By Mary Luz Mejia
Living in Madrid and visiting Spain subsequently really jolted my taste buds out of their slumber. I discovered dishes throughout Spain that, while simple to prepare, insist on being made with the very best and freshest ingredients. The trick to making great food, no matter where it’s from is simply that: Using what’s in season – fresh and flavourful – to let ingredients shine.
Spain is blessed with a terrain that gives its cuisine the option of just-fished seafood, acorn-fed pigs, sun-ripened produce, and some of the world’s finest olive oils and wines. The Spanish are a gastronomically fortunate lot, and they know it.
Luckily for us here in Canada, there’s a lot to celebrate come summertime, too. There’s nothing better than gathering your favourite people to celebrate warm, long summer days and nights on your patio, dock, cottage, dining room table, or in a park with the Mediterranean flavours of tapas.
Cities like Toronto have a history of “tapa-ifying” everything from fusion fare to food that’s just over-priced for what you get. So in the generous spirit of Spain, I offer you some simple Spanish recipes I learned in the country of my mother’s ancestors. I hope they bring you as much fun as a tapas bar crawl through Barcelona.
SUMMER SPANISH SANGRIA
If you’ve ever been to Spain– or most of Europe for that matter – you’ll know that they’re by and large traditionalists who don’t like to add extra ingredients to dishes that have stood the test of time. Adding red pepper to a Spanish tortilla? Never, if you ask a Spaniard, and the same principle holds for Sangria. I’ve tasted recipes where pineapple juice and fruit punch were added. I find them too sweet and my Spanish friends would just say “That’s not Sangria!”
Here’s a version that’s refreshing, not too sweet, and perfect for quaffing with tapas. It goes down very easy – just be forewarned.
1 bottle (750 ml) chilled, dry, medium to full bodied, preferably Spanish red wine with fruity characteristics (for example, a decent bottle from the Rioja region such as Tempranillo or Garnacha would work – and don’t spend a fortune on a bottle because you’re making punch, after all).
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
¼ cup brandy
¾ cup of good quality orange juice, with or without pulp – your choice)
1 medium pear, diced (a sturdy Bosc Pear works well here)
1 orange, washed and thinly sliced
2 Ontariopeaches, cut into wedges
1 small lemon or lime, sliced cross-wise
Handful of green, seedless grapes
2 cups of Ginger Ale
1 cup of soda water
Block of ice to put in your punch bowl
Add the sugar and brandy into a large punch bowl. Stir to combine until sugar is dissolved. Add the red wine and the fruit. You can let fruit macerate for an hour or so.
Add all of the other ingredients and chill. If you have guests coming over ASAP, pre-freeze a block of ice (use a small, shallow bowl for example) and use that instead of ice cubes. The melting ice mass won’t water down your punch as quickly and, according to mixologists, “softens” the tones of the punch more steadily than individual ice cubes.
Ladle into cups and garnish with a fruit wedge if you’re so inclined.
Let’s call this Spanish Guacamole with a twist. Popular in Toledo, the creaminess of the avocado paired with the toasted cumin seeds gives this a modern update. Perfect for unexpected guests or a tasty tapas option in a hurry. This recipe serves 10.
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 ripe avocado (Haas does the job)
3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon of lemon zest
½ cup of fruity Spanish olive oil, plus some for drizzling at the end (Tip: I recommend an Arbequina olive oil ideally – like Gasull or the coupage-blend – in Dauro, which contains Arbequina olives for example)
½ teaspoon of sea salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1 good quality baguette – you’ll need 20-30 slices
Use a blender or food processor to whirl the egg and garlic together. Peel, seed, and then cut the avocado into chunks and add it to the blender or food processor along with lemon juice and zest. Pulse until smooth.
With the motor running, slowly drizzle in ½ cup of olive oil, salt, and both peppers. You can cover and refrigerate until ready to serve for a few hours maximum (avocado mix starts to oxidize so don’t wait too long).
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a hot, dry skillet toast cumin seeds over high heat until they start to jump across pan. Put in bowl and set aside. Thinly slice baguette, arrange on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
You can make these individually portioned by spreading some of the avocado cream on each slice of bread and top with cumin seeds and chives or arrange rounds around a bowl full of the cream that’s been topped with cumin seeds and chives for dipping.