Saturday, April 30, 2016


I´ve been away from my kitchen for a few days. A friend and I took a driving trip through the Sierra de las Nieves (“mountains of the snows,” although the snow is all gone now) to the inland town of Ronda. After spring rains, wildflowers bloomed on rocky slopes and fields were vivid green with new wheat.

Ronda's landmark "New Bridge" (1793) spanning the tajo (gorge) that separates the old quarter of Ronda from the new city. On the right is the Parador Nacional, a hotel right on the edge of the tajo. The building was once the townhall.

Looking down from Ronda's cliffs to green fields and olive groves.

Sure sign of spring--bikers touring Spain after the motorcycle Gran Prix in Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez is over the mountains to the west of Ronda. A dozen of them stopped for lunch at the Mirador el Campillo in Ronda's Old Town.

Ibérico ham--what we had for lunch. Ibérico-breed pigs are raised in the Ronda area. Although they are not de bellota--finished on acorns--the hams and fresh pork are excellent.

Ronda also is known for its morcilla--blood sausage. Here the sliced sausage is scrambled with eggs and potatoes in a revuelto.
Skinny spring asparagus for a revuelto (scrambled eggs).
The menu on the wall? A fish and a mare depicted by prehistoric peoples in the La Pileta cave, a short distance from Ronda. These are reproductions of the drawings, recreated in the Ronda Museum which is in the Mondragón Palace, a building that dates from 1491, with astonishing views from the cliff's edge to the distant mountains.

From the Church of Espiritu Santo, at upper right, a path descends to Arab Baths where the Moorish town was situated (end of 13th century).

Path to the Arab Baths.

Thistles line the path.

Poppies and wildflowers along the path.

A different wild thistle. These are tagarninas ((Scolymus hispanicus). The prickly leaves are stripped away and the stems chopped to cook in a revuelto with eggs. In villages of the Serranía tagarninas go into a cocido with potatoes, chickpeas and pork. Tagarninas taste a little like artichokes, to which they are related.

A fine place for sundowners or a sunset dinner--Restaurant Abades Ronda, located right on the cliffside, behind the Plaza de Toros (bull fighting arena). The restaurant opened only a month ago and the staff is still working out a few kinks (the waiter's device didn't communicate to the kitchen, so one of our main dishes didn't arrive). But the food was fine and the setting spectacular.

An updated version of a traditional dish, rabo de toro or braised bull's tail. Ronda is a famous bull-fighting town. The meat is served atop truffled potatoes and topped with crisp purple potato chips. We enjoyed a bottle of a red wine from a winery within the Sierras de Málaga/Serranía de Ronda dominación. with our meal at Abades. There are some 16 wineries in the Ronda area, all of which can be visited with prior appointment.

Cock of the walk in the gardens of the small hotel where we stayed. Hotel Jardín de la Muralla is built against the old walls of Ronda. Rooms and terrace have views over surrounding countryside.

Pinsapo, a species of fir native to the Sierra de Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves around Ronda, has been around since before the Ice Age. This specimen is in the garden at the Hotel Jardín de la Muralla.

Breakfast--a thick slab of toasted bread topped with extra virgin olive oil and grated fresh tomato and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Sunshine on the hotel's east-facing terrace. (Photo by D.Ellefson.)

A recipe with tagarninas (wild thistle) is here. A recipe for rabo de toro (bull's tail) is here.

Hotel Jardín de la Muralla

Restaurante Abades Ronda

Tourist office Ronda

Strutting his stuff in a courtyard of the Casa del Rey Moro (18th century). Steps from the garden descend to the bottom of the cliff where a mina, or spring, once provided town water.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


What to serve for dessert for a dinner party or holiday occasion is, for me, always a dilemma. That’s because I don’t eat sugar. None whatsoever. (I am borderline diabetic and determined not to cross over.) So the usual cakes, pastries and puddings are out-of-bounds. I usually resolve the issue by going ahead and making a sweet dessert, then sitting back and watching my guests enjoy it. 

Slivered almonds top a sugar-free almond torte.
This week I decided to try a cake with artificial sweetening in place of the sugar, so that I could eat it too. I started with my basic recipe for a gorgeous almond torte known as torta de Santiago (that recipe is here ). I used all ground almonds, eliminating the flour, so the cake is also gluten-free. I used olive oil instead of butter. And I substituted white stevia powder for the sugar.

