#26 Date selected: 4/4/16 Date completed: 9/4/16
Country selected: Spain
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu/recipe address:
- Chorizo con Sidra (Chorizo with Cider)
- Chicken with Garlic
- Patatas Bravas
- Garlic Parsley Grilled Squid
- Roasted Goat Cheese Stuffed Figs with Lavender Thyme Honey
- Sopa Tostada de Castilla-La Mancha (Spanish Toasted Soup)
Monday 4th April 2016, 1.57pm
España!! I have to say I’m a little bit excited to try some Spanish cuisine. I could see this challenge going a number of ways and I’m pretty pumped about all of them!
For those who are not familiar with the country, Spain is in southwestern Europe bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with land borders with Gibraltar, France, Andorra and Portugal. Spain, France and Morocco are the only three countries in the world to have coastlines along both the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Spain has a very rich history which includes the Spanish Inquisition where the country’s Jewish population were ordered to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion from Spanish territories. It was around this time that Christopher Columbus, who initiated the Spanish colonization of the New World, started his first voyage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean Islands.
Throughout the 16th century and most of the 17th century, Spain was renowned as Europe’s leading power. Its trade and wealth from colonial possessions was vast and it became the world’s leading maritime power. In fact, the Spanish Empire was so widespread throughout the world that it was said that the sun never set on it.
With such a strong Roman heritage, Spain is considered one of the major Latin countries of Europe and its culture is marked by strong historic ties to Catholicism. Many cultural forms have been shaped by successive waves of foreign invaders with the country’s climate and geography also forming pivotal influences. It is the third country in world with the most Wold Heritage Sites, only slightly behind Italy and China, with 44 recognised sites.
I found it interesting to discover that Spain has one of the highest degrees of liberty in the world for its LGBT community with approximately 88% of the population supporting the gay community.
Spanish cuisine consists of a wide variety of dishes and is the birthplace of Tapas and Sangria (two things that I’m quite fond of!). Three main divisions in particular can be easily identified throughout the country however. Mediterranean cuisine utilizes a great deal of seafood and has many rice-based dishes such as paella. It also has several cold soups such as gazpacho. The cuisine of Inner Spain leans more towards hot, thick soups and stews. Traditionally foods are preserved by salting or by being immersed in olive oil. Lastly, Atlantic Spain often relies on ocean seafood and shellfish dishes. It includes many vegetable and fish-based stews and lightly cured ham.
Saturday 9th April 2016, 3.12pm
There were so many choices available for this challenge, I barely knew where to begin. I knew immediately that there was no way that I would be able to settle on just the one recipe so I decided that the best way for me to get the most of this challenge was to cook several smaller bite sized dishes. Luckily for me, Spain is renowned for its tapas which offered me the perfect solution! I was very tempted to add Sangria to the menu but with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in full swing, there were very few times available where I would be able to drink some without having to drive afterwards.
My first tapas dish was Chorizo con Sidra (Chorizo with cider) which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like! You cut up the chorizo into chunks then cook them in apple cider. It’s supposed to be done in a terracotta dish, however, having none at home, I simply did this one in a small saucepan. It’s quite delicious. A lot of the fat from the sausage melts into the liquid and the flavour of the cider seeps into the chorizo and prevents it from drying out. It’s served in the slightly oily liquid which helps keep the chorizo warm and adds flavour to the dish. Spicy, sweet and very yummy!
The second tapas I chose was Chicken with garlic. This was a much milder choice than some of the others and I’m not sure if some of the delicate flavours of it was overpowered by the other dishes. There are a few steps to this recipe but nothing too difficult. Simply coat the chicken pieces (I used pre-cut wing niblets for convenience) in seasoned flour, and fry them off. Add whole garlic (including the peel) and after they brown, add white wine or sherry. Then it’s simply a matter of simmering everything until the chicken is fully cooked.
