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).
One of my favorite cooking shows out there is Chopped. The competitors are asked to make a dish in a short amount of time from a basket of random, miscellaneous ingredients. Their crazy, innovative creations always inspire me to cook and whip up some spectacular dish of my own. I had always thought it would be fun to enter a Chopped-like competition but never thought I’d get a chance to until recently.
To celebrate Earth Day, our school hosts a Celebration Fair, where many student groups set up booths and activities related to Earth Day. A student group called Real Food Hopkins hosted a “Veg Fest” competition, where 4 student chefs competed to see who could make the best vegetarian dish. They gave us the list of ingredients a few days beforehand so we could come up with a recipe (a bit more time than they give you in Chopped). The students then prepared the recipes the night before the competition to hand out as samples to students at the fair. On the actual day of the fair, we cooked our dishes in front of everyone and had the judges taste them.
The list of ingredients they gave were: beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, kale, fingerling sweet potatoes, white button mushrooms, and French shallots. After tossing a few ideas in my head I thought of creating a twist on the Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich by using a veggie patty filling. This was a completely original recipe and actually turned out pretty great the first time I made it. I used the same recipe for the competition and although I didn’t win, the sandwich got some rave reviews from friends and students for being “creative and delicious.”
- 1 cup carrots, peeled intro thin strips
- 1/2 cup radish, chopped into thin slivers
- 1/2 shallot, chopped into slivers
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups fingerling sweet potatoes
- 2 cups white button mushrooms, chopped into small bits
- 1 cup red kale, chopped into small pieces
- 1 red shallot
- olive oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 egg
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3 French baguettes (8-in long)
- salt and pepper
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce or Srirarcha
- In a medium bowl, mix together rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Using a vegetable peeler, peel outer layer of carrots and discard. Then continue peeling into long, thin strips. Using a knife, thinly slice radish into small circles. Thinly slice shallots. Add the carrots, radish, and shallot into the vinegar bowl and stir. Let stand at room temperature.
- Boil water in a large pot. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into small cubes. Steam sweet potato cubes for 15 min, until tender when poked with a fork.
- While sweet potatoes are steaming, peel and mince shallot. Roughly chop mushrooms and kale into small pieces. In a medium pan, sauté shallots. Then add mushrooms and kale. Stir for about 5 minutes, until cooked well.
- Transfer the steamed sweet potatoes into a bowl and mash well with a fork. Add the mushroom-kale mix and mash together. Add soy sauce, egg, and breadcrumbs and mix well. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Using hands, form sweet potato mix into small ½ inch balls. Press gently to flatten.
- In the same pan as before, heat oil to medium-high heat. Add the sweet potato discs and fry on both sides until dark golden on the outside (about 30-60 sec each).
- Cut baguettes horizontally. Mix mayonnaise and hot chili sauce together. Spread on the bottom inner side of the baguette. Add sweet potato discs and top with the pickled carrots, radish, and shallots.
One of the many reasons to look forward to weekends is the farmers’ markets. There is one every Saturday that is about a five minute walk from where I live. I got pretty excited when I recently found out that Baltimore has two bigger ones downtown so I routinely try to convince any friend with a car to bring me with them. There’s something special about waking up early and strolling over to the market on a brisk, Fall morning.
The markets are always bustling with people and there is usually someone playing music – everyone is cheerful and relaxed, unlike the stressed-out, in-a-hurry people you see at the supermarket. It truly is a shopping experience like no other, where you get to taste samples of fresh fruits, sip on stellar coffee, and swoon over delicious looking pies and pastries.
After recruiting some friends to join me at the markets, I always start by getting coffee and something to munch on, like biscuits. Then I’ll peruse the stands and get my vegetables and fruit for the week. It’s amazing to see the variety of produce that are available and I always end up buying something I wouldn’t typically buy at the grocery store. This past weekend, there was a notably larger amount of squash. Acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, of all shapes and sizes, were scattered around the market. There was even a mini pumpkin patch!
I’ve only bought and ate spaghetti squash once before but I impulsively decided to buy one that day. Spaghetti squash is a freak of a food and by the name, you can probably guess why. It’s technically a vegetable but when cooked, the inside resembles spaghetti. Although it doesn’t exactly taste like spaghetti and doesn’t have quite the same satisfaction as carbs, it is a fun vegetable worth trying. It can be baked or microwaved but I microwaved it for convenience.
SPAGHETTI SQUASH W/ CHUNKY TOMATO SAUCE
1/2 spaghetti squash
3 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Use a knife to cut into the squash 1/4 inch vertically from top to bottom and on the opposite side. Use a fork to poke some holes in the squash for ventilation. Place in a baking dish and microwave for 5 minutes.
Using a dish towel or oven mitt, take dish out of microwave. Use the knife to cut the stem off and then completely cut squash in half vertically. Place squash halves back in tray, skin-side up. Fill tray with 1 inch of water and then microwave for 5 minutes. (Caution: squash will be hot!)
To make the sauce, heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add garlic and onion and stir until tender.
Add tomatoes and oregano. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Use a fork to rake out the spaghetti strings from the squash. Keep the spaghetti in the squash or put on a plate. Top with tomato mixture. Sprinkle on freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Recipe adapted from Food.com