Roasted Vegetable & Tuna Salad – For when you´ve been having waaaaay too much fun

Our time back Up the Mountain seems to be flying past so quickly, but we are managing to catch up with family and friends, but less so on rest and sleep. Oh well, it´s all about the Fiesta this week in our village and we´re making the most of things.

Tonight though we are at home. After almost a week of eating out our bodies need a rest before a little farewell party tomorrow night in a local bar. Fiesta food is heavy on the meat and protein as it´s all cooked over coals as you wait. Delicious grilled fillets of pork sprinkled with a type of salsa verde, pinchitos (little pork kebabs), jamon and cheese, braised goat and some grilled prawns. Of course, on Sunday we had the village paella.

It was time to balance things out and stock up on veggies and our little abandoned vegetable patch came up with the goods. Today I picked about 10 kgs of peppers, both green and red and a few aubergines. Most of the peppers were sliced and frozen or braised with olive oil and then frozen for the coming months. A few though were roasted and turned into a delicious, filling salad dish for a meat free supper.

While the peppers were roasting I picked my Chinese Lantern plants which have gone wild in our absence. Tomorrow I´ll pick the lanterns off the plants and use them to decorate the house later in the year. Very autumnal.

The cases are being packed (yes, I managed to get a whole jamon into one) with things to remind us of home for the next month or so. The dogs have been bathed (Luna) and clipped (Alfi) while they stay with my parents. And we have had time to recharge our batteries. Well, sort of. We are counting our blessings that that we avoided any damage from the terrible rains here in Spain and spare a thought for the less lucky ones.  Life is hectic, life is full, life is good.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish or 4 as a starter or salad)

  • 4 large peppers (green and red)
  • 2 large aubergines
  • 2 small tins of tuna
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • A large handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • About 150g of chopped olives
  • Olive Oil and Lemon juice
  • The grated rind of a lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

Roast the peppers and aubergines until charred, leave to cool slightly and then peel. Slice the peppers and scoop the flesh from the aubergines and cut into chunks.

Mix the vegetables with the tuna, olives, onions, mint and grated lemon and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Taste, season, enjoy.

Couscous – Two Ways

Now that the heat seems to have arrived (and looks to stay), we make the shift to summer food. Fast cooking, not so much time spent in the kitchen, and a lot of cooking on the barbecue…as long as we can find a shady spot for it.

Couscous ticks a lot of the boxes as it´s so quick and easy to prepare, and provides a blank canvas to work with. I´m sure many of you have your favourite ways of preparing it, and I´d love to hear what they are. Here are a couple of ways I´ve served it recently. Both versions serve 4 as a side dish and were made with 1 cup of cous cous prepared according to the packet instructions and served chilled.

Couscous with Mushrooms and Courgettes

  • 1 medium onion, 1 cup mushrooms and 1 medium  courgette all finely chopped and sautéed until soft.
  • Mix with the cous cous, season and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and some finely chopped parsley.

Couscous with “Gazpacho”

  • Inspired by our summer favourite, I mixed the cous cous with finely chopped red onion, tomato, cucumber, green pepper and mint and dressed it (after seasoning) with olive oil, white wine vinegar and some finely chopped mint.

Two simple dishes to inspire and feed you.

Sopa de Picadillo – Chicken Soup Spanish Style

Cloudy is good, clear is bad!

The first time I ate a bowl of chicken soup in Spain, I was a little surprised by the way it looked. I was staying in my rented Cortijo in the middle of nowhere, with my lovely, crazy landlords living in the adjacent house and popping in on me at weekends to make sure I was fine. In true Spanish Mama style, my landlady often bought me things to eat, just to make sure I was going to stay nice and well rounded.

One lunchtime she came over with a bowl of chicken soup. I was surprised because in the UK a good chicken stock is clear, transparent…and highly valued for these attributes. What I had been presented with was cloudy, almost a yellowy white in colour. It smelt amazing and the bowl was packed full of other goodies too. Pieces of chicken, fine noodles, chopped hard boiled egg and jamon and some pieces of fresh mint. I was also instructed to squeeze lemon juice into my soup.  Then off she trotted, happy to have kept her (not so) starving tenant alive to see another sunny Andalucían day.

