Saturday, April 29, 2017


Buying a leg of lamb, on a whim, I asked the butcher to bone it for me. He removed the long leg bone without opening out the meat, leaving a pocket for stuffing. Now, what to stuff it with?

I recalled many years ago hosting a mechoui party. Mechoui is the Moroccan roast lamb. I bought a whole lamb and my friend, Dominique, who grew up in Morocco, was in charge of roasting it.

We stuffed the lamb’s cavity with a mixture of cous cous and parsley, maybe some chopped onions. I don’t remember exactly. Once sewed up, the animal was trussed, brushed with olive oil and positioned on a stout stick over smouldering coals. This was an August afternoon. Dominique and his pinche, Mark, turned the lamb for hours, basting it occasionally with salt water to keep the skin crisp. Dripping with sweat, Dominique stripped to his skivvies and turned the garden hose on over his head.

The meat was succulent and deliciously wood-smoke flavored. I served an array of Moroccan and Middle Eastern salads and vegetable dishes to accompany the lamb. What a feast.

Dominique is French photographer Jean Dominique Dallet ( He grew up in Fes (Morocco), studied and worked in France and Denmark, before setting up home base in southern Spain, where I got to know him. Dominique clocks around 100,000 miles a year, traveling in search of new images, on assignment for magazines and books worldwide. I rode shotgun on several of Dominique’s forays through La Mancha, where we collaborated on magazine articles.

Traditional mechoui, whole lamb roasted in clay oven. (Photo by JDDallet)

Dominique tells me that traditionally mechoui was cooked (no stuffing) in a vertical clay oven, “until the meat is falling off the bones, so that you can eat it with your fingers, without a knife.” Men cook the mechoui, women serve it. Kebabs of liver wrapped in fat might precede the lamb, Salads are the only accompaniment to the roast lamb.

Today in Morocco, he says, a typical mechoui is sent to roast in the neighborhood  bread oven.

Whole roast lamb--mechoui--with accompanying salads. (Photo by JDDallet)

It was the memory of that mechoui party that inspired me to stuff the leg of lamb with cous cous. Here's my version, boned leg of lamb stuffed with cous cous, chard and pistachios.

Boned leg of lamb is stuffed with cous cous, chard and pistachios.

Roast lamb, a small feast.

Stuffing soaks up meat juices. You may need a spoon to serve it.

Roast Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Cous Cous
Cordero Asado Relleno con Couscous

My boned leg of lamb weighed about 2 ¾ pound. (In the US, lamb is marketed much larger, so a boned leg might weigh more than 4 pounds.)

The meat has a deep pocket where the bone was pulled out. Another way to bone the leg is to butterfly it, by cutting it open, removing the bones and cutting horizontally through the thick sections to create a slab of meat that is more or less of equal thickness. The stuffing is spread on the meat and rolled up. Either way, the meat must be tied to keep the stuffing in and give the roast shape.

Cous cous and chard stuffing.
For the stuffing:
½ cup cous cous
½ cup boiling water
2 teaspoons + 1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped chard or spinach (to make 1 cup cooked)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 clove chopped garlic
¼ cup seeded raisins
¼ cup shelled pistachios
¼ cup chopped parsley or fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Press stuffing into pocket of lamb.

For the lamb:
2 ½ - 3 ½ pounds boned leg of lamb
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Place the cous cous in a heat-proof bowl. Pour over the boiling water. Add 2 teaspoons oil and salt. Cover and let steam until cous cous is tender, 10 minutes. Fluff the cous cous with a fork.

Cook the chard or spinach in a little water until it is tender. Drain, well.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Sauté the onions and garlic until softened, 8 minutes. Add the chard and sauté until moisture evaporates. Add the raisins, pistachios, parsley or cilantro, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and lemon zest. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the steamed cous cous.

For the lamb:

Combine crushed garlic, salt, coriander, cumin, black pepper and 1 tablespoon oil. Rub this mixture on the lamb, inside and out. 

Stuff the lamb pocket with the prepared cous cous and chard. (Or, if using butterflied leg of lamb, spread the stuffing on the meat and roll it up.) 

