Cauliflower and garlic salad (also known as ‘ensalada de coliflor‘) is quintessentially summery, at least it always reminds me of this time of year. This is simple, rustic and good home food, usually served as a side dish or as a starter. The cauliflower florets are boiled or steamed enough for them to go soft but still have some bite. The bulk of the flavour comes from the garlic and the lemon which play together to create an intensity of flavour that is hard to rival with so few ingredients. One way to cook the garlic is to thinly slice them and cook them over a gently to medium heat. This will caramelise them and make them crispy and crunchy giving a difference in texture to the salad. The garlic needs to be cooked until they go golden, if you over do them then they will end up being bitter. The lemon at the end lifts the whole dish. Cauliflower and garlic salad is usually made as a side dish together with other salads and can be made in advance.
This is probably the most basic of salads and side dishes of the cuisine of southern Spain but it is very typical and popular, both at home and when eating out. This side dish is many times served with fish, but being vegetarian I like to do this when cooking ‘fake meats’ on the griddle as it provides a taste of the familiar but is also a very healthy salad packed with flavour. It is important to use good quality tomatoes that smell good and ripe; there is no point using tasteless, pale looking and generic ‘salad tomatoes’ they sell in many supermarkets. Typically the green peppers used are the frying kind, which taste very similar to green bell peppers, so whichever you can find is fine. Salad onions and spring onions around these parts tend to be as big as medium onions so please bear that in mind since I know spring onions in many other parts of the world are small. If you can’t find these large salad onions then use a medium mild onion such as red onion. If you are already familiar with piriñaca and want a twist on it you can try using cherry or kumato tomatoes for extra sweetness and intensity of flavour, or you could always chuck in some mild red chilli slices for some heat. In many parts of Spain they add some cucumber to this which goes well too, but I like to stick with the original for these parts.
Spanish omelette is so popular because it is a simple dish, it is tasty and traditional, however vegans in Spain have been making this without eggs for some time. It may seem like a bit of an impossibility but using chickpea flour gets the texture quite close to the regular version and using black Himalayan salt gives it an eggy taste. Black Himalayan salt, or kala namak, can be found in health stores. It has a distinct taste of cooked egg yolks and this is due to the sulphur content of the salt which is of volcanic origin. Sulphur compounds are what give eggs their distinctive taste, so using this salt when substituting eggs in savoury dishes makes sense. If you don’t have this salt or you can’t find it where you live then don’t worry too much. You can add some Himalayan pink salt or a pink of turmeric for added flavour and colour. it really isn’t the end of the world.
So is this just like the regular Spanish omelette? Well, it’s close. I like it, it’s a nice change that I think non vegans would enjoy eating too. If you want to avoid eggs because of health reasons (cholesterol) then this is a very viable alternative. This recipe is inspired on this vegan Spanish omelette video by Centro Dietético Víquez.
One of the typical summer salads not only in Gibraltar but also Andalusia, is a roast pepper salad also known as ‘pimientos asados‘. This is usually served as a side dish or as an accompaniment to various other tapas and ‘raciones‘. You can make this with only red peppers, although I like to use both red and green peppers as they each have their own individual flavour. At supermarkets here you can actually find packets of roasted peppers ready to use for this salad, however making it from scratch is quite easy. However if you are in a hurry, ready roasted are perfectly fine to use (in fact I use them all the time). It is best to use large bell peppers for this as they are nice and fleshy. You can also use tomatoes with this salad and even roast them with the peppers but I find it is perfectly fine without it. This is summer in a plate and tastes even better the day after, so the salad can be made in advance.
‘Tortillitas de pasas‘ is a favourite sweet in Gibraltar being one of our traditional sweets of Spanish origin borne from a time when ingredients were scarce. Every family has it’s own way of doing them. Some make them fluffy (as in this case), others are less so, but there is no right or wrong way of doing it. Some people cover them in sugar, others in honey, although my family recipe covers them in golden syrup which makes then sticky, sweet, soft on the inside and impossible to just have the one. It consists of a batter of a slightly thicker consistency of pancakes but it is fried in hot oil. The result is a fritter which is not oily and is lovely and sweet. These are best eaten on the day and not made too far in advance otherwise.
