mooninspain

Food, Travel , Life and more Food in Spain

Archive for the category “Life in General”

to veg or not to veg……………….

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On my very first flight from New York to Madrid I looked through a very well known travel book about Spain and Portugal.  In the food section I remember reading that it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food or a decent salad.  Being a vegetarian at the time I figured I was going to live on bread and apples for the following year.  The truth is that during my first few months here I did find it difficult to find a lot of vegetarian options.  But that was mostly due to my lack of knowledge about the food in Spain in general.  I think many vegetarians decide to survive on Tortilla Española (spanish potato omelet) and green salad, without the tuna of course.  But actually, the options are endless.

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One of my very favorite dishes, a specialty in Sevilla, is Espinacas con Garbanzos.  A hot stew with fresh spinach, chickpeas, cumin, paprika, garlic, bread and olive oil.  Served with mini breadsticks and a glass of dry sherry, it does not get much better for a veggie lover.  In the South you can also find fried eggplant everywhere.  Sometimes salty and sometimes with sugar cane honey.  My daughter loves the vegetable tajine at our favorite seafood restaurant on the coast of Granada.  It is an out of place item amongst the fresh fish and seafood but she is always happy to order it!

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Salads are plentiful and diverse.  One of our favorites is an Avocado Salad, either with fresh greens or tomatoes.   Another that we enjoy and order frequently at the beach restaurants here in Granada is a fresh fruit salad which varies seasonally.  In the fall it is filled with oranges, chirimoyas (custard apples), perssimons, avocado and star fruit.

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There are so many vegetable dishes available if you know what to look for on the menu or at a bar.  I have not yet looked to see if that travel book has changed it’s idea about food in Spain and Portugal.  The days of “jamon” being part of a vegetarian dish have long dissapeared in most places.

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Food items that I thought I would never enjoy…………..

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I feel that I was raised in a fairly cultured world as far as food is concerned.  My Mother and Nana prepared excellent Italian food tracing our roots but they also made Chinese, Greek, French and many other ¨ethnic¨cuisines.  My parents would also take us out to different restaurants on a fairly regular basis so that we could taste foods from different countries. I have clear memories of tasting flaming saganaki, schnitzel, and cheese enchiladas as a very little girl. As a teenager my mother would rent films about food and far away countries; Babettes Feast, The Scent of Green Papaya, and Big Night come to mind. Many of my Friday nights were filled with popcorn and subtitles.

Regardless of my upbringing there were many foods that I still could not taste upon my arrival in Spain. Anchovies, sardines, octopus, and pig ears are a few on the list. Pig ears still remain on the list. The others, however I have learned to love along with many other different foods.

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I remember walking into a fish market many many years ago in Granada, and the kind gentleman offered me a goose barnacle to taste. Here and in Portugal they are called ¨percebes¨or ¨perceves. I could not get myself to put that in my mouth. They are truly horrific. I kindly refused and left the market.

Not long ago I watched a documentary about how goose barnacles are collected and found it incredibly interesting. It is a quite dangerous and tedious process. And so as life goes, I recently found myself in a market in Porto actually enjoying a plate of goose barnacles, cold albariño wine and great company. Call it circumstancial or a change in my palate. Nobody will ever know. But, I have the photos to prove it. Never say never.

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El txikiteo………………

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I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Basque Country. This area of about 20,000 square kilometers is rich in its own tradition, culture, politics and gastronomy. Something special about their gastronomy is that men tend to be the cooks, not just in restaurants but in private homes and families. This is a unique part of their culture and what is the history behind the “Txoko” or closed gastronomical societies that were orignially only open to male members. The Txoco originally began in San Sebastian in the late 1800’s. A restaurant or a basement with a kitchen is rented by the society to cook, eat and socialize. Nowadays many Txokos also allow women to drink, eat and socialize within the txokos but not to cook.
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Another great part of the Basque gastronomical tradition is the Txikiteo (chiquiteo). Friends gather in the early afternoon to go from bar to bar and enjoy small glasses of wine or beer accompanied by the ever elaborate pintxos (pinchos) which are usually small slices of bread topped by any artistical combination of ingredients. A pintxo could be pate with an anchovy, goat cheese with carmelized onion and cured ham, or wild mushrooms with garlic. Really there are no limits to the pintxo; sushi, grilled vegetables, a lebanese kebab. I have tried it all. For me they always go best with a glass of Txacoli, the typical white wine from the Basque country (more to follow).
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The top of a bar all throughout the Basque Country is a colorful procession of pintxos and some of the best “food art” I have ever seen. In most bars you are given a plate and take what you like from the assortment on the bar. The bar person will then charge you by the amount of toothpicks on your plate. All on the honor system. Just the way life should be!
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Warming the Soul and the Tummy

Fabada Asturiana

Fabada Asturiana

Lately I find myself complaining a lot about the cold weather we have been experiencing here. But, considering that much of my family and friends have spent days on end stuck in their homes or sleeping at work due to their harsh weather conditions, I should really just shut up. Our “fairly” cold weather and snow capped mountain does bring thoughts of warm stews and soups to mind. There is nothing better than a steaming bowl of deliciousness to brighten a cold, rainy day.

Garbanzos y Espinacas

Garbanzos y Espinacas

Traditional Spanish food is filled with great stews and soups. We have an amazing selection of beans and legumes and the potajes (stews) that are prepared from these provide a healthy and inexpensive base to the Spanish diet. The recipes vary countrywide but I can bet that many Spaniards would say that their favorite dish is one “de cuchara” or eaten with a spoon. And more than likely prepared by their Mother or Grandmother.

Verdinas with Prawns

Verdinas with Prawns

Lentils are always a favorite of mine as well as the amazing garbanzos with spinach, cumin and paprika in Seville. But the recipes are endless. When you travel to Asturias it is obligatory to indulge in Fabada Asturiana with fat white beans and various pork products. One of my other favorites in Asturias are the “verdinas” or little green beans often prepared with seafood.

The mother of traditional Spanish stews is the Cocido. The ingredients vary depending on the region but the common ones include garbanzos, cabbage, potatoes, various types of meat, and pork fat. Some people enjoy the stew as one plate while in Madrid they eat the soup first with thin noodles and then the vegetables, garbanzos and meat. In an area called the “Maragateria” in the province of Leon it is eaten “al reves”. The meat and vegetables and garbanzos first then followed by the soup. The first time I tasted this cocido was on the Camino de Santiago after my first year in Spain. After that I have enjoyed it in some wonderful picturesque towns near Leon. And of course, any great Spanish stew needs to be washed down with a bold red wine and accompanied by excellent crusty bread.

As the rain falls here in Granada we are about to dig into a delicious stew made for us by a friend. It was prepared with garbanzos, wild mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes. A nice glass of Rioja and Happy Sunday to all!

Pieces of The Alhambra…….

"He wore the cloak of grandeur. It was bright With stolen promises and colors thin." Archer Huntington

“He wore the cloak of grandeur. It was bright
With stolen promises and colors thin.”
Archer Huntington

Patio de Los Leones

Patio de Los Leones

Peinador de la Reina

Peinador de la Reina

Patio del Cuarto Dorado

Patio del Cuarto Dorado

Sometimes the snow comes down from the mountain……………….

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Every morning we leave our house and as we cross over the river I look up to the right and enjoy the view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I love this view year round, with and without snow topped peaks. For me it is one of the reasons that makes Granada very special. In about 25 minutes you can be up at the ski resort Sol y Nieve to enjoy the snow that we usually don’t have here in the city. And in 40 minutes you can drive south and be on the beach. For me, this is an ideal place to live.

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Last year on the Day of Andalucia (the day to celebrate Andalucia becoming an autonomous community) we woke up to snow in the city. It was like a gift for children and adults. No school and snow falling from the sky. We spent the morning throwing snowballs with our neighbors and building snowmen. We had to enjoy it fully because we don’t know the next time this will happen!

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Trusting your food instinct………….

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I have a serious problem. I am an obsessive menu reader and am yet to find a 12 step program to remedy this. It is impossible for me to just walk into any restaurant and sit down and eat, even if the establishment has been highly reccomended. I need to read the menu. Either the the actual menu itself or simply the food on display. It is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. However, my decision isn’t only based on what is offered on the menu but my simple instincts and how the bar or restaurant makes me feel upon entering. Trusting your food instinct is an art and one to believe in and to keep finely tuned.

On a recent trip to El Puerto de Santa Marìa in Càdiz I had one of these special moments. We had a great lunch at one of the most typical restaurants in El Puerto for fresh fish and seafood (recommended by my dear friends who are on a plane to Thailand at this very moment). After lunch, happily filled on wine, clams and baby squid we decided to take a long walk to the beach. As we were wandering through town I caught eye of a beautiful street sign, Calle Luna, and a great little bar right on the corner. I knew we would have to go back after the beach.

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While my daughter dug into a garbanzo and shrimp stew the owner prepared a marinated salmon with avocado for us that was simply beautiful and delicious. Accompanied by a glass of local white wine for myself and a cold beer for my friend, it was the perfect end to our daytrip.

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Time to Beach It!

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A high of 73 degrees during the first week of November is an open invitation to spend the weekend on the coast. I have become a complete beach whore since I moved to Southern Spain. And I can’t break myself of this addiction. Why would I want to? Our beaches in Granada are pebbly, hardly a grain of sand. Sometimes this can cause excruciating pain as you hobble from your towel to the sea. You simply adapt. And what small bit of foot ache can’t be cured by some great food and wine?

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No meal on the coast of Granada is complete without an “espeto de sardinas” (sardines grilled on an open fire). You have not had a real sardine until you taste these with a slightly smoked flavor. And wash them down with a cold glass of San Miguel beer. This is true beach food.

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A local winery named Calvente produces the perfect dry yet fruity white wine to accompany some clams in garlic sauce and the best octopus I have ever had in my life. Here it is smoked for hours over an open fire then tossed with garlic and parsley and served with a cabbage salad and alioli. This is what weekends are made for!

No reason to skip the cheesecake or crema catalana for dessert. A glass of my all time favorite liqueur over ice to help digestion? Yes please. Patxaran is made with sloe berries (endrinas) and produced mostly in Navarra and the Basque Country but Granada has it’s own small production as well. The best way to enjoy the sunset over the Mediterranean.

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Pieces of my Granada………

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Do it in style……….Cordoba style!!!

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