Food Exploration: Add Spanish Flair to Your Cooking
If Greek food hasn’t sold you on a diet from the Mediterranean region yet, head to the western shores of the Mediterranean sea, where the vibrant country of Spain awaits you. Like other countries whose cuisine falls within the standards of this diet (see more about the Mediterranean diet), Spanish cooking relies heavily on garlic and olive oil as staples.
Beyond those, however, traditional Spanish recipes vary widely across the region. The mountain ranges that run through the country made heavy trading and communication difficult until the late 20th century, causing them to develop their own recipes and flavors.
The flavors of Spain
Food from Spain can easily be identified by its down-to-earth, simple flavors and wide use of seafood and fresh-picked ingredients. Garlic and olive oil may be the two most prominent ingredients lending their flavor to Spanish cuisine, but there are a handful of others commonly found throughout the region.
- Jamón. Spanish ham, or jamón, is one of the most widely consumed meats throughout the country. Spaniards are known to splurge on top-quality ham for their recipes, while restaurants and markets will often features several different hams to choose from. However, jamón Serrano tends to be the most common.
- Seafood. With their prime location on the Iberian peninsula (Mediterranean Sea to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and southwest), Spaniards eat a wide range of fresh seafood, including halibut, octopus, baby eel, and razor clams.
- Chorizo. Just as ham is popular in Spain, so is another pork-based food—chorizo. In its most basic sense, chorizo is sausage that is spiced with paprika. There are a variety of chorizos available—fresh, smoked, and aged. Many Spanish families make their own during the winter and hang them in the attic or cellar to dry.
- Pimentón.This spice, also known as paprika, is one of the most commonly used in Spanish cuisine. It’s gentle flavor is commonly added to soups and stews. Spanish paprika comes in either a spicy or sweet variety; however, sweet is the most commonly used, as chilies are also common throughout the region.
The Spanish traditionally eat dinner much later than Americans do, often not serving their end-of-day meal until 10 p.m.—or even midnight! Because of this, tapas are popular small meals that are eaten between lunch and dinner.
In fact, tapas are synonymous with Spanish cuisine. A tapa is not a particular type of food—anything can be tapas: paella, croquettes, ham and cheese on toast. As long as it is small and served with your drink (either free or at a surcharge), it is tapas.
But, you don’t have to wait until midnight to feed your family or your guests when trying to recreate an authentic Spanish meal—just be sure to whip up some tapas (see recipe) as appetizers for the full effect.
For your main course, try a traditional paella (see recipe) so that you and your guests can enjoy the fresh, vibrant flavors of Spain. Paella, according to Spain Recipes is a typical Spanish recipe and is traditionally cooked in a paellera—a round flat pan with two handles—which is then put on the table. Paella is often made with shellfish, but can also be made with chicken or rabbit.
Don’t forget to have some sangria handy for your adult guests in order to complete the relaxed Spanish atmosphere!
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 large roasted head of garlic, cloves smashed
2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 pound large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled, leaving tail intact, and deveined
Preheat oven to 400 F. Remove outer peeling on garlic head, but do not break apart cloves. Cut top of garlic head to expose cloves. Drizzle olive oil over the top. Wrap head of garlic in foil or place in garlic roaster. Roast in preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes. Remove roasted cloves and mash. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, oregano, and salt until salt is dissolved. Add sliced onion and toss to coat. Let stand until ready to use.
In a small sauce pan, simmer oil, bay leaves, garlic, chilies, cumin, mustard, and peppercorns for 10 minutes over medium heat, then let stand until ready to use.
In a medium sauce pan, bring salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Add shrimp and let boil 5 minutes or until shrimp are cooked. Drain and pat shrimp dry. Add shrimp to onion mixture and toss to coat. Pour oil and spices over the top and stir to combine.
Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap or lid and chill in the refrigerator 2 to 4 hours until ready to serve. Shrimp may be served cold or at room temperature.
Traditional paella with chicken, chorizo, and shrimp!
1/2 cup olive oil
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cut in half
salt and fresh ground pepper
3 chorizo sausages, cut in ½” pieces
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons saffron threads, crushed
One 28 ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups paella rice
8 tablespoons Italian flat leaf parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken broth, heated
2 cups white beans, cooked
8 ounces green beans, cooked tender crisp
24 clams, rinsed
1 cup roasted red pepper strips, for garnish
1 cup thawed frozen peas
2 lemons, cut in quarters, for garnish
In a paella pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Season chicken well with salt and pepper, sauté in oil until well browned. Transfer to a plate. Add sausages to the pan and cook until browned well on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer sausages to the plate. Add the shrimp and sauté on both sides until pink. Transfer to the plate.
Add the onion, garlic, saffron, and tomatoes to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat well with oil. Stir in six tablespoons of the parsley and the bay leaves.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Stir the hot chicken broth, white beans, and green beans into the rice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Return the chicken, sausage, and shrimp to the pan, burying them in the rice. Place the clams in the rice, hinge side down. Sprinkle the red pepper strips and peas over the rice. Place in oven and bake uncovered for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil. Let stand for 10 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open completely. Garnish with lemon wedges and remaining parsley. Serve.
©Everyday Celebrations by Donata Maggipinto, Chronicle Books
A delicious, fruity, Spanish party drink.
1 peach, cut into small chunks
2 lemons (1 thickly sliced, 1 juiced)
2 oranges (1 thickly sliced, 1 juiced)
6 strawberries, thinly sliced
1 green apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 bottle red wine
1 shot liquor (brandy, bourbon, Cointreau, whiskey, or rum)
sugar, to taste
2 cups seltzer
Add all of the cut fruit to a large pitcher.
Squeeze the juice from one orange and one lemon into the pitcher.
Add the whole bottle of red wine to the pitcher. Pour in the shot of liquor.
Add sugar to taste. Chill overnight.
Before serving, pour in the seltzer. Stir gently.
Your turn: What do you enjoy most about exploring cuisines from other countries?