Of course, once I had tasted it, I was in love. Such deep chicken flavours, quite a salty (but not disagreeably so) taste and the tang of lemon and mint. The name of the soup, Picadillo, comes from the verb Picar. This means to chop finely or into small pieces. Hence the final additions of hard boiled egg and jamon.

This is not a recipe, more a method. Spanish chicken stock is made with whole joints of chicken (I use thighs and legs usually), salted pork bones and salted pork belly with plenty of fat on it.  If you can´t get the last two ingredients use a couple of pork ribs and a piece of normal pork belly or a thick slice of pancetta.  Add a couple of bay leaves, about 4 cloves, 1 or 2 dried chilies (optional) and cover with water. I also add in a few carrots and sticks of celery, but this is not typical. If you have not used salted bones, add salt to taste and check again at the end of cooking.

Now boil it fast for about 10 minutes, this is when the water will turn cloudy, then turn down the heat and simmer for at least an hour. Strain the stock and leave it to cool, you will then be able to remove the layer of natural fat from the meat which will set on the surface.

Remove the bones, bay leaves, cloves, chilies and discard. To serve a typical Sopa de Picadillo, boil up the stock, add some fine angel hair noodles and the chicken (pork belly too if you used unsalted)  and cook until the chicken is warmed through and the noodles are cooked. Sprinkle over hard boiled egg and jamon (or use lardons or pancetta) and if you have some fresh mint to infuse in the soup it really adds a special touch. Don´t forget the squeeze of lemon too!

Like most chicken soups, it is claimed to be the cure for all ills, but you don´t need to be feeling under the weather to enjoy it.

Tasty Tabbouleh

Fresh and delicious

When you are lucky enough, as we are, to have a vegetable garden full of tasty summer tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, you are always looking for new ways to serve them. Arriving home from our holiday, we found the veggie garden over run with peppers plus we had a few cucumbers and the first of our new batch of tomatoes turning red.  A neighbour had also left four huge and sweet onions in a bag hanging on our door.  What a great homecoming!

I love tabbouleh, but had forgotten about making it until another kind neighbour bought me round a bag of bulghur wheat.  I have very kind neighbours! It reminded me of how much I enjoy it and what a great use of my summer vegetables it would be.

It´s very easy and quick to prepare and can be made a little in advance of eating so that all the seasoning is absorbed and flavours your salad.

As I was finely chopping a mixture of tomato, cucumber, onion and garlic I realised how similar the base ingredients are to an Andalucían gazpacho, both the blended and the chunky versions.  I also added chopped green and red peppers. I´m not sure how traditional they are but we still have so many, it seemed silly not to.

The wheat had been cooked according to the instructions on the pack, all very simple and straightforward, and when it had cooled a little I added my chopped vegetables, chopped mint and parsley, salt, olive oil and plenty of lemon juice.

And that was it. I left it to chill a little then bought it back to room temperature before eating.  How simple and delicious was that?!

A Midsummer Night´s Dream

A Midsummer Night´s Dream

As a Londoner, born and bred, I have a deep and loving appreciation for the City´s green spaces.  We have some wonderful parks in London – some for playing in, kicking a ball around and walking the dogs. Others are more formal and perfect for admiring the beauty of the gardens, listening to the band in summer, or just laying back on the grass and enjoying a quiet moment in the heart of London. 

One of these parks is Regent´s Park, to the north of the centre, and every summer it hosts a season of Open Air Theatre events. You can take a picnic, a few bottles of something gorgeous, a group of friends and enjoy a wonderful evening.  In true British spirit, the performance is only cancelled if it rains heavily during a performance – a performance is never cancelled before the start time! 

Most years a production of Shakespeare´s “A Midsummer Night´s Dream” is performed on that special night and I have seen many performances of this there. Some were based in the future (dire), some were just plain daft, and others more traditional with a mischievous Puck, romantic heroes, comedy players and much silliness.

Last night Big Man and I sat in the garden enjoying the longest day of the year.  We talked, we laughed, we reminisced about summers long gone and talked of our hopes and dreams for those yet to come. It was warm and the sky was clear, a beautiful evening. And while we did this, we sipped on a cocktail we came up with to celebrate this very special night.  Do hope you give it a go and enjoy it!

