For me there is nothing better than going back to the places where I have spent precious time. Sometimes it takes years to get back to certain places regardless of how close they are to us. The area of the Alpujarra in the Sierra Nevada mountain range south of Granada is one of those places for me. I recently read a novel based mostly in the town of Pampaneira which spoke of Gypsies and the difficult times of the Spanish Civil War. These beautiful towns are so filled with history that one can almost feel it in your bones and you hike through the valleys and drink from the fountains. Last week I was ready to come and spend a few days here enjoying the solitude and beauty.
As an important agricultural area the Alpujjara produces almonds, lemons, figs and the most delicious cheese. It also boasts an amazing variety of cured pork products. Cured pork loin with rosemary, white sausage, blood sausage, morcón (similar to chorizo yet a bit bigger) and of course, the ham from Trevélez. You can enjoy a generous tapa with one of the local wines from Europe’a “highest vineyards”.
It’s not all pork and cheese here in this region. We ordered a great dish made with fava beans, based on a recipe that goes back generations. It was prepared with local fava beans, pods and all. Usually we only find these beans naked, shucked from their home. But here in Pampaneira they use them in their entirety and bathed in a flavorful almond sauce to make any vegetarian smile! They went perfectly with a local wine served in a glass Porrón which actually originated in Catolonia.
The poet, Federico García Lorca, referred to the Alupjarra as “el país de ninguna parte”. A NOWHERE COUNTRY. The history lingers here in the streams and the valleys. Such as the legend of Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, going into exile here. And more stories of the rebellion and expulsion of the Moriscos and the repopulation of the area by colonists from Extremadura and Galicia. All of this and more rests here in the trees.
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.
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!
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.
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.