Turkey skewers and twine to close the pocket.
Use skewers and kitchen twine to close the pocket’s openings. Tie the meat so that it keeps its shape.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place the lamb in the oven and lower temperature to 350ºF. Roast the lamb, basting occasionally. Use additional olive oil for basting if the lamb does not have much fat. The lamb is done (medium-rare) when it reaches an internal temperature of 140ºF when tested with an instant-read thermometer. (My 2 ¾-pound roast needed only 50 minutes; a larger piece of meat will take longer.)

Roast vegetables with the lamb.

Allow meat to rest before slicing.

Remove lamb to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 20 minutes before cutting in thick slices. The stuffing will be loose and may need a spoon for serving.

Thanks to my friend Dominique Dallet for his photos of traditional Moroccan mechoui. See more of his work at

More lamb recipes:

Saturday, April 22, 2017


We seem to have a lot of April birthdays in our family—grandparents, cousins, my son Benjamin. So there’s inevitably at least one birthday cake on the agenda.

My usual favorite for birthdays is a carrot cake, which is big enough to serve a party. For Ben’s spring birthday the cake was always accompanied by strawberries. Son Daniel would get pomegranates for an October birthday.

"Gypsy's arm" cake roll, lovely for spring birthdays. Serve with bubbly cava to celebrate.

This year I decided to do something different—a roulade filled with white chocolate mousse. In Spanish, it’s called brazo de gitano—meaning “gypsy’s arm,” presumably because the filled and rolled cake sort of looks like an arm. I’ve noticed that in current pastry packaging, the cake is just called “brazo.” The gypsy designation has disappeared, perhaps because singling out that ethnic group is not politically correct in this day and age.

Ben was off to a birthday barbecue afternoon, shared with a friend with a birthday the day before his. He decided that he wanted a carrot cake too. He got it started; I finished it up. Both cakes went to the party!

"Brazo" in arms.

Cake filling is a white chocolate mousse.

Cake and filling are light and sweet. Strawberries are a nice accompaniment.

“Gypsy’s Arm” (Rolled Cake with White Chocolate Filling)
Brazo de Gitano con Chocolate Blanco

Use either the Custard Cream Filling or the White Chocolate Mousse Filling for this rolled cake, also called roulade, Swiss roll or jelly roll. (You will need some custard cream to make the white chocolate mousse; the remainder can be saved for another pastry.) If using the plain custard, flavor the cake and filling with grated lemon zest. If choosing the white chocolate, flavor it with vanilla.

While still warm, roll up the sponge layer with the towel.

The cake—a simple sponge—bakes in a sheet pan lined with parchment. While still warm, unmold it onto a clean dish towel that has been lightly sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. Roll cake up with the towel.

When the filling is ready, unroll the cake, spread the filling and use the towel as a guide to roll the cake around the filling. Use the towel to lift the cake and ease it onto a serving platter. 

Makes 10 1-inch slices.

For the sponge cake roll
4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Custard cream or white chocolate mousse filling (recipes follow)
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Prepare a jellyroll pan or rimmed baking sheet, 11 X 17 inches. Brush it with oil, then place a sheet of baking parchment on the bottom.

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat them at high speed until stiff.

In another bowl, combine the yolks and sugar. Beat on medium speed until thick and pale. Beat in a quarter of the egg whites. Then fold in remaining whites.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the batter and fold it in with the vanilla.

Spread the batter evenly in the baking pan. It will be very thin. Bake until cake springs back when pressed in the center, about 12 minutes.

Spread a clean dish towel on a work surface and sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar. Reverse the cake while still warm onto the towel. Peel off the baking parchment. While cake is still warm, roll it with the towel into a long cylinder.

Unroll the cake and spread it with the custard cream filling or white chocolate mousse. Using the cloth as a helper, roll up the cake, enclosing the filling. Roll the cake onto a serving dish and allow it to cool.

Sift remaining powdered sugar over the top. Sift cocoa over the sugar. 