Sharing a (short) hot summer´s night with talk and laughter

Watermelon and Pomegranate Dream

Blend about 500g of watermelon flesh with half a litre of pomegranate juice and about 20 mint leaves.  Add a spirit of your choice, we used vodka and chill with some ice cubes. Two thirds fill your glass and top up with soda water.

 

Puck:

If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended,

That you have but slumber´d here, while these visions did appear

And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend.

And, as I´m an honest Puck, if we have unearned luck,

Now to ´scape the serpent´s tongue. We will make amends ere long:

Else the Puck a liar call.  So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.

 

 In loving memory of a dear friend, and an amazing cook, long gone but always fondly remembered with laughter and smiles. Happy Birthday Gary – think you would have enjoyed this one!

The Vegetable Garden – One Month On

I realised tonight that a month had flown past since we planted our vegetable “plugs” this year.  We´re catching up as we´ve has plenty of rain followed by sunshine and a few misty evenings, which the plants seem to love!

Our herbs are doing well, apart from my parsley and cilantro (coriander) which are still looking a bit sad.

I´ve let the sage flower as I think it looks so pretty.  I sometimes deep fry the large leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds and sprinkle with coarse sea salt as a little nibble with almonds and olive…and wine, of course!

Sage flowers

The mint is going crazy…these were the stragglers which I had to pull up later.

Rampaging Mint

I´ve also let the chives go to seed as the flowers are also lovely in salads.

Delicious chives...great for potato salad

The basil is almost ready for the first batch of pesto.

Fragrant Basil

We´ve got plum tomatoes.

A Future Sun Dried Tomato

We´ve got a “wild” tomato which has sprung up from a leftover seed from a squashed tomato from last year.  It has such a desire to live, we´ve let it do its own thing!

Born to be wild....!

We have some (very) bitter salad leaves and the delicious chard.  The celery tucked in there is slow to get going, but we´ll let it take its time.

Green Leaves and Bitter Leaves

Tomatoes, beans and the little muscat vines.

View down to my kitchen window

We´ve got rocket seedlings (must plant some more though)

Aaah....less than a week old

The first of the runner beans should be ready to pick in a few days

Teeny, tiny beans

The onions are doing well too

Onions in neat rows!

We´ve got long thin green peppers and large bell peppers – but we can´t remember which are which.  We´ll soon find out!

Which one are you then?

Cucumber flowers

Grown from last year´s seeds

The aubergine flowers are so pretty – wish they´d hurry up as I love aubergines (eggplant!)

Hurry Up! Hurry Up!

Dwarf French beans (yellow and green) which we only planted a week ago

Not quite Jack & The Beanstalk, but working on it!

And finally, radish seedlings…not long now!

Peppery and Pretty!

As I said, we´re a little behind this year because of the very wet spring that we had, but we´re happy with progress so far and already dreaming of grilled vegetables, salads and bunches of grapes.  Happy growing to you all!

Merluza A La Barbacoa y Ensalada Arcoiris – Barbecued Hake & A Rainbow Salad

Dressed For Dinner

Fish Man came up trumps the other day with a whole hake in the back of his little van. It was rather large, too much for just Big Man and me, so as it was fresh it went into the freezer.

A few days later friends were coming over for lunch, and the sun promised to shine, so I decided to barbecue it.  A quick visit to the garden to gather mint and lemons, and out into the olive grove for the tops of the wild fennel which is everywhere, and I was set.

I had to gut and clean the fish, but if you´re buying from a fishmonger, I´m sure it will be cleaned for you.  It´s not that tricky (wear kitchen gloves though, or you´ll smell like a hake for the rest of the day!) but not for the squeamish.

Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper and salt the inside slightly.  Stuff it with bunches of herbs and thin slices of lemons, then sprinkle the outside with coarse sea salt.  No oil needed, but the salt will protect the fish and you´ll end up with lovely charred skin which I personally love to eat, but I know some people don´t.

Then it´s on to the barbecue for your hake.  We cooked it on a low heat and the lid on for about 15 minutes in total.  If you do use hake, but you could do this with pretty much any fish, it´s firm, so easy to turn when it´s half done.  Check it´s cooked by peeking inside – the flesh will be white when it´s ready.

Ready to eat!

