A Spanish Salad

36 Comments

Ah, the Spaniards. They can do some mighty fine things with the beautiful assortment of ingredients available in Spain. From the beautiful array of seafood to the luscious produce, and their jamon and Manchego…..

But honestly, Spain is the first country in which I was culinarily challenged. And it really took me by surprise.

Everyone has become familiar with tapas, and I was so excited to try them out in Spain, instead of in a restaurant. But it was perhaps because we didn’t hang around the bigger cities, but instead, as is our usual protocol for traveling in Europe, headed to explore the countryside and the villages. And in the little restaurants where we ate, there were certainly tapas out, but they all appeared to have been sitting around for days. And, they moved. I witnessed a lot of snails in red sauce, moving. Sea snails. Not what I expected, and not what I wanted. Call me chicken.

And the most common breakfast involved rubbing garlic on toast, followed by rubbing a tomato half over the garlic, and then topping it with an anchovy. Yum. Not. I mean, as a snack, sure. But as a breakfast?

So throughout our journey, which took us through the provinces of Castilla, Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia, I stuck with salads – mostly seafood salads or ensalada mixta as they’re often called. And they were always fantastic.

This salad is a version of one I enjoyed when we were on the eastern coast of Spain along the Mediterranean. In spite of all of the fresh seafood available on the coast, my salad came with canned tuna, but it was good.

And since that trip I discovered that there is definitely higher quality canned and bottled tuna available if you just look for it. The best tuna, called bonito, comes from Italy and Spain. You can also buy tuna loin, ventresca, and tuna belly, which all come from anatomically different tuna areas. I haven’t experimented with all of them, but I’m sure they’re less dry than typical canned tuna and more tender.

For this salad today I’m using canned tuna belly from Sicily. I thought this particular one was from Spain, until I looked at my photo! Oh well, I hope you enjoy this simple salad!
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Spanish Tuna Salad, to serve 1

1 1/2 or so jarred roasted red bell pepper pieces, or 1 red bell pepper, roasted and peeled
1 serving canned or bottled tuna, I used 4 1/2 ounces of tuna belly

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1 hard boiled egg, sliced
Salt, pepper
Olive oil, I used Spanish Arbequina oil*
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Red wine vinegar
Olives, I used Kalamata olives

Drain the roasted red bell peppers on paper towels. If you desired, rinse them in cool water first.
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On a plate, arrange the pieces of roasted red bell pepper,
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Top the red bell pepper pieces with your tuna.

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Add the egg slices.

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Season with salt and pepper, drizzle oil and vinegar over the salad, then add some olives.

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* I had just recently purchased this Arbequin olive oil because while staying at Parador de Cardona in the Catalon region of Spain I fell in love with the little Arbequin olive. I probably ate my weight in these olives. Unfortunately this oil isn’t as good as I thought it would be, but it’s still good!

And I must add, that as a starter for our first dinner in Spain, in the old town of Cuenca, that my husband and I got a platter of Jamon Iberica and rosemary Manchego drizzled with olive oil. I could have died happy right then.

36 thoughts on “A Spanish Salad

  1. ooooo. Rosemary Manchego drizzled with olive oil sounds extra divine! This salad looks like a very well put together one plate meal. Oh and I made your barbeque sauce yesterday and it was fantastic. We had it on grilled chicken and we loved it! Thank you!

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  2. I have only had tuna belly once in my life – nothing we can get over here in Sweden, maybe in the bigger cities … on the food markets. And that was in a sandwich in Victoria on Vancouver island .. made from fresh, out of small fast food outlet in the inner harbor.
    This salad looks fantastic … going to do a Salad Niçoise this week … one of my favorites – and I do a very good one, hopefully I will get hold of fresh tuna.

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  3. Very pretty salad. I could not tell what the red was in your photo until I read your article. Lovely flavours and a fantastic diabetic lunch for everyone who needs to watch their carbs. Take care, BAM

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  4. This salad looks really flavorful! The Spaniards had a lot of influence in my country’s cooking. We have lots of tapas and paellas here….