Refrigerate the cake. Use a serrated knife to slice it.

Use an offset spatula to spread mousse on the cake.

Roll the cake, enclosing the mousse filling.

The filled and rolled cake. Ends can be trimmed.

Place strips of parchment alongside the cake and sift sugar over it.  Remove parchment with excess sugar.

Sift cocoa over the sugar.

Custard Cream Cake Filling
Crema Pastelera

Makes 2 cups of custard. You will need only 2/3 cup to make the White Chocolate Mousse. The custard also can be served as a pudding or spooned over fresh fruit.

If using the custard cream for the White Chocolate Mousse, it can be prepared in advance, refrigerated, and melted along with the chocolate.

2 cups milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or lemon zest)

In a bowl combine ½ cup of the milk and the cornstarch. Stir until it is very smooth. Add the sugar and egg yolks to the cornstarch and beat until smooth.

Scald the remaining milk. Pour it through a strainer into a heat-proof pitcher. While beating the egg mixture with a whisk, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs.

Place the custard mixture in a clean pan on a medium heat, beating constantly, until it thickens. Cook, stirring, on a low heat 5 minutes more. Remove and stir in the vanilla. Beat the custard well, then let it cool before spreading on cake.

White Chocolate Mousse Filling
Mousse de Chocolate Blanco

Chilling bowl and beaters makes whipping the cream faster.

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
¼ cup water
2/3 cup of Custard Cream Filling (recipe above)
4 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces
1 cup whipping cream

Sprinkle gelatin over water and allow to soften 5 minutes.

Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Put in the custard cream and the chocolate. Heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted. Add the gelatin and stir until dissolved and the custard cream is smooth. Remove from the heat. Scrape into a chilled bowl.

Fold whipped cream into white chocolate.

Beat the cream until stiff. Beat a scoop of the cream into the chocolate-custard filling, then fold the rest of the cream into the filling. Refrigerate 15 minutes. The mousse filling is now ready to spread on the cake.

Why is the cake called a "brazo"? It does sort of look like an arm.

Birthday boy, Ben, gets a carrot cake too. Not nearly enough candles!

More birthday cake recipes:

Layer Cake with Apricots and Marzipan (Bizcocho de Toledo)  
Sugar-free Almond Torte (Torta de Almendras sin Azucar)  

Friday, April 14, 2017


As I was putting pieces of bacalao to soak, in preparation for my annual Holy Week visitation to salt cod, I realized that my Good Friday postings have amounted to a cod fish aficionado’s tour of Spain.

So far, the tour has touched in Catalonia, with bacalao a la llauna, baked in a wine sauce and served with tiny mongete beans; Andalusia, with cod fritters served with a drizzle of molasses; chickpeas with spinach and cod dumplings from Castilla-La Mancha; creamy cod brandada from Castilla y León, and the renowned bacalao al pil pil from the Basque Country. (Links to those recipes are at the end of this post.)

Cod, potatoes and cauliflower with tangy red ajada sauce. Garden peas add a springtime touch.

This year I’ve headed to Galicia, the far northwest corner of Spain, to sample a popular cod recipe that is ever-so-easy. Potatoes, cauliflower and cod are simmered in water, then served with a tangy ajada sauce made with  garlic, pimentón and vinegar. It’s a dish also served on Christmas Eve, so for the spring holiday, I’ve added fresh green sugar snap peas from the garden. Serve it with a crisp Albariño white wine from Galicia’s Rias Baixas.

Where to next year? I have yet to visit the bacalao dishes of Valencia, of Extremadura, or of Cantabria. After which, I can begin again, as every region of Spain has a dozen or more recipes for this season.

Crisp Albariño is the wine to serve with the Galician cod dish.

Spoon some sauce over cod and vegetables, serve the rest on the side.

Salt Cod with Cauliflower, Potatoes and Garlic Sauce
Bacalao con Coliflor y Patatas con Ajada

Traditionally, the potatoes, cauliflower and cod are all cooked in one pot of water. I’ve chosen to steam the cod separately, which gives it a nice, fluffy texture. If you prefer to cook the cod in the water, add it at the very end, letting it barely simmer for 5 minutes. Overcooking toughens the cod.