I served this with a delicious salad which was so beautifully coloured, it didn´t matter that the sun went in and a big cloud hovered over us all through lunch!  I used chopped new boiled potatoes, cooked beetroot, oranges, thin slices of raw carrot and chopped chives. I made a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard powder, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper.

With so much colour, it can´t not be good for you...

Food for a sunny, or not so sunny day!

Gazpacho Andaluz – Like You Never Knew It

Soup or Salad? So confusing!

Ok, so I say the word Gazpacho, and what do you think of? A bowl of a chilled tomato based soup, with chopped pepper, cucumber and possibly more tomato floating on top?  I´m right, aren´t I?!  Ok, so enough with the questions.  You´d be right of course.  But you´d also be wrong.  Well, not wrong exactly, just probably not aware of the different versions of Gazpacho that exist in Andalucía.  Gazpacho is Andaluz (i.e. from the Andalucían region of Spain) rather than Spanish.  Just as Paella is Valencian and not Spanish.

It´s all getting complicated, so maybe I should start at the beginning.  Andalucía has always traditionally been more reliant on agriculture (farming, olives, goats and pigs) than industry.  Based on hard labour through grafting on the land, or the “campo”.  So what did those hungry labourers do at midday, apart from take a well deserved rest in the shade of an olive tree, that is? Well, they took their lunch, or the makings of it, with them.  Life was, and still is, fairly tough for a lot of people.  Poverty reigned and many of the traditional dishes came about through necessity.  Ask any older person here what the key ingredients of a gazpacho are and they´ll tell you “water, vinegar and salt”.  And it´s true, they go into all the versions.  The reason for this was to make you thirsty.  And therefore drink more water, and thus feel full up.  Your belly was full of liquid and stopped you craving more food.

So, we have our country men with a twist of salt, a bottle of vinegar and a knife.  Water came courtesy of a nearby stream, and the vegetables that went into their gazpacho were those that could be found in the countryside around them.  Sometimes tomatoes, peppers, onions.   Other times wild leaves, oranges or a melon. 

The gazpacho you see above looks, and actually tastes, like a very finely chopped salad in a bowl of iced water.  I won´t lie to you, that´s pretty much what it is!  When I first came here, I admit that I didn´t really “get” it.  Now that time has passed and I´ve endured quite a few very hot summers, it all makes sense.  A chilled bowl of iced salad/soup, with a little tickle of salt and vinegar, the tang of fresh mint and the crunch of all my favourite summer vegetables goes down a treat when you can´t face doing anything more energetic than swatting a fly away and adjusting your sombrero.

Our village prizes this version of Gazpacho so much that it has a three day Fiesta Del Gazpacho dedicated to it every first weekend in August!  All good fun, although we tend to slake our thirst afterwards with a cold beer or a few glasses of wine.  And then, when we´ve cooled down, we all take to the dance floor and Paso Doble until dawn.  Happy days.

If you want to try it, you´ll need (roughly, as the quantities are really down to you) for four bowls:

  • Half a lettuce heart finely shredded and chopped (this is what you will do with all the vegetables)
  • Half a green pepper
  • A medium tomato, peeled
  • Half a sweet onion
  • About a third of a normal cucumber, peeled or one small Spanish cucumber
  • About 15 large mint leaves
  • A handful of broad beans if you have them (optional)
  • White wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Iced Water
  • Some Ice cubes

Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour over water so that the vegetables are just covered.  Gradually start to add salt and vinegar to taste (they tend to use a lot of both here, but go steady until you get a flavour you like).  The locals say it should taste “alegre” which is happy or lively! Add a few ice cubes and leave for at least half an hour so that the mint really infuses the water, then ladle into bowls, lower yourself onto a comfy chair in the shade of an olive tree, tilt your sombrero over your eyes and enjoy.

Go one, give it a go, you might like it!  And it´s a wonderful way of getting your “five a day”…

Orange, Mint and Broad Bean Salad

Mouthwateringly Minty!

The end of the orange season and the start of a spring glut of broad beans and mint means that it´s time here for a refreshing, light and easy salad. 

Most people here have at least a few citrus trees in the gardens, some have tens or hundreds of them.  After three years our lemon tree is now producing more than we can cope with, but we only planted our orange last autumn, so still rely on the good will of friends and neighbours for our supply.  Fortunately, we have very obliging friends and neighbours who keep us in oranges.