Spanish omelette is pretty much ubiquitous in Gibraltar and Spain, a firm favourite at any time of the year but especially so in the summer. In Gibraltar it is known as ‘torta papa‘ which is a slang term for it’s Spanish name of ‘tortilla de patatas‘. This is a very simple dish that consists of potatoes, eggs and onion although there are several steps to make it. There is no need for other vegetables and especially not chorizo (aside from being vegetarian I am horrified every time I see British cooking programmes add chorizo to anything and everything every time they want to cook something remotely Spanish). Spanish omelette is the perfect pic-nic food, and I usually have it at room temperature with salads, so it is perfect to make in advance. Some people make it runny on the inside but I prefer the eggs to be set. It is served by either cutting into wedges and would normally yield 8 portions, or you can chop it up into bite size squares and put a toothpic on each portion and it immediately becomes finger food, fantastic for sharing. This dish is vegetarian, so if you are making a BBQ your veggie friends will love this. For vegans there is also a vegan version that can be made which is equally delicious.
This may seem like a rather unlikely combination and I do have a tendency to use fruits in my salads for a sweet element, and the flavours in this salad contrast and complement each other quite well. First we have the crunchy apple, the pungent and piquant blue cheese and the smooth and soft butter beans. The beans don’t actually have much taste but they do give a nice texture and are an important source of protein. Also depending on the salad leaves you use you will get some pepperiness (such as rocket) or a smoother rounder flavour (such as watercress). One note about the blue cheese is that not all are suitable for vegetarians. Usually this is indicated somewhere on the label (or in the nutritional information). As a rule of thumb Italian and French blue cheeses are not suitable for vegetarians because of how they are made. However some brands of Stilton, Danish Blue and German Cambrazola are clearly labelled as suitable for vegetarians.
This is a salad I have making quite a lot recently because not only does it have fresh flavours but it also has interesting textures which makes eating this salad a complete joy. First you have the watermelon which may seem a bit unusual to include in a salad but it gives a lovely sweetness which does not overpower the rest of the ingredients. Then there is the feta cheese which is salty and crumbly and gives a nice contrast to the watermelon. The mint elevates the flavours to another level and the chilli contrasts the coolness of the mint flavour. All in all your taste buds will be singing and dancing and because it is a salad it makes for a light meal which is also good on the calories. Here in Gibraltar we tend to get spearmint (hierbabuena) sold in the supermarkets and food stalls, although mint will work just as well. It is important to rinse the feta cheese block under running water to remove extra saltiness (this tip was given to me by a Turkish friend of mine so I trust it and it works).
A few weeks ago I posted a picture on Instagram after I was given some amazing sweet and crunchy green beans, wondering what to do with them. My good friend Görkem who I lived with at university gave me her recipe for a Turkish dish called Taze Fasulye, so I decided to make it given I love Turkish food. Incidentally another foodie pal suggested making a Greek dish called Fasolaika and it turns out they are both pretty similar. This recipe is so simple and tasty, with just a few ingredients you have a meal that is finger licking good, which is the essence of Mediterranean food. I like green beans which are flat as they are sweet and crunchy and retain a good texture when cooked. The regular rounded green beans will also work although will probably need less cooking time. This dish is usually served with rice but I think with the potatoes it has it can also be served as an all in one dish. The original recipe calls for 1 tbsp of Turkish red pepper paste (biber salçasi) which is simply red peppers cooked down and made into a paste, and whenever I go to London I like to buy a few jars and bring them over. However you can simply replace this by finely dicing a large raw or roasted red pepper (piquillo peppers work very well, use about 4 since they are quite small) and adding smoked paprika.
Now that the weather is getting warmer and I am trying to lose some kilos before beach season starts it is time to turn to salads as a way to have a light tasty meal. This salad is ridiculously simple and easy to make, however it has one unusual twist and it is that it has raw butternut squash. Usually this vegetable is baked or used in stews or soups but it is quite nice raw as well. It is crunchy and sweet, almost melon-like in flavour. It gives the salad a very nice contrast both in texture and in taste to the earthiness of the puy lentils and I like to offset this with some heat from a mild chilli pepper and some freshness from the coriander and lime dressing. It makes it a lot easier if you buy already coked quinoa and puy lentils (I buy them cooked and mixed in a packet – no shame in that!). I believe in convenience when it is a healthy choice and make no apologies for it! 🙂