Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Salvador Dali's spaghetti

I'm not particularly innovative or creative cook. The wheel won't be invented in this kitchen (we'd rather call for a cab). So there's a chance this just might be the only original idea I'll ever have. But it is pretty darn genius.

Let's call it Salvador Dali's spaghetti as an homage to Spain's own son, who, at times, truly was genius. When he wasn't being just plain crazy. The name is also fitting because with his work, what you see is often not real. Same applies here. It looks like meatball spaghetti but that it ain't. 

The dish was created by an accident when I lived in Tunis. Back then my Saturday morning ritual was to head to the Central Market, where I bought the fresh fish, seafood, veggies and merguez sausages for the week ahead. After returning home, I'd pour myself a glass of rosé and start cooking lunch. The seafood selection at the market was superb and inevitably my eyes got greedier than my stomach (or fridge) could accommodate. I used to eat squid there a lot, too, and once, as I was cutting squid into rings I had, deep in my own thoughts, just continued cutting the squid- resulting in one continuous squid strip. I proceeded to cut it even thinner and voilá- carb-free spaghetti was born. 

In Tunis I used to have this stir-fried along with the rest of the seafood goodies from the market or drenched with sauce made from lamb merguez, onion, green pepper and a dollop of cream (more on this recipe later). This time I made some prawn balls to go with it and yikes and wowcha, it was goooood.

The squid I used was 20 cm x 8 cm, cut into thin ribbons. The smaller ones make for thinner (and perhaps a bit more tender?) ribbons, but you'll need more of those. One 20 cm 8 cm squid made enough spaghetti (appr. 1,5 dl) for one portion. If you can't get your hands on whole squid, you could, of course, use the frozen ready-cut rings (the plain, not the breaded kind). In that case you might want to cut them into thinner width. 

When cooking squid one must always remember that it should (depending on the size, too) be cooked either really quickly or really long. For this dish you can either cook it in salted boiling water for about one minute or flash fry it on the pan in a little bit of oil.

The prawn balls I made from those supersized king prawns I've been raving about, but you can use the smaller sized too - as long as the quantity is the same. For this recipe the quantity was appr. 2,5 dl of chopped prawns. That yields (depending on the size of your balls....) 9-10 prawn balls.

For 2

Prawn balls

10 really big king prawns
1/2 (heaped) tsp grated lemon zest
1 heaped tbsp chopped spring onions (or chives)
1 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 chilli, chopped finely
(tune it down or up depending on the fieriness of your chillis)
1 heaped tbsp bread crumbs
1,5 tbsp tomato sauce
1,5 tbsp water
salt, pepper to taste

Mix the tomato paste and water and mix with the bread crumbs. Let the crumbs absorb the liquid. Then add the chopped prawns (I chopped them with a knife, all Kamikaze sushi chef-style, but I'm sure you can use a machine) and the rest of the ingredients. Let them rest in the fridge while you make the sauce.


1/2 small onion, shopped finely
1  tsp pimiento or any other mild paprika 1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 chilli (again, adjust according to the fieriness of the chilli you're using)
1/2 tsp tomato concentrate
2 dl tomato sauce
2 dl shell fish stock
a dash of white wine (or sherry or lemon juice)
salt, pepper to taste
handful of chopped parsley

Heat some oil in a pan. Add the onion, orange zest, ginger, garlic, chilli and paprika powder. Cook, while stirring, until the onions have softened and are transluscent. Add the white wine and bring to boil. The pour in the shellfish stock and tomato sauce. Let bubble on moderate heat and check the taste. Season with salt and pepper. Now roll the prawn balls.

Roll the paste into little balls of equal size (lightly oiled hands help, though the mixture is sticky. It easier to form when it's been cooled though) and gently drop them into the sauce. Treat with care, as the texture is more vulnerable than that of the meatballs.

Cook in moderately low heat until done, about 5 minutes.

Cook the squid spaghetti, either in a pan or in rapidly boiling water. Place in a bowl and top with sauce. Scatter the parsley on top and fire away.

And if squid doesn't float your boat, the sauce and the balls are good with regular spaghetti too...
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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

DIY Shellfish stock

Because of the huge quantities of shellfish I go through each week (is it any wonder the that the local neighbourhood stray cats sit on stand-by at our terrace- waiting for their all you can eat- extravaganza...) , it would be shame to waste any of their goodness, so I cook stock out of their shells. I like to keep it old school and don't add a whole lot of spices to it, because I use it for so many different things: dishes echoing Asian, Spanish... and my own kitchen, so the flavours can be adjusted for each of them.