A tiny bit of (optional) honey with lemon juice gave the cake a slight glaze and helped slivered almonds adhere to the surface. I served the cake accompanied by unsweetened whipped cream and unsweetened berries. My guests thought it was terrific and I enjoyed a nice serving too. I never fessed up to leaving out the sugar.

Serve the torte with berries and cream, a lovely spring dessert.

Almond meal and olive oil make a moist cake.

So good with a dollop of cream and strawberries.

Almond Torte
Torta de Almendras

Serves 8.

7 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup stevia (white powder sweetener)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 cups ground almonds (unsweetened almond meal)

Glaze (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Oil a 9-inch springform pan.

Carefully separate the eggs. Place the whites in a medium bowl, the yolks in a large mixing bowl.

Beat the whites at high speed until stiff. Beat in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Beat the yolks until they are slightly thickened and increased in volume, 4 minutes. Beat in the oil, then the stevia. Add the grated zest.

Fold the whites gently into the yolk mixture. Fold in the ground almonds in 4 additions.  Pour the batter into the springform pan. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool the torte in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

For the glaze, combine the honey and lemon juice in a small bowl. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds, or until the honey is fluid. Prick the surface of the cake with a toothpick. Brush the honey lemon glaze over the cake. Sprinkle with almonds.

Dense, moist and just sweet enough with sugar substitute.

Green almonds from the tree--promise of next year's crop.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Maybe you’ve heard that kale’s popularity has peaked. Not so in Spain, where this “foreign” vegetable is only just being discovered. It’s now being grown extensively in Murcia (eastern Spain), a region famous for its market gardens. Most of it goes for export, but, finally, kale has begun showing up in local markets here. TV programs feature this nutritionally-packed vegetable.

Bountiful kale harvest.

I’ve been growing kale in my huerta, vegetable garden, in order to assure enough of the leafy green for winter soups. Planted in the late fall, it provides handfuls of greens all winter long. Now, I’ve got to pull it all up to make way for the tomato plants.

I strip the leaves off, discarding the stems, and blanch the leaves in boiling salted water. Drained well, they are packed in plastic bags and tucked in the freezer.

Because kale is such a novelty in Spain, there really aren’t any traditional recipes for its preparation. Inspired by the similarity in nomenclature—kale and cole, the Spanish word for cabbage (kale is a member of the cabbage family)—I’ve adapted a very traditional Andalusian recipe, using kale in place of cabbage.

Beans cook with kale and other vegetables.

Potaje falls somewhere between a soup and a stew. It is usually served as one dish, unlike cocido, which may be separated into a first course of soup followed by a platter of meats and vegetables as second course

Potaje usually contains legumes and vegetables. Many are loaded with pringá, meat, bones, fat and sausage. Ham bone or añejo, salt-cured meat, contribute a lot of flavor. After cooking, cut the meat, fat and sausages into chunks for serving. Each person adds them to bowls of beans or mashes them up on top of a slab of bread.

The pringá--salt pork, fatty meat, sausages. Cut into chunks to serve with the beans.

In my village, the typical potaje de coles, cabbage pottage, is made with both chickpeas and cannellini beans. Or chickpeas and black-eyed peas. In other towns, only chickpeas are used.

This potaje makes generous servings of beans, vegetables and meats.

Cut the sausages and meat into chunks and serve with the beans.

Pottage with Kale and Beans
Potaje de Coles (o Kales)

Serves 4 to 6.

Top left, pellejo, salted pork skin.
12 cups water
6 ounces pork shoulder
6 ounces spare ribs
Beef marrow bone (optional)
3 ounces salt pork or pancetta
Ham bone, añejo or pellejo
1 pound cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1-2 carrots, peeled
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chopped kale (or cabbage)
4 ounces morcilla (blood sausage)
2 chorizo sausages
Use kale instead of cabbage.
8 ounces pumpkin or butternut squash cut in chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon smoked pimentón
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin
Sprigs of fresh mint

Place the water in a large pot. Add the pork shoulder, ribs, marrow bone, salt pork and ham bone. Bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat so the water bubbles gently. Partially cover the pot and cook 30 minutes, skimming occasionally.

Skim the froth that rises to the top.
Drain the soaked beans and add them to the pot with 1 teaspoon salt. Bring again to a boil and skim. Cover partially and cook 30 minutes.