Skinless and nearly boneless pieces are cut from center of the cod. Tail is added to flavor the vegetables.

I used skinless, almost boneless pieces of lomo, center-cut “loin,” each weighing 3 to 4 ounces. They needed about 36 hours soaking time. Thicker cuts of cod need longer soaking. Change the water every 6 to 8 hours. I used a skin-on tail-end of cod to cook with the potatoes and cauliflower, adding flavor to the vegetables. (Picked off the bones, the flesh is great for croquettes or patties.)

The Galicians have dozens of varieties of potatoes. I find that waxy-red boiling potatoes are best for this dish, as they won’t disintegrate when cooked.

Traditionally the ajada sauce is made with ordinary unsmoked pimentón (paprika). You can add some smoked pimentón as well.

Start this recipe 2 or 3 days before serving in order to allow time for the cod to soak.

Serves 4.

8 (3-ounce) pieces center-cut salt cod plus another piece of cod to cook with the potatoes
8 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Sprig of parsley
4 medium red potatoes (1 pound), peeled and cut in half
1 egg
½ onion
1 pound cauliflower, cut into sections
1 cup sugar snap peas (optional) or parsley
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons hot water
Salt, if necessary

Wash the pieces of salt cod to remove surface salt. Place them in a glass container and cover with cold water. Cover the container and refrigerate. Soak the cod for 36 hours, changing the water 6 times during the soaking period. Drain well and set aside.

Bring 8 cups water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt and parsley. Add the potatoes, egg and onion. Cook until potatoes are almost tender, 10 minutes. Remove the egg and plunge it in cold water.

Add the cauliflower and extra piece of cod to the potatoes. Bring again to a boil, reduce heat and cook until cauliflower is just tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Cook the peas, if using, in the same pot for 1 minute.

Drain the potatoes and cauliflower and keep them warm.

Steaming cod over boiling water keeps it tender, prevents it from disintegrating in cooking.

Meanwhile, place a steaming rack in a pan with at least 1 inch of water. Bring the water to a boil. Place the pieces of salt cod on the rack, cover and reduce heat so the water bubbles gently. Steam the fish until it flakes easily, about 8 minutes.

Ajada sauce is olive oil, garlic and three kinds of pimentón.

Meanwhile, slice the garlic crosswise or chop coarsely. Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic on medium heat and cook it until it begins to turn golden. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the three kinds of pimentón, the vinegar and hot water. Add salt, if needed (cod may not need extra salt).

Peel and cut the cooked egg in quarters.

Serve the potatoes, cauliflower and pieces of cod with peas, if using, and quartered egg. Spoon some of the garlic-pimentón sauce over the cod and vegetables. Pass remaining sauce at the table. If you have not used peas, garnish the plates with parsley.

More recipes with salt cod:
Cod Fritters with Molasses (Tortillitas de Bacalao con Miel de Caña)
Salt Cod in Garlic Pil Pil Sauce (Bacalao al Pil Pil)
Chickpeas and Spinach with Cod Dumplings (Potaje de Garbanzos y Espinacas con Rellenos)
Garlicky Salt Cod Spread (Brandada de Bacalao 
Olive Pickers’ Cod and Potato Stew (Pote Aceitunero) 
Salt Cod with Manchego and Pine Nuts (Bacalao al Ajo Arriero)


Friday, April 7, 2017


Over the years, I have collected dozens of soup recipes from every region of Spain. Many are simple and rustic peasant meals, often concocted with little more than bread, water, garlic, salt and olive oil, a paltry few ingredients to feed a family. But, add some unusual flavoring, some bits of ham, a few eggs, crushed nuts, foraged greens or vegetables from a garden plot and they become inspired.

Asparagus soup is served with cheesy toasts.

This asparagus soup is a good example of that. It is originally made with skinny, somewhat bitter, wild asparagus, foraged in the springtime. Here I’ve used fat stalks of cultivated asparagus and the “refinement” of good chicken stock to give the soup more substance.