These are not cooked though the colour would suggest different...

Peel the prawns. Tip: As you snap the head off, the vein usually easily follows in one piece without any butterflying needed later on. This can be checked by looking at the prawn against light.

Heat some oil in a pan. Add the shells (sometimes, especially if I have some leftover onion lurking around, I might add some onions. Sometimes not. It's no biggie, since my cooking usually starts with onions anyway. Some people like to add some carrots and other stock-making-veggies, but my approach is a bit more purist. Or a lot lazier...)

Bash them ruthlessly. As they get a bit of colour and start releasing their oceany aroma, add enough water to barely cover them. I'd rather have a little bit of good quality, highly concentrated flavour that can be diluted if needed, than a ton of watery liquid.

Let simmer on modest heat (no bubbling!) for approoximately 30 minutes. Should any foam start colelcting on the surface, just peel it off. Keep bashing those prawns to make sure they'll give as much flavour as possible. Add salt to taste.

Run it through a sieve (lined with muslin, should you have some) and voilá- you're done. The stock keeps in the fridge for a couple of days but you can easily freeze it too for later use- using small bottles or ice cube trays.

And hey- this (too) is nothing to fret about. The store bought shellfish stock works wonders too...

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Monday, 25 February 2013

Carihuela's comeback

On Sundays we like to wander off to the nearby village of Arroyo de la Miel for churros and Sunday papers (very middle class and middle-aged, our joys...). Last Sunday was no exception.

After lengthy struggle with the crossword we had to admit our defeat (and ignorance) and took off for a walk on the beach. You know, to get some exercise. To walk off some of those calories. 

But through no choice of our own, our feet took us back to Carihuela, which was a lot closer than we realized - it takes less than 30 minutes to walk there from Arroyo's marina. So, no walking and definitely no burning off any calories...

We were, however, in for a lovely lunch at Plaza San Ginés. Sun was shining and the view was every bit was delightful as we remembered: long tables stretched across the square like at an Italian family dinner. 

Watching the world go by is a wonderful way to spend a lazy afternoon- especially with a glass of rosé glued to one's hand. As pointed out before, people here have healthy pride over the local produce, but it stays within the realms of sanity, unlike in France or in Italy, where the regional fascism can easily go a bit overboard. The French snobbery would warrant a chapter their own: I have witnessed how a perfectly pleasant dinner turns into a heated debate on where to get the best butter.

But we don't have any of that here. I, too, could learn so much about the laid back attitude of the people here. They don't fuss over little things- just look at them lunch. Even if the plate is brimming with seafood, the glass might be full of red wine. Nothing to fret about, just take it easy.

We kicked the lunch off with superb croquetas with a dip that was just sublime (Shellfish stock? Roasted peppers? Tomatos? Cream? Angel wings? Rainbow morsels?)

For the main course we just had to have some zarzuela: fish and seafood soup made with local bounty. Jesus Garcia Lopez,  it was fantastic! The creamy tomato-based stock was so good I wanted to have the rest of it to go. In a doggy bag. Or just fed intravenously. 

It's probably good that my limited vocabulary could not express my desire. Though... I suppose there's no harm in learning the phrase just in case, for the next time...

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Sunday, 24 February 2013

Croquetas de patata

Since dry January didn't really work for me, I decided to embark on fasting February. My will power held on for a whopping 2 hours.

Oh, well. During the next tapas bar crawl I would have folded anyway- seeing how croquetas always find their way onto my plate. In Spain they are made of thick bechamel  sauce mixture and the result is crunchy on the outside and melt in your mouth magnificent on the inside. That, too, is to come later in this blog. This time I fashioned them out of some leftover mash. These are so delicious that it's well worth it to set out to make too much mash every time. 

The mash used for croquettes needs to be firm, so go easy on the milk and butter. Otherwise you just might witness the filling evaporating from the crispy shell... If you have used butter and milk, you might want to add an egg or two (depending on the size of your batch) to bind the mixture. 

Like always when making mash, the key is to steam the potatos until they're completely dry in the pan after you've poured out the water.

Another key moment is the breadcrumb coating. This really needs the whole 3-step-shebang, so first roll the croquetas in flour. Then dip them in whisked egg all over. Then coat them thoroughly in the bread crumbs. 

This seals the croquetas and makes sure that the stuffing stays stuffed.

These can be served as tapas or as a side dish to a steak. This recipe yields (depending on the size) about 30 croquetas.

Croquetas are usually served with mayonnaise, which to us, seems a bit too rich. Mayonnaise actually gives me headache. Which The Gentleman does not wish, of course... So, we like to have these with a dip made with roasted garlic. (The Gentleman hates mustard, so I tell him the dip doesn't have any. But of course it has!) Like any fried deliciousness, these are good with just a slice of lemon or ketchup pimped with some freshly ground black pepper.

I roast a couple of bulbs of garlic at a time as there are so many uses for the sweet, brown paste that you can squeeze out of the cloves. Just wrap the garlics in tin foil, toss them into an oven and roast in 200° for around 50 minutes.

makes appr. 30 croquetas

5 largish potatos
1 handful of spring onions or chives finely chopped (or 1 tbsp rosemary or tarragon)
salt, pepper to taste
(1 egg)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp corianderseeds, ground

for coating:
2 eggs
bread crumbs

for frying: 

Boil the potatos until done. Mash (I use potato ricer- perfect mash every time), add butter and the spices (and egg, in case you're using) and leave to cool.

Once completely cool, roll into bars and cut into desired size. Roll in flour, then in whisked eggs and finally in bread crumbs. Let them rest in fridge for half an hour. At this point you could also freeze the croquetas for frying later.

Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the croquetas until golden brown in batches of 4-5. Drain on kitchen towel and serve.

Roasted garlic dip:

1 dl mayonnaise
1 dl Turkish yoghurt
(or just mayonnaise, your choice)
the paste squeezed out of 2 roasted garlic cloves
1 tsp mustard
salt, pepper
1/2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
(and/ or spring onions, chives, thyme, parsley...)

Mix the ingredients together and serve as a dip.

Do they have carbs? Yes! Do they have fat? Yes! Are they goooood? YES!

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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Pimientos Rellenos

On our first trip to Ronda a couple of years ago the Gentleman discovered just what I'm made of. More precisely that you don't mess with low blood sugar or your risking the emergence of a monstrous personality of Hulk- like proportions. But showing food down my throat will shut me up and make the whining stop!

For lunch that day I had Spanish speciality called Pimientos Rellenos, peppers stuffed with fish. For the longest time I tried to figure out the secret to the beautiful sauce - seafood stock just might be the answer. And now that I've been going through ridiculous quantities of shellfish, I finally got around to trying the dish at home.

The stuffing is, depending on the day, place and availability pretty much anything you can get your hands on, but the foundation is bechamel sauce. For the stuffing the bechamél needs to be firm, so it is recommended that you make it the day before. If that's not possible, use less liquid, but even so, let the mixture cool and set for a while.

The peppers used for this dish are piquillo peppers, sweet, rectangular delicacies that are sold in jars. They have been roasted and peeled and are ready to use, either as such, in salads or stuffed like this. If those are not available, you can use any similar product, though these, stored in oil, are in my opinion better than the Greek variety that is often pickled in vinegary liquid. You could, of course, roast and peel your own, but at least my fingers aren't nimble enough to get the skin off leaving the small peppers intact. Though you could also stuff some regular red peppers, in which case the stuffing is enough for approximately 3 small peppers. If you like, you could also add some cheese.

The spare (and broken) piquillo peppers I used for the sauce, but those too can be substituted with regular roasted peppers. Roast them in a grill (or in the oven, hight heat) until the skin turns black and starts bubbling. Let them cool for a bit in a plastic bag  and pull the skin off. Do not rinse, as this just rinses off so much of the flavour.

The fish used in this is usually bacalao (cod?) or merluz, but I used panga since we happened to have some. I would imagine any white, firm fish would do. 

This recipe makes enough for 2 portions of 4 pimientos each.


1 small onion/ one half of a large one
the zest of 1/2 lemon
300 g white, firm fish
2 rkl seafood stock
2 heaped tbsp flour
2 5 dl milk, heated
sprinkling of nutmeg
handful of chopped parsley
salt, pepper

Heat some oil in a pan. Add the lemon zest, chopped onion and fry until the onion is soft and transluscent. Add the fish, chopped into chunks and let cook for a while. Then add the flour . Keep stirring and make sure the flour doesn't burn. Add the stock and stir vigorously. Then add milk, whisking continuously. Let simmer in medium heat so that the flour cooks and the sauce comes together. Don't fret if the fish chunks get mashed around a bit. Add the nutmeg and parsley. Finish off with the seasoning. Let cool, preferably until the next day.