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  5. Ummm – be still my heart, I love this salad. Red pepper is so luscious when roasted. Yum. (BTW, I relate to your culinary challenge when in Spain. The couple of times I was lucky to travel in Spain were in my Eurailpass phase, before my foodie days, and I was absolutely flummoxed as what to eat since all I saw were jamon, jamon, and more jamon and I don’t eat pork meat and I also get very nervous around tapas (it amps up my indecisive anxiety) and so I pretty much lived on coffee (awesome coffee) and bread and cheese and fruit – although in retrospect I can kick my former philistine self.)

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  6. Spanish food is what got me interested in cooking! I’m so glad you wrote this post because although they have so many wonderful fresh ingredients in Spain, canned food is a huge part of their culture and it’s delicious. Most of my favorite tapas come out of a can i.e. boquerones. Great post.

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  7. You’ll have to come hang with us in Madrid. I try to go visit family there as often as I can. Some of the best food on the planet. Unguided, you can easily freak and not appreciate what’s available.

    Sounds like you were in some terrible places if the tapas looked as if they have been sitting around for days. :-(

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  8. “Spain is the first country in which I was culinarily challenged. And it really took me by surprise.”

    Your notes about discovering Spanish cooking brought back some pleasant memories from our own past travels. We also like to rent a car and head for the small towns and countryside, seeking out interesting foods and regional restaurants.

    It was about ten years ago that we were staying in the Rioja wine country. Our Michelin Red Guide informed us that there was a 1 star restaurant in the small village of Viana, not too far from where we were staying. We drove there through the vineyards for lunch on a pleasant day.

    Restaurant Borgia was a small family affair with not more than about ten or so tables. Mom was the chef assisted by one of her twin sons. The other son managed the front of the house and waited on tables.

    The week before, we had visited San Sebastian where some of Europe’s greatest restaurants are located. We had dined at Arzak, Akelarre, and Martin Berasategui, all of which had two or three Michelin starts. We were not expecting Restaurant Borgia to match their quality. We were in for a surprise.

    In this instance we benefitted from a communications error. Our waiter spoke little or no English. I showed him a printed phrase in Spanish that was intending to ask him to identify the chef’s specialties on the menu. He misunderstood and thought we were asking him to “bring on the chef’s best specialty dishes.” What a wonderful mistake that was!

    From that point on we were treated to a parade of dishes and wines that were all among the best we’ve had on the trip. He never asked us to make a menu or wine selection and we didn’t care. The first (cold – Tomates Confiteds) course was a half a fresh peeled and seeded tomato accompanied with grilled corn kernels and a delicious sauce that contained bits of shellfish (hard to imagine but truly great to eat). Our second course was a light and wonderful soup (Sopas de Cebolla). A rather small soup bowl was placed in front of each of us containing a raw egg yolk and a piece of toasted bun. Then we were served a tureen of very hot broth (onion based). The hot broth was ladled into the bowls. The idea was to break the egg yolk and let it cook a bit in the hot broth (yummy). The third course was a beautiful plate with 3 baby artichokes (alcachofes) fresh from the garden and served hot in an olive oil vinagrette with a slice of fresh foie gras and amazingly delicious and wild fresh mushrooms. The main course was a rack of baby lamb served in a wonderful Rioja red wine sauce and accompanied with grilled red and green peppers cut into half inch squares. The lamb was like white veal in color and delicious. The wine was a red Rioja reserva from the Ondarra Bodega which is located about a quarter mile from the restaurant. It was one of the best Spanish wines we’ve ever tasted. Dessert consisted of fresh figs sitting on a bed of fresh local cheese blended with whipped cream and topped with a fresh blackberry sauce. Like all of the other courses dessert was delicious. We were treated to a dessert wine (Pedro Ximenez NEO). We so enjoyed the meal that we asked to take a picture of the waiter and kitchen staff. They posed graciously and were flattered that we liked the food so much (we told them that we’d previously visited the great restaurants in San Sebastian and considered their food to be on par). They loved the flattery and presented us with a gift bottle of locally made dessert wine to enjoy when we return to Texas. This was a really delightful experience and a great meal.

    How do you beat a memory like that?

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