When you’re making this one I suggest keeping an eye on it as all of the wine dried up when I was cooking mine and I ended up having to put more in. In hindsight, I’d also suggest using a strongly flavoured wine if you’re not choosing sherry. I used a light sauvignon blanc and I think I might have got a better result with a different choice of wine.
The chicken was tasty though. The garlic flavour is quite delicate and the chicken rather oily. It’s traditionally served with rice or fingers and I think that’s probably a good option. I found it lacked something by itself and either starch would have complimented the chicken nicely.
Next on the list was Patatas Bravas – possibly my favourite of the tapas options and, again, incredibly simple to make. It’s essentially roast potato cubes served with a spicy mayonnaise dressing.
You cube and roast the potatoes with olive oil and salt. Whilst they’re cooking you prepare the dressing by whisking together mayonnaise, hot sauce, paprika, garlic powder, salt and water. When the potatoes come out of the oven you pour the sauce over them and voila! You’re done!
I really enjoyed the potatoes and finished the entire serving. The dressing is quite spicy so beware if you’re sensitive to heat. It’s full of beautiful smoky type flavours though which fit perfectly with the potato cubes. The cubes themselves almost melt in your mouth – soft on the outside with a crispy brown outer layer. So moreish!
I wanted to do a seafood tapas given that so much Spanish cuisine is centred around the ocean. As mentioned in previous posts, I’m not a big seafood fan but I really enjoy calamari so thought I would try a squid dish. Garlic Parsley Grilled Squid made it onto the menu and I was very pleased with how tasty it was.
The squid is cut into strips – the recipe tells you to leave the tentacles on but I could only find tubes with tentacles removed. It was still delicious and probably a good option for those who are squeamish about eating tentacles. The squid is then coated in seasoned flour and cooked on a hot griddle or grill. You mix garlic, breadcrumbs and parsley together then add to the squid. As it cooks, the breadcrumbs brown and make a nice crust. Once cooked you season the squid with a mix of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, sprinkle it with fresh thyme and put it in the fridge to cool.
This is a really fresh tasting dish and the squid is beautiful and tender. The other ingredients go beautifully with the seafood and it’s almost like a salad in many ways. In fact I imagine it would go very well with lettuce and a range of other accompaniments. Yum!
The final tapas choice was one that intrigued me from the beginning – Roasted Goat Cheese Stuffed Figs with Lavender Thyme Honey. I find that a lot of vegetarian dishes served at dinner parties and some restaurants are often quite boring and a simple variation on only a couple of themes. I liked the idea of being able to serve something a bit fancy and more complex to any vegetarian guests I might have and this one sounded like a great choice for that.
The recipe itself is simple – quarter some fresh figs and stuff them with goats cheese. Roast until soft. Pour honey that has earlier been infused with fresh thyme and lavender and serve.
Simple as it is to make, this dish has a very complex taste. You get a mix of sweet and savoury and the lavender just gives it a complexity that’s quite lovely. Definitely one that I’d make again.
If the tapas wasn’t enough, I also found a soup that I couldn’t go past. I tried it the following day and it was so good I couldn’t resist adding it to the challenge. It’s Sopa Tostada de Castilla-La Mancha (or Spanish Toasted Soup).
Onion and garlic are thinly sliced and cooked in a frying pan. They’re added to boiling chicken stock to make a soup. This is where it gets interesting! You take some day old baguette, baste the slices in olive oil and toast them. You put them on top of the soup, sprinkle cheese over the top and grill the dish until the cheese is melted, sprinkling some fresh chopped parsley over the two just before serving. It’s like two comfort foods in one!
The soup is thin but hearty with so much onion and garlic in it and the bread soaks up the liquid making it nice and soggy (though not enough for it to simply fall apart). Then you get a whack of gooey, fatty cheese cut through the flavours. Perfect for a winter’s snack.
I loved this soup so much. It’s quick and easy to make and I think I’m going to be cooking it quite a lot now that winter is starting to descend on Melbourne!
But in the meantime, time to move onto my next challenge….