Taste the liquid and add more salt if needed. Add the carrots, potatoes and kale to the pot. Simmer 15 minutes. Add the morcilla, chorizo and pumpkin. Cover and cook until beans are completely tender, about 15 minutes more.

Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the onions on a low heat until softened, 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 3 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the three kinds of pimentón and the cumin. Add this sofrito to the pot of beans and kale. Cook 5 minutes more.

Let the stew settle for 10 minutes. Remove the pork, ribs, salt pork, ham bone and sausages from the pot. Cut them into pieces, discarding the ham bone or añejo. Place the meat and sausages in a shallow bowl for serving. Ladle the beans and vegetables into bowls. Add sprigs of mint immediately before serving.

Waiting in the wings--tomato seedling will replace the kale in the garden.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


In the first cookbook I ever wrote (COOKING IN SPAIN; 1987), there were three recipes for cooking tongue. (As well as five for liver, two for kidneys, two for tripe and one each for brains, sweetbreads and testicles.) When I revised the book for a new edition (2006), I thought, “does the world really need three different recipes for tongue?” I cut two of them.

The one that appears in the newer edition is Estofado de Lengua a la Andaluza—Braised Tongue, Andalusian Style. Anything cooked in “Andalusian style” usually means a rich sauce made in the mortar (or blender) of almonds, garlic, saffron (or coloring) and spices.

Tender slices of beef tongue cooked in a rich sauce with almonds and saffron.

Although the original recipe calls for pork tongues, which are relatively small, I’m cooking a big beef tongue using the same recipe. I simmer it first until completely tender. At this point the tongue can be sliced and used as a cold cut (great on sandwiches with coarse salt, Dijon mustard and pickles) or cut up to finish cooking in the sauce.

The cooking wine, Andalusian style, is one of the wines of the region—Sherry (from Jerez, in Cádiz province) or a similar fino from D.O. Montilla-Moriles (Córdoba province). The fino, usually served as an aperitif wine, goes very well with the braised tongue as a dinner wine.

Use this basic recipe for the braising sauce, with almonds, garlic, saffron and Sherry, for cooking beef, lamb and chicken stews. 

Potatoes cook with the meat; peas are added at the end of cooking.

It's fine to serve fino Sherry as a dinner wine. It's especially good with this Andalusian sauce.

Braised Tongue, Andalusian Style
Estofado de Lengua a la Andaluza 

Serves 6.

Whole tongue, before cooking.
1 beef or veal  tongue (approx. 2 ½ pounds)
12 cups water
1 tablespoon vinegar
Black peppercorns
1 stalk celery
1 onion, quartered
1 leek, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
Bunch of parsley
2 bay leaves

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed
5 cloves garlic
1/3 cup skinned almonds
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 clove
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed
½ cup fino Sherry or Montilla-Moriles
2 potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 cup cooked peas

Wash the tongue in running water. Put it in a basin and rub it all over with salt. Cover with water and allow the tongue to soak in salt water for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse again. (The soaking removes any blood from the tongue.)

Put the tongue in a large pot with the 12 cups of water. Add 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns, the vinegar, celery, onion, leek, carrot, parsley and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the tongue until tender when probed with a fork, about 2 hours. Turn the tongue once or twice during cooking.

After cooking, tongue is peeled and sliced.
Remove the tongue from the pot, reserving the broth. When the tongue is cool enough to handle, slit the skin and peel it off. Cut the tongue crosswise into thick slices or chunks.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or pan and fry the bread with 4 cloves of the garlic and the almonds, turning until they are browned. Remove.

Add the onion to the oil and sauté until softened. Add the tomatoes and fry a few minutes.

Crush saffron and spices in mortar.
In a mortar, crush the saffron with 10 peppercorns, the clove and ½ teaspoon salt. In a blender or mini-processor, grind the fried bread, garlic and almonds with remaining clove of garlic. Scrape the saffron-pepper mix into the blender and add the fino Sherry. Process until fairly smooth.

Pour the paste from the processor into the pan with the tomatoes. Add 2 cups of the reserved broth in which the tongue was cooked. Add the pieces of tongue and the potatoes. Simmer the stew, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Add the cooked peas shortly before serving.


Saturday, April 2, 2016


Fresh green shoots appear in the pots of parsley, mint and chives on my patio, while fronds of wild fennel pop up from the earth near the vegetable patch. Spring is springing forth! 