When I still went out to buy them, in the early years, I was surprised to be asked in the little local shop “if I wanted oranges for eating?”.  Well, of course I did, what the heck did they think I was going to do with them?  Of course, now that I am a wise old country biddy, I know that oranges are sold for eating (slightly more bitter) and for drinking (i.e. for juicing).  The later are softer, juicier (naturally) and incredibly sweet.  The difference is noticeable and as we eat a lot of salads made with oranges here, it´s worth looking out for the right ones.

This salad can be varied depending on the time of year.  In the autumn, with the next crop of oranges, I substitute the broad beans for pomegranate pips.  Either way, the colours and combinations of tastes are stunning.  This salad goes particularly well with oily fish like sardines or mackerel or with fatty meat like lamb or goat.  As a starter it´s delicious with a plate of salty jamon and another of a salty cured sheep´s or goat´s cheese.  A cold glass of iced dry sherry finishes things off perfectly.

For two people you need:

  • Two or three bitter oranges, skin and pith removed and cut into small chunks
  • About half a cup of fresh broad beans (raw)
  • About 10 mint leaves shredded
  • Olive oil
  • Salt (flakes or coarse sea salt) and freshly ground pepper

Place the oranges on a plate, pouring over any juice that you have collected when peeling them.  Sprinkle over the beans and mint, season and drizzle over the olive oil.  Make the salad about half an hour before eating and keep chilled before serving. 

It´s an unusual mixture of tastes, but it works for me.  Do hope you enjoy it!

Pea, Spring Onion and Mint Soup

 
I´ll have a Pea please…

I think I´m still about bit confused as to whether it´s Winter, Spring or Summer here in Andalucía.  The calendar says May, so I´m thinking Spring.  Last week we had torrential rain and had to light the fire again in the evening.  Yesterday I was sunbathing and gardening and the temperatures reached the high 20´s.  No wonder I´m feeling a little confused.

Soup always fits the bill, especially for a light supper.  Warming when you want it to be, chilled when you need cooling down and always very comforting.

Saved...from the compost heap!

We still have the last of our Spring Onions in the garden which have grown to enormous proportions. Big Man is going to pull them up as the last few are pretty tough, but the centres are still incredibly tender, so I thought I´d save a few before they ended up on the compost heap and turn them into a soup.  A quick nip outside the back door led me to my beautiful mint which has really taken off again after its winter rest and a trip to the freezer for some frozen peas and I was almost set.

Now, Big Man claims not to like peas, so when I first made this soup for him I told a porky and said that it was made with a mixture of broad beans and peas.   Once he had declared it “delicious, you must make this again” I confessed and it´s become a bit of a favourite.  Our broad beans are now ready to eat, so perhaps next time I´ll make the “true” version and see which one we prefer.

The serving I made fed two accompanied with plenty of crusty bread and is equally good served piping hot or icy cold.

I have a saucepan which I know makes a perfect serving for two, so measurements are a bit vague for this one I´m afraid.   Will try to explain!  Ingredients used were:

  • Just under half the pan full of frozen peas (a cup and a half approx)
  • A potato the size of my clenched fists (I don´t have big hands – if only the rest of me was in proportion!)
  • 2 very large spring onions, including the green stems cleaned and chopped
  • About 10 large mint leaves
  • Water
  • Seasoning

This is quick and also very low fat (well, no fat actually), so also good if you´re watching the waistline.  Which I really should be doing, but hey, back to the cooking.

I had a ready cooked potato left over from some potato salad – I cook them in their skins and then peel them and tend to keep these in the fridge as a staple.  If you don´t have a ready cooked one, peel, cube, boil until tender and then drain.

Put all your ingredients into a saucepan, season and cover with twice the volume of water (or vegetable stock) and bring to the boil.  Cook for a few minutes until the peas are done and then leave for another few minutes to cool down slightly. Check and adjust your seasoning.

Then all you need to do is to blitz it with a hand blender and it´s ready to serve.  Quick, delicious and easy!

Nearly ready

I´ve also served this with cubed jamon (or you could use lightly fried lardons or diced bacon). If you wanted a creamy version you could swirl in some cream or yogurt just before serving.  A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the top just seems to finish it off perfectly.  No photo of the finished dish I´m afraid as we were clearly too hungry and forgot to take one!  Enjoy…