La Reina de la cocina

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“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” -George Bernard Shaw

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As a little kid, I used to say I ate to live, not lived to eat. I obviously didn’t understand the definition of life.

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Oh so much has changed since the days when I ate nothing but chicken fingers, cheese sandwiches on white bread, and ice cream. I’m now lactose-intolerant and can no longer stomach fried foods. Consequently, I am a much more adventurous and healthy eater. One of my favorite parts about studying abroad was trying all the amazing different foods as you probably have noticed because I always include photos of my meals on here.  Well get ready to be overloaded with food pics because this post is dedicated entirely to la comida española.

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Every morsel of food shown in the photos of this post was made by “La Reina de la cocina,” the Queen of the kitchen, Carmen. I was blessed to have been assigned to live with the best cook in all of Spain. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but really, every night I came home to what tasted like the best meal of my life and then the next night I would sit down at the dinner table and think the same thing again. My food experience in Spain was what it was because of this amazing woman. We used to say her food tasted so good because it was made with love.

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We’ll begin with a basic. Above is la tortilla española. You can find this at just about any restaurant in Spain. It is a common rookie mistake to look at a menu and order a tortilla thinking you’re going to get a flat round piece of wheat or corn flour like those in Mexico. As you can see, the only trait these two tortillas share is their shape. A traditional tortilla española is made from eggs, slivered potatoes, and finely chopped onions. It is like a cross between an omelette and a quiche and I miss it very very much. Tortilla was my go-to food at any Spanish cafetería, but no matter how many I tried, none could compare to my host mom’s.

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While we’re on the topic of eggs, let’s discuss el plato cubano, the Cuban Plate. Two eggs over easy, rice, tomato sauce (sometimes containing meat like in this picture), and a slightly caramelized banana. This may sound like a ridiculous combination, but whoever came up with it is truly a genius. The components work as well together as peanut butter and jelly. This is an easy meal to put together if you have some leftover tomato sauce and want to try something different and delicious!

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Paella is probably the most well known Spanish food and it holds a special place in my heart. Whether it’s made with seafood, chicken and chorizo, vegetables, I love it. It has to be made right though, so the saffron rice is cooked to the point when it has the perfect balance of softness and crunchiness. I would do crazy things for an authentic deep dish of paella right now.

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If only Carmen didn’t hate airplanes…

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Spanish food is made to be eaten, not looked at; so even though this chicken may not be very aesthetically appealing, I promise the moment it touches your taste buds you will reconsider. This is el pollo con la salsa de miel, chicken with honey sauce aka the most delicious chicken ever. This one’s a plate licker people.

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Carmen served the chicken with los guisantes, peas. I have (or should I say had) never been much of a pea fan. Sure, I eat them when they’re put in front of me, but never before in my life had I eaten an entire bowl, asked for more, and then craved them on a weekly basis. The peas are cooked with olive oil, finely chopped onion, and el jamón serrano, Spanish serrano ham. Spain has a national obsession with ham. I’m pretty sure you can’t walk into a grocery store and find rows of ham legs hanging from the ceiling anywhere else but España. Spanish ham is nothing like American ham. If anything, it’s closest to prosciutto, but in my biased opinion it’s even better. It goes great on sandwiches, with peas, and even with melon (jamón y melón is a popular appetizer. It’s an interesting way to do sweet and salty).

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I was always a plain pasta kind of girl. The pasta sauce above was my introduction to eating tomato sauce. The orange specks are actually carrots and the sauce is more oil based than tomato based.

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In Spain, meals are typically three separate courses. The first course consists of vegetables, the second is some form of protein, and the third is dessert. A fresh loaf of bread is always served on the side. It was strange to Carmen that my roommate and I preferred to eat our vegetables at the same time as the meat. The above picture shows a variation of las judias verdes, a typical green bean dish. They are the best cooked green beans I’ve ever had.

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When there weren’t cooked vegetables, and even sometimes when there were, Carmen would prepare me a small salad. Above is a huge salad she made when my roommate’s parents visited. Perfect with Spain’s famous olive oil.

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This made for an interesting appetizer one day. I’m pretty sure it’s eggplant, even though it’s light colored, with chicken in tomato sauce on top.

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Here are some examples of main courses. This was some kind of meat stew.

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Pork with a tasty sauce.

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Traditionally, Spain follows the Mediterranean diet, which consists of lots of olive oil, vegetables, and seafood. If you need to know anything about my eating habits, it’s that I could happily eat seafood every day of my life. Lobster has been my favorite food since I was two-years-old, no lie.

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El pescado con la salsa verde, fish with green sauce, is one of my favorite fish dishes of all time. Once again, please don’t judge it by how it looks. My parents can affirm how delectable it is because I had my host mom make it for them when they came for a visit.

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This is another combination of ingredients that you think wouldn’t work well, but do: rice, shrimp, hard boiled egg, ham, pepper, and apple.

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Las lentejas, lentils, are a popular winter Spanish food. I had never really eaten lentils before, but I liked them in this soup.

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Carmen loved making fresh vegetable soups and I loved eating them. This particular crema de verduras paired well with the sprinkled goat cheese on top.

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This is traditional sopa castellano, Castilian soup. It had a unique flavor that’s difficult to describe. I especially loved the pieces of soaked bread and egg that were in it.

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When it came time for our last meal in Spain, I knew exactly what I wanted to request: los garbanzos fritos, fried chickpeas. Carmen would take cooked chickpeas and heat them in a skillet with olive oil, onion, garlic, and el chorizo, Spanish sausage. I’ve always been a fan of hummus, but this dish takes chickpeas to a whole different level.

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As for dessert, nearly every night until it went out of season, I would eat el melón. It came to the point when my host mom would say to me, “Amy, eres melón” “Amy you’re melon.” It’s different from any melon I’ve ever had in the U.S. Its formal name is piel de sapo, which literally means toad skin, but everyone in Spain just calls it melon. It’s sweet, juicy, and refreshing for those warm Madrid days.

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A special treat was el bizcocho, cake. She made all kinds of varieties: fruity, chocolatey, lemony. This cake is famous among the women that work in the SU Madrid office.

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 There you have a brief summary of my meals at Carmen’s throughout the semester. She’s the reason why I returned home weighing a bit more than when I had left, but I will never regret a single calorie.
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