The following day stuff the peppers with the stuffing and heat in the oven in low heat until they're warm (they're not even supposed to be piping hot). In the meanwhile make the sauce.


1/2 onion
6 piquillo peppers
(or 2 regular  red peppers, roasted and peeled)
1/2 tsp garlic, chopped
1 tsp pimiento or any other paprika
2 tsp tomato paste
1,5 dl seafood stock
1/2 tsp orange zest
dash of sherry or dry white wine
1/2 tsp dill
2 heaped tbsp Turkish yoghurt
(or appr. 1,5 dl cream)
salt, pepper

Fry the garlic, onion and paprika in some oil. As the onion has softened, blizz it to a paste with the peppers. Add the sherry/ wine into the pan to lift all the flavours. Then add the orange zest and tomato paste. Stir for a while and then add the shellfish stock and papper and onion paste. Let bubble away under the lid for about 10 minutes so the sauce thickens and the flavour some together. Then add dill and cream/ yoghurt for desired creaminess. Season and serve with the peppers.

Oh, you're wondering about the pile of leaves in the middle of the plate as opposed to one carefully placed elegant sprig? Because I did not make the stuffing in advance. Because that would have required planning and organizational skills...

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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ronda for foodies

The oldest and probably the most beautiful part of Ronda can be found across the bridge, away from the town centre.

Most of the tourists don't seem to have discovered this part of the town, which is a shame. Although there are nice places for lunch in the town side of the bridge as well, the best restaurants are located right here.

We decided to treat ourselves (read: The Gentleman decided to treat us) to a lunch at perhaps the best one of them all: Restaurant Albacara in the charming hotel of Montelirio. The restaurant is recommended by the Tripadvisor, Michelin guide and its Spanish equivalent, Repsol. Our expectations were therefore high. But so were the views...

Everything on the menu seemed tempting and we were spoiled for choice. To start with we shared a partridge and quail salad. The toastiness of the local honey balanced beautifully the acidity of the vinagrette. The size of the salad was huge...

...but then again, so was the size of my main: grilled lamb. The crisp skin hid lamb so succulent The Gentleman declared it one of the best he's ever had.

The Gentleman's venison fillet was cooked to perfection and arrived on a bed of truffle risotto that packed a punch so earthy and pungent that there was absolutely no question of the authenticity of these truffles.

We definitely would not have had room for a dessert... but let's face it, it would have been shame to say no. Yours truly, ever the cheese challenged, actually found herself pondering over goatcheesecake, but in the end I had come to terms with the limited capacity of my stomach.

The local dessert wines (on the house, claro que si...), Muscat and Pedro Ximenez, complimented the liquor and fig ice cream and orange truffles with apricotey orange sauce perfectly.

Dios mios, what a lunch! Who knew culture could be this delicious!

Our lunch also intruduced us to our new best friend: local rosé wine by a genius of a man called Friedrich Schatz. This Merlot- and Pinot Noir had wonderful summery lightness, yet it possessed body that held its head high during the entire lunch. 

The production of the eco wine has been limited to 900 bottles, so before we headed home, we snatched a couple to take back home with us. Now there are only 897 left  so you'd better hurry...!

Ronda (too) is great for sampling and stocking up on local specialities. There are wonderful little shops selling honey, meats, cakes pressed from dried fruits and different preserves - such as divine chestnut mousse.

And even if your sweet tooth gets the better of you, you're in good hands in Ronda: they also have a small bakery ran by the local nuns. They might be committed to chastity, poverty and that sorts of things but my God- they sure have no shortage of sugar in that place!

Sugar, almonds, sugar, olive oil, sugar, local cider, sugar...

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Round and round Ronda

Ronda, one of the famous white villages of Andalusia, is a town with population of approximately 35 000, located up in the mountains of Serranía de Ronda. Those with no car can get here by train,at least from Malaga, Córdoba and Algeciras.

Bullfighting is said to have originated here. This was also the site for the first gathering of the Andalusian nationalists in 1918- a  significant meeting where the green and white Andalusian flag was adopted.

Flags from left to right: Andalusia, Spain and Benalmadena

After Reconquista, the Christian takeover of the Iberian peninsula, those following other religions were either expelled or forced to convert. Ronda became one of the hiding places where Muslims fled the persecution. 