A La Mancha version might have saffron (or, yellow coloring, if you're a peasant who is saving all the precious saffron to sell) and, interestingly, caraway seeds, which complement asparagus very nicely. The toasted bread goes on top of the soup, which might have eggs poached in it.

In Andalusia, the soup starts with a sofrito of onion, green peppers and tomatoes with pimentón (paprika) instead of saffron. The soup with asparagus is ladled on top of thick slices of stale bread. In fact, in the area where I live, it’s called sopa porcima, meaning “por encima,” “on top”.

Today I'm making the La Mancha version. There are several ways to finish this soup. 1. Ladle the soup into individual oven-safe earthenware bowls; place the toasted baguette on top and break an egg into each bowl. Bake until egg is set. 2. Poach one egg per person in the simmering soup. Ladle out egg and soup to serve. 3. Beat one or two eggs. Beat some of the hot soup into the eggs, then stir them into the soup. Do not boil.

Asparagus soup with eggs and toast is baked in individual cazuelas. as

Or, poach the eggs right in the soup, then ladle them into individual bowls.

A third way to finish the soup--beat eggs into the hot soup to slightly thicken it.

Manchegan Soup with Asparagus
Sopa Manchega con Espárragos

Use homemade or canned chicken stock for this soup or, if you happen to have some, the caldo from a cocido pot, made with ham bone, chicken and beef. Or, make a vegetarian version of this soup by changing the chicken stock for water or vegetable stock and omitting the optional ham bits.

The rounds of toasted baguette in the soup soak up the broth and turn into pillowy “dumplings.” If you prefer crisp toasts, serve them separately.

Toasts with cheese--add to the soup or serve on the side.

Should you have esparragos trigueros, wild asparagus, chop it and blanch in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. This eliminates possible bitterness.

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds green asparagus
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup chopped ham (optional)
2 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
Pinch of saffron threads
6 cups homemade or canned chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
½ cup grated Manchego cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ tablespoon chopped chives
8 1-inch thick slices of day-old baguette

Break off and discard butt ends of asparagus. Cut off tips and set aside. Chop stalks into ¼ -inch pieces and reserve. Blanch the tips in boiling, salted water for 1 minute. Refresh under cold water, drain, and reserve them.

Heat ¼ cup of oil in a soup pot or deep cazuela on medium heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the ham, if using, sliced garlic and chopped asparagus. Sauté 5 minutes more. Push the asparagus to one side and add the saffron threads to the pan. Toast it 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer the soup, covered, until asparagus is very tender, about 15 minutes. Add the crushed caraway seeds.

Preheat broiler.

In a bowl combine the cheese, parsley and chives. Set aside.

Toast baguette slices under broiler, then add cheese.
Place the baguette slices on a rack and brush on both sides with 2 tablespoons of oil. Place under the broiler. Turn to brown both sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove.

Spoon cheese on top of each slice and return to the broiler until cheese is melted, 30-60 seconds.

If finishing soup in the oven, preheat oven to 450ºF. Ladle soup into 4 cazuelas. Place 2 cheese-toasts in each. Break an egg into each cazuela and scatter a few asparagus tips on top. Bake the cazuelas until egg white is set, but yolk still liquid, 5 to 8 minutes. Carefully remove the hot cazuelas and serve.

If poaching eggs in the soup, bring the soup to a simmer. Using one egg per person, break them, one by one, into a saucer or cup and carefully slip them into the soup. Cover the pot and simmer until whites are set but yolks still runny, about  3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove eggs to soup bowls. Ladle over soup and add the toasts. Add a few asparagus tips to each bowl.

To thicken soup with beaten egg: beat 1 or 2 eggs in a bowl. Beat in some of the hot soup, then whisk the egg into the soup pot. Do not boil. Serve the soup in bowls with the toasts on top and garnished with reserved asparagus tips.

Poach eggs right in the soup. Ladle them out onto the cheese-toasts.

More asparagus recipes:

Other peasant soups: