Come to the Table: Spanish bar crawl souvenir

A new column: Chef Gayle Squires offers her unique recipes that she's collected from travels around the world.

June 4, 2012 20:23

Salmorejo 370. (photo credit: Gayle Squires)


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This new and exclusive column will feature unique recipes from around the world inspired by the travels of the writer. All recipes are kosher.

Spring in southern Spain is as you would expect spring to be – a lot of drizzle, a shy sun, and weather that changes as often as a teenager’s mood. But these late spring days before hordes of tourists swarm the city is the time of year when Seville is most hospitable to visitors seeking to sample its flavors. The trams and buses are crowded; the horse-drawn carriages are not. Chalk-drawn multi-lingual menus do not yet dot the sidewalks. Hosts and hostesses do not yet beckon passing pedestrians. Chefs do not yet need to accommodate an array of special requests. The food is honest and the service is friendly.

A bar crawl is the way to go, sharing a handful of tapas – snack-sized dishes – and then moving on to the next tapas bar.

The Spaniards know how to fry, which comes in handy when the sky is gray, the air is damp and patrons huddle inside. They perch on stools or lean against the bar and start with patatas bravas, - “brave potatoes” – pan-fried potato chunks peeking out from under a spicy sauce. Eventually everyone gleefully falls down the deep-fried rabbit hole to indulge in croquetas. Looking deceptively similar to large tater tots with their deep golden hue and craggy texture, these nuggets are filled with everything from béchamel cream sauce to oozy cheese to spinach to tuna to ham.

Even if, because of dietary laws, you don’t partake  in tasting jamón – the haunches of dry-cured ham that hang from the ceiling of every tapas bar in town - the ritual is worth watching. With each order, a long, thin, flexible knife is pulled out from behind the bar. The knife is whetted and honed and then expertly slid through the meat, yielding slices as thin as the paper that wraps the lox that emerges from the counter at Zabar’s. The knives are sharpened so frequently that they only have a six- to nine-month lifespan, the wall behind the bar a collection of retired relatives who have given their lives in service.

Once the weather clears up, crowds wander out to other nearby watering holes. They gather under the ever-strengthening sun around large upended wine casks. After a quick swipe with a dishcloth, the tables are set with small dishes of briny olives that, quickly consumed, give rise to a whole new set of cravings for cool dishes heated only by spice. On order are bowls of gazpacho, a chunky liquid salad drowning in a vibrant red pool of juices, decorated with a splash of olive oil, and often surrounded by small plates of diced pepper, tomato, and cucumber for sprinkling.

A variation on gazpacho is salmorejo – a cold, tomato-only soup thickened with day-old bread and spiked with a good dose of garlic. Garnished with diced egg (and, traditionally, ham) this smooth, orange-colored potage offers a hearty and filling course to top off your tapas tour. Regardless of which soup is eaten, most Sevillanos (including the children) wash everything down with tumblers of tinto de verano, the red wine of summer, a refreshing mix of red table wine, lemon soda, and seltzer.

If you can’t get on a plane fast enough to fly to Seville this spring, make salmorejo in your own kitchen, invite a crowd, and eat the cold soup under the sun with a few glasses of tinto de verano.

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