First signs of inhabitation around Ronda can be traced to prehistoric times, but Ronda itself has been settled at least from 7th century BC. The people behind Ronda as we know it today, were (again) the Romans, who built it as a fortress during the Second Punic War. Man, those Romans got around.

Ronda has been trying to get on UNESCOs World Heritage list, but so far the honour has been denied.

The most significant sights are the bridges of Ronda. The spectacular views they offer render one weak at the knees. Both out of awe and vertigo.

This much I remembered from our first visit to Ronda a couple of years back. But this time, as I was trying to locate the most magnificent one through the viewfinder on my camera, I was lost.

"They can't have moved it?" I found myself wondering. At this point The Gentleman (with only marginal eye-rolling) had to helpfully point out that I was, in fact, standing on it. 

Yep- that's life with cotton candy brain for you...

The views were amazing and Ronda is definitely worth visiting. And now that our eyes and souls had been nurtured, it was our turn- off to the lunch then!
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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Carnaval in Ronda

Last weekend the streets everywhere in Spain were taken over by the carnaval, a celebration preceding the Lent. We celebrated it in Ronda, where the festival had gone on all week. Pancakes were nowhere to be found, children in fancy dresses on the other hand were everywhere.

The sight of this little girl, opting out of the cookie-cutter Disney princess outfit particularly warmed this old Egyptologist's heart...!

Life here is very family- oriented and it's especially evident during celebrations like this. Children are a natural part of the proceedings and included in the long lunches that are an essential part of the celebrations. 

For some of the grown ups kitted out in fancy dresses the celebrations continued well into the night...

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Curves ahead

On the way to Ronda A397- road, squirming in the mountains of  Serranía de Ronda, offers the travellers pretty spectacular scenery. Before one reaches the altitude where even trees won't grow, the views, with the villas surrounded by cypress trees remind of Tuscan countryside. 

No, this is not our house. Not yet, anyway...

Occasionally, especially in the evening as the dusk sets over the mountains, one could almost imagine being in Africa- Far East even!

The scenic road is, particularly during the weekends, also popular among the bikers. Here and there the flowers brought to the side of the long and winding road remind of the dangers these serpentine roads have in store.

Sceneries have a very powerful language of their own that brings back memories from very different (and distant) places. 

For The Gentleman the mountains take him back to his roots: Derbyshire and Yorkshire whereas to me the lookout points echo the scenes from a park located close to my old home in Jerusalem. As the terrain gets tougher and more barren, they transport me back to the unforgiving surroundings of the Bedouin camps I got to know back in the West Bank.

By the time one gets to Ronda, the altitude will have reached almost a kilometre from the sea level and one can see and feel it. In the couple of hour drive the temperature drops almost 10 degrees.

Up here the warning signs don't warn about the herds of cows anymore. In the winter the mountains here, just as in Sierra Nevada around Granada and Alhambra, actually get some snow.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

A little piece of Holland

Though the travel bug has been rampantly raging, I have, once again, been reminded of just how much there is to see and explore around here too. We decided to spend a day in Ronda, a small town once upon a time reigned over by the Phoenicians, the Romans and the Punes and who knows who else. It's located high up in the mountains of Serranía de Ronda a little under 100 kilometres from us. 

Approximately halfway there, by the A397- road we encountered the delightfully strange world of La Perla de Heredia. 

This development stands out from the carbon copy urbanizaciónes around the Costa for all the right reasons. In its candy colour palette it's like a poor man's Il Positano. Or, as it turned out, a not so poor Dutchman's Il Positano. 

There's something very "Prisoner" about this place. It feels a bit fake and movie set- like somehow, but perhaps it's because of that artificial feel that the place feels so absurdly idyllic. 

The place is especially popular among the Dutch, which is really the only language you hear spoken around here. The houses are absolutely stunning, but must cost an arm and a leg and  the set of your Nan's good teeth.

La Heredia is also home to an absolutely delightful (and you guessed it: Dutch) bakery/café/ deli. The selection is sure to satisfy the needs of even the most discerning palates craving for Dutch cheese, bread, cheese, sausages, cheese, buttermilk... or cheese.

A couple of years back in West Bank I had a Dutch colleague. I must say I had completely forgotten how seriously the Dutch take their cheese.

The breakfast turned out to be a great way to start our exploration into the mountains.

As we were enjoying our breakfast, at the table next to ours a real estate agent was in the middle of a meeting with two customers. The Gentleman and I exchanged a knowing smile: yet another dream of the life in the Spanish Sun was about to come true...

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