopped pistachios (optional)
Chopped parsley to serve

Sauté carrots and millet.
Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add the carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes, if using. Sauté on medium heat 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and millet and sauté a few minutes more. Pour in the boiling water and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook 16 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Remove the pan from heat and allow to set 10 minutes. Fluff the millet with a fork. Serve, hot or room temperature, sprinkled with chopped pistachios, if desired, and chopped parsley.

Millet Tabouleh Salad

Serves 4.

1 ½ cups cold millet pilaf (recipe above)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon or olives
1 cup cooked, drained chickpeas
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
Salt and pepper to taste
Salad greens to serve
Figs or cherry tomatoes to garnish

Add the lemon juice and oil to the millet pilaf. Use a fork to combine, breaking up any lumps. Stir in the chopped preserved lemon, chickpeas, scallions, parsley and mint. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the salad with greens. Garnish with quartered figs or cherry tomatoes.

Cold grain salad with carrots, garnished with summer figs.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Summertime is tuna time. Both the Atlantic bluefin tuna, atún rojo, (Thunnus thynnus) and the albacore tuna, called in Spanish bonito del norte or atún blanco, (Thunnus alalunga) are fished off Spanish coasts. The bluefin are captured as they head for the Mediterranean (see more about the almadraba tuna fishing here ) while the albacore are caught on the northern Cantabrian coast and Bay of Biscay.

A great price for bonito del norte--albacore tuna.
It was albacore, or bonito del norte, that I found at a local market at a really good price for either the whole fish (big, but not as big as bluefin) or a thick steak.  I’ve been buying canned bonito del norte instead of tuna for a long time, as the albacore, with catch quotas in place, is less threatened than the bluefin. But I had never cooked it fresh before.

Albacore is "white tuna."

Albacore, which can legally be called “white tuna,” really is much lighter-fleshed than the deep red tuna. Less fatty, it can be dry if overcooked. I tried it two ways—quickly grilled on a plancha and cooked in a traditional Basque stew.
Bluefin tuna has red flesh.

Grilled Albacore Tuna with Garlic-Crumb Topping
Bonito del Norte a la Plancha con Migas

Grilled tuna has a crispy topping of garlicky breadcrumbs.
 The bonito steaks can be grilled on a plancha, over coals (a la parilla) or baked in the oven. If baking the fish, mix the crumb topping ingredients and spread them on top of the fish without first sautéing them.

4 (6-ounce) albacore steaks, about 1-inch thick
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small red chile, minced
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped parsley
Coarse salt

Sprinkle the fish steaks with salt and pepper and allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Brush them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic, thyme and chile. Sauté until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the lemon zest and bread crumbs. Toss the crumbs in the oil until they are golden and crisped. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.

Ridged grill pan marks the steaks.
Heat a ridged grill pan on high heat. Brush the grill with remaining oil and sprinkle it with coarse salt. Place the bonito steaks on the grill. Cook 2 minutes and turn the steaks a quarter turn (in order to get cross-hatch grill marks). Grill 2 minutes longer. Flip the steaks and cook the reverse side in the same manner.

Remove to a platter and spread the garlic-crumbs on top of the steaks.

Basque Albacore Tuna and Potato Stew

Chunks of white tuna simmer in a flavorful sauce with potatoes.

Marmitako—from the word marmite, a cooking pot—was traditionally made aboard Basque fishing trawlers. Originally, it was a stew of bonito boiled with bread and a chunk of salt pork. Once it became part of home cooking, potatoes, peppers and olive oil became standard ingredients.

This recipe is  based on one in Cocina Vasca en Bizkaia, by Jesús Llona Larrauri, Garbiñe Badiola and the Escuela Superior Hostelería Artxanda. It substitutes roasted red bell pepper for the usual pimiento choricero, a dry red pepper that has to be soaked and scraped.  Typically, the potatoes are not cut with a knife, but broken into uneven pieces. Insert knife tip into the potato, twist it to break off a chunk. The broken surfaces release starch that helps to thicken the stew.

A frugal home cook would use the bones and trimmings of the bonito to make a simple fish stock. (Cook the trimmings in 4 cups of water with salt and a slice of onion.) Use any fish stock or, simply, water.

Marmitako--a Basque dish of white tuna, potatoes and peppers.

1 ½ pounds bonito
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce chopped bacon (optional)
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup peeled and chopped tomatoes
¼ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
2 pounds potatoes, cut up
1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper, pureed
Pinch of hot pimentón (optional)
2 ½- 3 cups fish stock or water
Chopped parsley to serve

Remove all skin and bones from the bonito. Cut the fish into 1 ½-inch chunks. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and set aside, refrigerated.

Heat the oil in a lidded cazuela or skillet with the bacon, if using. Add the green pepper, onion and garlic and sauté gently 5 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the tomatoes. Fry them until they begin to thicken and stick on the pan bottom. Add the wine and let it cook off.

Add the potatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and the bay leaf. Put the pepper pulp and hot pimentón, if using, on top of the potatoes and pour over enough stock or water to nearly cover the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, cover and turn down the heat so the liquid just simmers. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the chunks of bonito. Cook until fish is just cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the stew to set for 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Last week, to mark the festival of Santiago, I showed a heap of scallop shells, symbol of the pilgrims to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, northwest Spain). Since medieval times, pilgrims collected the scallop shells to wear on their belts to show they had completed the arduous journey.

All those empty shells made me want to fill them up! I used to buy fresh scallops at my local Mediterranean fish market (and saved many of the shells). But, locally-fished scallops are a rarity nowadays. So I bought frozen scallops at a big supermarket.

Frozen scallops include the white muscle and red coral.
They came in 250-gram packets (about seven to a package), cleaned and including both the white muscle and the red coral. The label indicated the scallops were distributed by a Galician outfit—but their source was the Irish Sea in the northeast Atlantic.

Top scallops with a sofrito and crumbs and cook under the broiler until browned.

This is a typical Galician way with scallops, which are called conchas peregrinas or vieiras in Spanish (in French, they are coquilles St. Jacques, or St. James’s shells). Put two or three scallops in each shell. Top with a savory onion-bacon mixture and breadcrumbs, then gratin them under the broiler. (If you haven’t got scallop shells, place the scallops in small ramekins.)

Serve, accompanied by bread, as a starter. Serve scallops with a crisp white wine from Rias Baixas, Galicia, made with Albariño grapes.

Serve scallops with a crisp Albariño wine.

Scallops, Galician Style
Vieiras a la Gallega

Serves 6 as a first course.

1 pound frozen scallops, thawed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
3 slices bacon, chopped (2 ounces)
¼ cup white wine
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

Pat the scallops dry. If they are very large, they can be sliced in half. Place them in a bowl with the lemon juice.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion, garlic and bacon on a medium heat until onion is softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until partially reduced. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the two kinds of pimentón, parsley, salt and pepper.

Drizzle oil over crumbs before broiling.
Divide the scallops between 6 scallop shells or individual ramekins. Put a spoonful of the onion mixture on top of the scallops in each shell. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the scallops.

Set the shells or ramekins on a broiler pan and place the pan under the broiler until scallops are bubbling and tops lightly browned, about 6 minutes.