This summer I spent 2 wonderful months in the north of Spain where I was doing research on the Mediterranean diet. While I learned about the Mediterranean diet and its many benefits through my work, the best and most delicious way I learned was through eating…a lot. For two months, I happily feasted on the finest jamón (ham), tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelette), and pintxos (small tapas). The hardest part was getting used to the late meal times – lunch at 2 pm and dinner at 9 pm!
Some of the most striking differences I observed between the Mediterranean diet and the American diet were 1) very generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil, 2) an abundance of fruits and vegetables, 3) less red meat, and 4) smaller portion sizes. I noticed that there were little stores that only sold fruits and vegetables located on almost every street corner. In the little neighborhood I stayed in, there were 4 of these stores in less than 10 minute walking distance! In Spain, people love to take their time to eat with friends and family. Meals can last for hours, until midnight even! At work, unlike in the US where many people have sad desk lunches, co-workers take the time to eat together and socialize. The Mediterranean diet isn’t just about the food, it’s also about the lifestyle. During my time there, I was lucky enough to try many unique Spanish foods such as Basque cuisine, croquetas, San Jacobos, and one of my favorites, salmorejo.
Most people have heard of the famous Spanish chilled tomato-based soup called gazpacho. It is from the south of Spain (Andalucia) where it gets very, very hot during the summer. However, many people haven’t heard of salmorejo, which is also a chilled tomato-based soup from southern Spain (Cordoba). Salmorejo is thicker and creamier compared to gazpacho, mostly because of the addition of stale bread. Another difference is that salmorejo is usually topped with hard boiled egg and ham. I prefer salmorejo because of the creamy texture; it is absolutely perfect in the summer!
- 8 plum tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 small onion
- 2 tbsp sherry vinegar (or cider vinegar)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder (optional)
- salt and pepper
- 3 slices stale whole-wheat bread
- 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
- Iberian ham, chopped (optional)
- Core and seed tomatoes and then chop into quarters. Some recipe use tomatoes without the skin but I left them on.
- Add tomatoes, garlic, onion, sherry vinegar, olive oil, chili powder and salt and pepper into a blender.
- Purée until smooth. Then start adding pieces of the bread and blending until it gets to a creamy, thick consistency.
- Pour into bowls and top with chopped eggs and ham (I left out the ham for a vegetarian dish).
With another new year ahead of us, I decided it’s finally time for this blog to get a makeover. I changed the theme so that the layout of the blog is more minimalistic and highlights the photos cause it’s all about the droolworthy photos after all, right? One of the changes I am most excited about is the Recipe Card at the end of the post that includes a Nutrition Facts panel! So check out the fancy, informative panel and in the meantime bear with me as I tweak some final changes to the layout of the blog.
Other than playing around with the blog, I’ve been at home happily relaxing and lounging, cooking and eating. I’ve also been reading a book I got for Christmas called The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (from Serious Eats). It’s a huge book (seriously like a textbook) full of Kenji’s wise knowledge about basic cooking skills/techniques and the food science behind it. He has searched for the best methods to cook things such as the fluffiest pancake or the juiciest burgers through scientific experiments. For example, in the pasta section, he found that adding some of the starchy pasta water back into the pasta and sauce mixture will help the sauce stick better to the pasta rather than using regular water.
This week, our friend Ernie (who you may remember from our Summer Peach Pie adventure), shared with us how to make a rich, meaty Italian bolognese sauce. I’ve made bolognese sauce by myself at school once but it was a way more simplified version that required less manpower and patience. This version is one of the more advanced recipes on this blog that you should courageously tackle with a friend or two or set aside a nice chunk of time for. Either way, it will be worth it!
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 1/2 small carrot
- 1/2 small onion
- 1/4 cup pancetta (Italian bacon)
- 1 can whole tomatoes
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 clove garlic
- 3/4 lb meat loaf mix (group beef + veal)
- 1 link Italian sausage (casing removed)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- Rigatoni pasta
- Microwave 1/4 cup of water and dried porcini for about 1 minute. Let the mushrooms soak for 5 minutes until soft. Drain and save mushroom water for later.
- In a saute pan, reduce 3/4 cups of dry white wine to about 1/3 cup. Save for later.
- Using a food processor, pulse carrot and onion together.
- Cut pancetta into 1 inch pieces and pulse in a food processor.
- Pulse the can of tomatoes in food processor until finely chopped.
- In a saute pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter. Add pancetta and cook for 2 minutes, until browned.
- Stir in vegetable mixture and mushrooms for 5 minutes, adding a clove of garlic.
- Add meat loaf mix and sausage with casing removed. Cook until meat mixture is well broken down.
- Add milk and cook until the liquid is gone and meat is sizzling (20 minutes).
- Add tomato paste, tomatoes, mushroom liquid, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.
- After 15 minutes, add reduced wine and cook for a few more minutes.
- Serve with pasta.
Food trucks are awesome because they are usually fast, cheap, and convenient. Earlier this week, several food trucks came to our school to serve food at a carnival-like event we had for the freshmen. My friends and I all happened to order the same sandwich, an avocado and bacon grilled cheese. Although the wait was exceedingly long, the sandwich was absolutely delicious. Putting avocados in a grilled cheese sandwich…ingenious.
I made a much healthier variation of that amazing grilled cheese sandwich by replacing the bacon with tomatoes and using whole wheat bread. It tasted even better! It was less salty (because there was no bacon) and the tomatoes gave it a burst of freshness. The way the melted cheese and avocado blend together is an unparalleled combination.
I made the sandwich using a pan, which heated the sandwich perfectly so that the outer bread layers were well toasted and the cheese was just melted. The heat didn’t get to the avocado or tomato so they still tasted fresh and uncooked. This sandwich takes only 10-15 minutes to make in total so it is definitely a great option for making lunch in the dorms!
AVOCADO AND TOMATO GRILLED CHEESE
2 slices whole wheat bread
1 tsp olive oil
2 slices American cheese
1/2 tomato, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
Brush olive oil on one side of each slice of bread.
Lay oiled side of a slice of bread face down. Layer cheese, tomato, avocado, cheese, and other slice of bread with oiled side up.
Heat pan to medium heat and place sandwich on it. After 2 minutes, flip it over and wait another 2 minutes. The bread should be toasted brown and the cheese should be melted when it is done.