In the Kitchen with Laura
One of the things I miss most given I’m abroad is having the liberty to cook whatever I want at any time in my household kitchen. I’m always watching cooking videos or reading food blogs online, so I especially miss the part of being able to scurry over to the kitchen to try out a recipe minutes after watching a video. That being said, I have loved getting to know Laura as a person through her food and cooking; as she cooks, I often sit at the kitchen dining table to talk to her and ask her about the recipe. So many of the recipes she makes are ones that have been documented by her mother and grandmother. She even has a special cookbook of vegetarian recipes in Spanish cuisine that she uses mostly to make me dishes or try out new plant-based dishes. I want to document some of the dishes she has made for me over the course of my time here, as some of my fondest memories with her are accompanied by the many conversations we had while whipping together dinner.
Here are some of the most common items Laura prepares for me. Below is a brief description of all the dishes present in this picture.
Grilled Tofu - Often, my family here eats meat barbecue-style grilled on a skewer. Instead of using meat for me, Laura substitutes the meat for tofu that is heavily seasoned with fresh regional paprika (giving it the bright orange/red color). The picture above features grilled bell peppers and onions on the skewer as well in addition to tofu.
Migas - One of my most favorite dishes from Spain, migas is made of day-old bread (that is often a little stale); it is probably best described as toasted bread chunks with peppers, onions, and garlic. Laura always serves migas with a fresh fried egg doused in olive oil. Migas are featured on the top left of the picture collage.
Ensaladas - We often eat salads once or twice a week, and each time, they are prepared differently. All of Laura’s salads are made with a lettuce base, baby tomatoes, and corn. Apart from this, she usually adds some sort of nut and different toppings such as olives, croutons, raspberries, dill, and oregano. We usually eat these salads with fresh olive oil and vinegar as a dressing.
Lentejas - Lentils are very commonly consumed in Spain, with Garbanzo beans (they are called garbanzos here) being a very popular dish served as a soup. Most of the lentil dishes are cooked as a simple soup with boiled carrots and onions, and this meal is almost always accompanied with a side of bread.
Empanadas - One of the best Spanish dishes, empanadas are a kind of turnover usually stuffed with a tomato filling and some sort of meat. In my case, Laura omits the meat and serves me empanadas with a tomato and veggie filling.
Tartaleta de Acelgas - This one is certainly not a nationwide dish, but it is something we often consume, as it was a recipe taught to Laura by one of her vegetarian friends. This dish calls for a pastry crust with a rich filling made of chards and onions.
Salmorejo - This rich tomato soup is one of the most typical Spanish dishes with origins in Andalucia. Almost always served cold, this soup made of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, bread, and salt combines the most typical ingredients of Spain to create a rich and flavorful dish. Laura serves us salmorejo with crumbled hard-boiled egg as a topping.
Apart from the dishes we usually eat as main meals, Laura also boasts a wide knowledge and experimentation of desserts. While I’ve certainly eaten more desserts than the ones pictured below, these have been my favorites thus far.
Tarta de Marivi - This cake has a funny name (Marivi’s cake) because the recipe of this cake comes straight from Laura’s mother’s handwritten recipe book. Laura explained to me that Marivi was an old lady in her village who experimented with cakes. This cake (much in resemblance to a cheesecake) is a no-bake recipe with a creamy filling of yogurt and heavy cream with a granola crust and a homemade strawberry jam as the topmost layer.
Bizcocho - One of the best Spanish desserts, Bizcocho is a traditional Spanish sponge cake made with yogurt and either lemon or orange zest. Laura prepares this one occassionally as an evening snack, and sometimes, the girls even eat a trocito (slice/piece) of this cake in the mornings with fruit before going to school.
Flan - Flan is a rich custard dessert with a decadant vanilla flavor popular all over Spain. Laura has only made this dessert once, although we’ve consumed this more than once at restaurants.
Palmeras de Hojaldre - This one is a pastry shaped as a heart made with a flaky tart crust. This one does not have its origins in Spain, but Spain certainly provides a wide and vendable market for this one.
Above is a sequence depicting the steps of making a tortilla española, commonly referred to as a tortilla de patatas here. While I’ve seen Laura make this dish more than once, I have not been able to transcribe her recipe exactly as most of the quantities are eye-balled by her and every time, she varies the recipe a little (whether it be how long the eggs/potatoes cook or the thickness of the omlette). I will be posting a recipe for this before my time here ends, but as for now, I wanted to include this sequence of steps, as it does accurately depict Laura in the kitchen :)
I did not expect to miss the act of cooking more than the food itself back home. Apart from being a necessity, food is something that fosters communal bonding. As I’ve explored Spanish culture through its gastronomy, I’ve been lucky enough to have many conversations about the regional cuisine, not only helping me practice my Spanish but also allowing others who are passionate about food to teach me what they know best. Laura has definitely been one of those people who is very passionate about the food she makes, and given she is an excellent teacher, her patient and thought-out explanations all the more endear the dishes she prepare for me. I hope to look back at this post in the years to come not only to see the things I ate while abroad but to also remember again fondly the many conversations I’ve shared in the kitchen with my Spanish mother :)