Deep Andalusian mishmash

There’s something really special about eating in Andalusia. It’s not just the fresh ingredients and amazing produce but the style and the way the food is presented.

Andalusia (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
 Andalusia is a land of living traditions, with its curious mishmash of Jewish history, Moorish majesty and Roman relics alongside its Spanish charm and indelibly beautiful backcountry, where gushing rivers carve canyons in the mountains. With its beautiful, white mountaintop villages, it is hardly surprising that Andalusia remains one of Spain’s most visited regions.
The large province, comprising the southern third of Spain, bears the imprint of a history at once awe-inspiring and heartbreaking. A thousand years ago, the area was known as Al-Andalus, a tolerant and erudite Islamic caliphate where Jews and Christians were, for the most part, treated with kindness and respect at a time when most of Europe was sunk in barbarism.
Here the great philosopher Moses Maimonides was born and lived much of his life, contributing greatly to both the Jewish community and to the general welfare of the Jews in Andalusia.
Today the government of Andalusia is attempting to make amends for the Inquisition, a self-destructive spasm of fanaticism which, by driving both Jews and Muslims from these shores, contributed to Spain’s decline from the greatest power on earth to a sleepy backwater.
There’s something really special about eating in Andalusia. It’s not just the fresh ingredients and amazing produce but the style and the way the food is presented, the sacredness of the mealtime, the socializing that takes place around it, and the pride behind its roots. Thus, some world-renowned dishes stem from the gastronomy of Andalusia.
One of the most famous dishes in Andalusia is paella, served deep in the white villages of the countryside, around the towns of Ronda, Ubrique and Gaucin. It is usually prepared with wild mountain birds, and always placed in big, brown ceramic bowls in the center of the table for the guests to serve themselves.
A much-enjoyed dessert, similar to flan de huevos, is crème caramel; and crème brûlée, or Catalan Cream, is very popular in Andalusia. It can be prepared in advance and is therefore practical to make, but does require two or three hours of refrigeration before serving.
Finally, I want to share with you my family’s haroset recipe.
Happy Passover!
Serves 12
■ 3 red apples
■ 3 ripe bananas
■ 250 gr. roasted peeled almonds
■ 250 gr. roasted peeled hazelnuts
■ 250 gr. roasted peeled walnuts or pecans
■ 10 prunes, pitted
■ 10 dates, pitted
■ 500 gr. sugar
Place all the ingredients into a blender to achieve a thick mix, but check that the nuts have been well ground.
With the sugar, make a syrup (put sugar into a small pot and, covering it with water, let it boil until you have a very sticky syrup), quickly add all mixed ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours. At the Seder table, before starting, add one glass of dry red wine to the haroset and mix well.
Serves 6
■ 5 ripe tomatoes, peeled
■ 1 large cucumber, chopped
■ 1 red pepper, chopped
■ 1 small onion, chopped
■ 2 garlic cloves, chopped
■ 2 slices whole-wheat bread (optional)
■ ½ cup mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro)
■ ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
■ ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
■ Salt and black pepper, to taste
Peel the tomatoes and put them into a blender, then add the onion, garlic and peppers and mix until you achieve a very creamy consistency.
Moisten the bread in water and add to the creamy fresh vegetables, and mix again. The mixture should be very creamy, like the one in the photo. Once ready, add half a liter of cold water and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
Before serving, add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
I served my gazpacho in the photo with chives, red onion and fish roe, but you can also serve it with chopped boiled eggs, tuna, olives or even capers.
Serves 6
■ 1 large chicken (cut into 12 pieces)
■ 1 medium-size onion, chopped
■ 1 medium-size green pepper, chopped
■ 2 medium-size ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
■ 6 garlic cloves, chopped
■ 2 bay leaves
■ 1 glass dry white wine
■ 1 cup white risotto rice
■ 1 liter chicken stock (can be prepared with leftover bones and giblets)
■ ½ glass extra virgin olive oil
■ 100 gr. peas (frozen are the best for this recipe)
■ Salt and black pepper to taste
Place a large pan over high flame and heat the oil. When hot, brown the chicken pieces, until browned on all sides, then put them on a plate. Add to the same pan the onion, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and bay leaves, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Once all the vegetables are browned and soft, add the wine and green peas.
Cook for 7 minutes. When you have a good sauce going, return your chicken pieces to the pan, and cook for a further 15 minutes. Then add the rice, salt, pepper and chicken stock, cook for 20 minutes and remove from heat.
Immediately place rice and chicken into a ceramic bowl and into a hot oven, approximately 210°C (410°F), for about 15 minutes, to allow it to finish cooking in the oven. Place in the center of the table for all your guests to help themselves.
Serves 6
■ 1 cup granulated sugar
■ 4 egg yolks
■ 1 Tbsp. corn starch
■ 1 stick cinnamon
■ Grated rind of 1 lemon or lime
■ 2 cups whole milk
Beat egg yolks and ¾ of the sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl until the ingredients are thoroughly blended and the mixture is frothy. Then add the cinnamon stick and the grated lemon rind. Next, pour in the milk and cornstarch and slowly heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken.
Once thickened, remove immediately from the fire or the mixture will curdle. Ladle it into 6 individual small ceramic containers. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.
Before serving, sprinkle the remaining sugar over each of the 6 containers and place under a very hot grill for 3 minutes, until the sugar on top becomes dark brown.
Serve with fresh berries and vanilla ice cream.