It was only a matter of time before I found my way back to Spain in search of inspiration for a new Quarantine Kitchen menu. My Valencian themed menu may have been my first foray into Spanish cuisine, but there is one place in Spain that holds a special place in my heart – Sevilla. It was time to put the butter back in the refrigerator and reach for the olive oil as I ventured south to Andalucía.
In pursuit of culinary insight, I knew exactly who to reach out to. Carolina hosted me when I studied abroad in Sevilla in 2011 during my spring semester of college. I have my host family to thank for my much-improved Spanish speaking skills, Flamenco dance lessons, and the couple extra pounds that came with me when I returned to the US – I ate well in Sevilla. Thanks to my Tumblr blog that still exists on the fringes of the internet, I can relive not only the uproar caused when I donned sandals the first time it reached 70 degrees in mid-March, but also my first tastes of Sevilla. Lentil soup, croquetas, gazpacho, pescado frito (fried fish), and snails are a few memorable ones.
When I requested her input, Carolina suggested gazpacho, a cold, blended vegetable soup typically eaten on steamy summer days, along with another favorite of mine – garbanzos with spinach. Beef with a tomato sauce was proposed and that seemed a good choice as well. Dessert was an easy decision – I fell in love with arroz con leche while living with my host family and am certain I ate way more than my fair share. The Iberian Peninsula’s affinity for tapas is well-known, so it seemed suitable that there be room for small portions of all of these on my plate.
In case you’re wondering, her other suggestions included pescado frito (fried fish), langostinos (prawns), el pisto con huevos (a Spanish ratatouille topped with a soft egg), torrijas (Spanish style French toast), natillas o flan (custards), tocino de cielo (custard similar to flan) y la leche frita (literally fried milk). My mouth is watering just thinking of all the deliciousness. For the specific recipes, she directed me to the recipes and videos on Cómetelo – Blogs Canal Sur. Everything on the site is in Spanish, so it was a good test of my current comprehension.
While I was tempted to make it all, I limited myself to the four dishes, and actually prepped the gazpacho and arroz con leche the day before. With its simple ingredients and easy prep, gazpacho is a favorite of mine, even if cold soup is a decidedly controversial subject. Essentially, the recipe requires you to throw vegetables into a blender until a pulp is created. The most time-consuming part was straining the pureed vegetables through the mesh strainer. The recipe said to discard the remaining vegetable pulp, but preferring not to waste anything, I grabbed tortilla chips and scooped up my “fresh salsa”.
Next up was the prep for the arroz con leche. This is another easy recipe wherein the most challenging part is staying focused on continually stirring the rice while adding the milk in batches so you don’t end up with a burnt pudding. Rice puddings are found across the world, but this particular Spanish recipe calls for lemon peel, cinnamon – both a stick and ground, a pinch of salt, sugar, and a whole liter of milk. The result is a creamy, sweet treat I could eat hot or cold.
That brings us to the Espinacas con Garbanzos. With only a glance at this dish, you would be forgiven for thinking that a principle ingredient is meat. On the contrary, this classic tapa gets its oomph from the almighty spinach and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) – two staples in Spanish cuisine. Spinach originated in Ancient Persia and eventually found its way to the Iberian Peninsula thanks to the Moors. Garbanzos arrived in Spain with the Phoenicians and Romans, after originating in the Middle East. Combine them and you’ve got yourself a classic tapa.
While it’s customary to use dry garbanzos that have been soaked overnight (at least eight hours) in water, I opted for the short-cut and used beans out of the can. No harm done in my opinion. Topping with a fried egg is optional and this time I left it out.
If there is one vegetable that can’t be left out of a spread of Spanish tapas, it’s the tomato (although one could also argue in favor of the potato). There is no such a thing as having too many tomatoes! I let this rule guide my beef in tomato sauce, another traditional dish that can also be made with pork. This easy dish is best served with a side of bread to scoop up any lingering sauce on your plate.
All the tapas having been prepared, it was time to enjoy our assortment of hot and cold fare with a glass of sherry from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain that should have been served cold for optimal taste – can’t succeed at everything I guess.
In between food prep, I ventured out on my bike to Gaasbeek Castle just west of Brussels. It was a beautiful ride through the Belgian countryside, and I was happy to find the castle grounds open for exploration. Upon realizing that a shop across from the castle was selling take-away ice cream, I was not happy to find that I forgot my wallet. The adventures continued on our three hour walk in the Sonian Forest over the weekend, but I’ve also squeezed in a stationary spin with the sister and an extended family yoga session led by my cousin.
Connecting with friends and family around the world continues to be a source of joy while we remain at home. I especially appreciate when they share insight into the traditional cuisine you find in the homes of locals and on the chalkboard menus at restaurants. In fact, I think this sunny Brussels day calls for a Spanish tinto de verano (wine mixed with a fruity soft drink of your choice) because I wouldn’t mind transporting myself to a sunny, orange tree covered patio in Sevilla for a while.