I love using fresh green herbs lavishly, in cooked dishes and in salads. Besides parsley, mint, chives and fennel, other herbs that signal springtime are dill, cilantro, tarragon, chervil, celery leaves and garlic scapes.

Fresh parsley and mint--and a tiny snail in the center.

In Spanish cooking, parsley (perejil) is absolutely the favorite herb of all. At the market where I shop,  a big bunch of flat-leaf parsley is often tucked in with the fruits and vegetables as a gift.  It is used, not just as a verdant garnish for a finished dish, but as an important ingredient, imparting a fresh grassiness to meatballs, stews, marinades, salads, fish sauces.

Mint (hierbabuena) is arguably the second most-used herb. It’s the finishing touch for any soup with ham bone or rich sausages, with fish soups and casseroles, with spring vegetables such as artichokes, peas and fava beans. Ferny fennel fronds, with their sweet anise flavor, also are chopped up into vegetable dishes. (Other recipes with fresh herbs are linked at the end of this post.)

Herbal how-to. Wash bunches of parsley under running water. Shake off excess water, then roll it in kitchen towel and pat dry. Store the parsley in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of fridge. Cut away stems before chopping (stems can be used for soup stock). To chop parsley, scrunch it tightly into a ball and chop. Mint can be stored in a glass of water or, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the fridge. Wash it and pat dry before using. Strip the leaves off the stems. 

Potatoes in green sauce.

Serve the potatoes as a side dish or as a starter.

Potatoes in Green Sauce
Patatas en Salsa Verde

These potatoes can be served as a side dish or as a starter. As a starter, they may have chopped egg and even a few shrimp added. They are usually prepared with regular potatoes, cut in thick slices. I’ve played up the spring theme by using tiny new potatoes.

Spring onions or “green” onions (cebolletas in Spanish) are immature onions along with their green tops. They’re fatter than scallions, which could be substituted. 
Spring onions, new potatoes.

Serves 6.

2 pounds small new potatoes 
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped spring onions
3 cloves garlic, chopped     
1 cup chicken or fish stock or water
1/3 cup white wine
¾ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Hard-cooked egg (optional)

Cut the potatoes in halves or quarters. In a pan or cazuela, heat the oil and sauté the onion and garlic until softened, 3 minutes. Add the potatoes, turning them in the oil so they don’t brown.

Add the water or stock and wine. Add ½ cup of the chopped parsley. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt (if using stock, less salt will be needed) and pepper and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent sticking.

Garnish with remaining chopped parsley and chopped egg, if desired. 

Roast Lamb with Spring Herbs
Cordero Asado con Hierbas

Herb marinade makes a tasty sauce for roast leg of lamb.

Sliced lamb with herb sauce.

Mini-processor to make marinade.
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fennel leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
2 strips lemon zest, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Leg of lamb (about 3 pounds)

Use a mini-processor to grind together the onion, garlic, parsley, mint, fennel, rosemary, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Mix in the oil.

Spread the parsley paste on all sides of the lamb. Allow to marinate, refrigerated, for up to 8 hours. Bring the lamb to room temperature before roasting. Place it in a roasting pan.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Roast the lamb for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325ºF. Continue roasting until lamb is medium-rare, 145ºF internal temperature, tested with an instant-read thermometer.

Allow the meat to rest 10 minutes before slicing. Add a little water or stock to the roasting pan and scrape up all the drippings. Serve the sauce with the lamb. 

Cucumber, Cheese and Mint Salad
Ensalada de Pepino y Queso Fresco con Hierbabuena

Chopped cucumber, white cheese and mint for a fresh spring salad.

Queso fresco is a soft, uncured, fresh, mild-flavored cheese, usually of goat’s milk, that can be cut into dice. If not available, use feta, but use less salt in the salad.

1 cup peeled and diced cucumber
2 tablespoons diced radish
2 tablespoons diced celery with some of the leaf
2 tablespoons diced scallions or spring onions
1 cup diced queso fresco or feta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Salad greens to serve

In a bowl combine the cucumber, radish, celery and scallions. Shortly before serving add the diced cheese, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add the chopped mint and mix gently. Serve with salad greens.

Fava beans, peas, ham and mint. Recipe is here.

More recipes with fresh herbs: