The Saffron Girl » A Paleo-Primal food & travel blog from Spain

The Cookbook

Ditch the Wheat, 120 Paleo Recipes for a Gluten Free Lifestyle by Carol Lovett, the author of the Paleo blog Ditch the Wheat (ditchthewheat.com).

First Impressions & The Book’s Offering

As Carol states, this is a cookbook with a simple mission: “To encourage and empower everyone in their journey to find good health, good taste, and to enjoy each bite along the way.” She further emphasises that as you flip through the pages of Ditch the Wheat, “I want you to laugh with me as you read stories, feel inspired as I offer advice, and know – above all – you do not have to sacrifice. With every page I want you to feel as good in your body as I do…[even though]…that wasn’t always the case.”

Carol battled health issues for many years; and it was thanks to her doctor who one day said to her, “Why don’t you ditch the wheat?” that she finally took charge of her own health journey and changed her life forever.

Ditch the Wheat is a beautiful book, where Carol explains her story, how she was inspired to overcome her health issues, and what route she’s taken to do so using the Paleo lifestyle. The book is filled with practical information on the Paleo diet (many points which to me were quite insightful even after three years on my own Paleo journey and countless hours spent researching), how to avoid gluten and other allergens when food shopping and eating out, and how to shop sustainably and toxin-free even when looking for seafood (I bet you don’t know the difference between wild and wild-caught, right?).

Carol also provides useful, practical, and very helpful advice on basic cooking tips from which even the seasoned home cook can learn and a number of tricks to make Paleo baking a success, specifically using coconut flour! (Hint, think: coconut flour pie base, grain-free bagels, crackers, hamburger buns, pizza crust, and a grain-free lasagna that will actually surprise you with the ingredients.)

There are two very exciting chapters for the beginner, one on basics such as ghee, salad dressings, aioli, butters, bone broth, and other sauces; and another on fermentation, both food and drinks. Kombucha and homemade, dairy-free yoghourt never sounded easier I tell you.

Ditch the Wheat includes an entire chapter on breakfast essentials with innovative ideas, there are plenty of recipes for starters (including the smoothest looking liver pâté), there are soups & salads, a chapter on sides, and the chapter on mains includes many recipes for fish and seafood (something generally overlooked in other Paleo cookbooks and blogs). And of course, there’s a section on desserts, from which I’m sharing a recipe today.

Cooking From Ditch the Wheat

Swedish Meatballs, page 228
Garlic-Roasted Cabbage, page 270
Herb-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, page 276
Chocolate Chip Cookies, page 306 (recipe below)

Out of the 120 Paleo recipes from Ditch the Wheat, I tried the four above. I’m an awful food planner waiting to the last minute to decide what I’ll be making for dinner. Thus settling on things that are easy with the ingredients I have on hand tends to be what underpins my meal decisions.

Having said that, I actually had to plan Swedish Meatball night, since I don’t normally keep ground pork at home. However just the thought of recreating Carol’s beloved Ikea experience (which resonates with me) at home was worth it! Yes, these are like those succulently tasty meatballs one can get at Ikea, but actually better and healthier. Plus, I had enough to freeze as well, so I’ll have them ready for when the urge strikes again!

The Garlic-Roasted Cabbage was the first recipe I tried. I had just received the book from Carol for this review. And I had a large red cabbage sitting in the fridge sort of hiding in the back. I’m not sure who was more weary of whom, whether the cabbage of me or me of the cabbage. I don’t like cabbage you see. But I still buy and use it for variety of nutrients. And thus, I searched the index in the back of the cookbook and found what is a delightfully easy way to prepare this pretty, colourful vegetable. It has become my go-to recipe for red cabbage, aside from this Borscht I made recently. I must confess I did make one slight modification. The recipe calls for 2 cloves of garlic. But I’m from Spain and two cloves just doesn’t cut it (I hope Carol takes no offence). So I added a few more! The cabbage came out crispy like chips just like the recipe promises. Delicious.

Herb-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. Here’s another super easy side dish that cannot go wrong with anyone in the family. I mean, who doesn’t love potatoes? Add herbs, garlic, and your fat of choice, and you’re in food heaven. I make these all the time, generally alternating between butter and Spanish extra virgin olive oil.

And lastly, I indulged in a sweet treat. I’ve not had chocolate chip cookies in a while, so why not? These Chocolate Chip Cookies are not too sweet, just crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside, just as a chocolate chip cookie should be. And because they are so good, I get to share the recipe with you right now!

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Ditch the Wheat, by Carol Lovett

1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, thoroughly whisk together the almond flour, arrowroot starch, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the coconut palm sugar, coconut oil, egg, and vanilla until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated. Use a spatula to stir in the chocolate chips.

Using two soup spoons, drop the dough in roughly 1-inch portions, spaced 2 inches apart, onto the prepared cooke sheets.

Bake, one sheet at a time, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms and edges of the cookies are lightly browned and the tops feel firm when gently touched. Let cool on the cookie sheet for at least 1 minute, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Could The Book Be Better?

I have a few more recipes bookmarked to try ASAP such as Coconut Flour Pancakes, Apple Butter Chicken Liver Pâté (I’m drooling over this), Grain-Free Tortillas, and Yuca Hash Browns. So that sort of tells you what I’m thinking about Ditch the Wheat. 

Concluding Thoughts

Overall just lovely. And Carol is true to her word in that this book inspires, makes you chuckle here and there, and provides advice on practical Paleo tricks and tips. But it’s not only a complete walk-through of everything you’ll need to embark on (and maintain) your Paleo lifestyle, it’s also a delightful cookbook with recipes that will become staples in your home.

Thumbs up!

Psst: Please don’t miss out on getting your own copy! Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win your very own Ditch the Wheat

Connect with Carol on Social Media

Ditch the Wheat FLASH GIVEAWAY (open to North America only)!! 

(If you are already a subscriber to the blog, please use the two bonus entries to enter.)

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  • HeatherApril 14, 2016 - 19:56

    I could never give it up entirely, but we have decreased the amount of wheat/gluten-containing products we use at home, meaning lots of experimentation. For that and to use with my clients as a dietitian who follow a paleo and GF otherwise wheat-free diet, this cookbook would be most helpful! Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • erinApril 15, 2016 - 00:15

    those cookies look scrumptious! I have no choice but to ditch the wheat! I’ve had crohn’s disease for over 25 years, and it took many years for me to finally come to the acceptance that there was no way to heal unless I did just that once and for all, for the rest of my life! so glad to find so many resources these days to help me with many delicious things to eat!ReplyCancel

  • siegalpaulaApril 15, 2016 - 19:59

    I love cookies with nut floursReplyCancel

  • Cyndi brApril 16, 2016 - 02:16

    Great recipe ideas and giveawayReplyCancel

The Cookbook

The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook by Arsy Vartanian, author of The Paleo Foodie Cookbook, The Paleo Slow Cooker, and the Paleo recipe and lifestyle blog, Rubies and Radishes, and nine other Paleo bloggers: Rachel Ball (Grok Grub), Jenny Castaneda (Paleo Foodie Kitchen), Hannah Healy (Healthy Eats Real), Katja Heino (Savory Lotus), Nazanin Kovács (Naz Kovács, previously Cinnamon Eats), Rachel McClelland (South Beach Primal), Vivica Menegaz (Nourished Caveman), Caroline Potter (Colorful Eats), and Kelly Winters (Primally Inspired).

First Impressions & The Book’s Offering 

Wooza! It’s the most comprehensive Paleo cookbook in print today with over 900 recipes. Everything is gluten and grain free and comes from the talented minds of real, home cooks with busy lives. Each author selected 50-80 of their favourite existing recipes from their blogs and created 10-20 new, original recipes, thereby compiling this incredible collection of Paleo recipes.

The emphasis is on flavour, convenience, and making Paleo as easy as possible.

Cooking From The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook

Chicken Livers with Ginger Sauce, page 152
5-Minute Chicken Liver Pâté, page 150
Simple Beef Stir-Fry, page 36
Blackberry Brûlée, page 365

I tried four recipes from The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook. First, let me say that with the plethora of 900+ ideas from different types of cuisines, selecting what to make at first seemed daunting. However, the cookbook has a very smart index at the back of the book, organised by ingredients. Thus browsing through, I settled on recipes for items that I already had on hand. That’s the magical aspect of this cookbook, there’s a recipe for practically every ingredient you already have in your kitchen.

We love chicken livers, but I tend to make them always in the same, typical Spanish way, which we love but can get boring. When I came across Chicken Livers with Ginger Sauce, the idea of spicing up the flavours intrigued me. And we were not disappointed. The ginger adds a delightful fresh aroma and taste to the livers that basically gives this dish a whole new twist.

And what’s better than using up leftovers in a delightfully new way I had never even thought of before? Well, that’s exactly what I did by using up the leftovers from the Chicken Livers with Ginger Sauce to make a creamy 5-Minute Chicken Liver Pâté! Seriously a game-changer for me.

The third recipe I tried was Simple Beef Stir-Fry. Having half a red cabbage sitting around after making Borscht with Beef the other day, I didn’t know what to make with it. Maybe it’s because I’m not very fond of the vegetable, even though it has such a cheerful and pretty hue. The point is I ran my finger down the page of the index and found some interesting ideas with which to utilise my leftover cabbage. I settled on Simple Beef Stir-Fry because it sounded really easy meal to make; and if you don’t have beef as was my case, you can make it with just about any other meat or poultry you do have on hand. I made it with pork chops, which I cut up into strips. What makes this dish so surprisingly tasty is the delicious sauce made with tomato-paste, coconut aminos, and fish sauce. In fact, I loved the flavour so much, I tripled the sauce recipe to have extra! And my father couldn’t stop saying how lovely it smelled!

The last recipe I’ve tried so far is a sweet treat. I’m one of those persons who have successfully eliminated refined sugars and most sweets from her diet. I didn’t do this purposely or rather consciously I should say. It’s just something that has evolved little by little as I’ve gotten more and more into the Paleo diet. I’m grateful for not having a sweet tooth. But there are some occasions that making a dessert can be exciting and fun. As I don’t have any special occasion coming up any time soon, I thought that it would be a great excuse to make a dessert out of this amazing cookbook.

I chose Blackberry Brûlée for two reasons: one, because both my father and I love flan and this is similar; and two, because I’ve never had a custard-like dessert with fruit baked inside. I didn’t have blackberries, thus used blueberries instead. The results were delectable; and it has just the perfect amount of sweetness. This is one recipe I’ll be making again often, as it’s delicious and surprisingly pretty, perfect for a friendly or family afternoon coffee or tea gathering. Or maybe even breakfast!

Could The Book Be Better?

As most people, I am immediately drawn to a cookbook with photographs. I generally choose a recipe by what it looks like; and then by reading the recipe, I decide if I want to make it.

I like to see what I am going to make is supposed to look like so that I can compare the outcome of my efforts with the desired results of the recipe. However, with over 900 recipes packed into one volume (that by the way is a very manageable and convenient size), it would be extremely hard to fit in a photograph for each and every recipe without making the book double the size and double the price.

Having said that, there are two sections with mouth-watering photographs, totaling 128 of the 900 recipes.

Concluding Thoughts 

The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook is the gluten-free, grain-free, refined sugar-free, dairy-free, and Paleo equivalent of The Joy of Cooking! It’s easy to use with an ingredient-focused index, where there are recipes for just about any ingredient most of us have on hand already in our pantries. And with many of the recipes you can easily make substitutions as I have without altering the essence of the recipe. It’s definitely worth adding this amazing volume to your collection of Paleo cookbooks!

Thumbs up!

Psst: Flash Instagram Giveaway!

I will be hosting all weekend a flash giveaway on Instagram, where one lucky winner can win a copy of The Ultimate Paleo Cookbook and a copy of Paleo Green Smoothies! So, go over to my Instagram page and enter the contest today! Good luck.

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If there’s one place in the world that I could say is on my proverbial ‘bucket list’, that’s Russia, that land that was once prohibited to Westerners, the land shrouded in mystery and spy stories, the land of an intensely resilient people who have survived hardships most of us cannot even imagine, and the land of snowy Siberia.

The mere thought of standing in the famous Red Square in Moscow and seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion-top domes and Byzantine architecture and being feet away from the Kremlin, I know will one day make me giddy with glee. I will have to pinch myself to believe what my eyes will be seeing.

I’ve been close to Russia twice. Once, physically when I visited Finland and Tallinn in Estonia. I could’ve stepped over the border … but it wasn’t meant to be back then. And the second time was at the ‘Houghton Revisted‘ art exhibition in Norfolk. Seventy pieces from Catherine the Great’s art collection at the Hermitage returned home for the summer in 2013. Sir Robert Walpole, Great Britain’s first prime minister had been the owner, but due to the family fortune being gambled away by one of his grandsons, the family was obliged to sell off a lot of its art. And Catherine the Great was at the right place at the right time with enough money to take advantage of the Walpole’s misfortune.

Russia has always held a romantic place in my heart. I’ve read countless stories about the Romanov family, I’ve read some of Tolstoy’s works, I’ve fallen in love with the tale of Anastasia, I’ve fantasised about the white nights of St. Petersburg, and have been mesmerised by Dr. Zhivago.

I think I fell in love with Russia when I was a child and read a series of travel books that I used to check out from my school library. I was so entranced with the stories that that was pretty much the only shelf in the library that I used to visit. I recall devouring the tales about the adventures around the world of the little boy and little girl protagonists, who were always dressed in the traditional style of each country they visited, and feeling tremendously excited with anticipation that I would one day also visit all these places. The stories fueled my dreams and my wanderlust.

However, if I cannot yet go to Russia, in the meantime, I can bring a little bit of Russia to me in the form of food. I’m not sure why I was inclined to try this dish all of a sudden, but I have to admit I was delightfully surprised.

Borscht is a supposedly a Ukrainian (not Russian) dish, at least according to my Russian friend André and all the research I’ve done. André, who left what was then the Soviet Union in the early 90s to come to America, has promised to find out the origins of this recipe for me, if I in return can tell him the history of gazpacho and lentejas. As you can imagine, I think we will both be left in the dark …

If you’ve never made borscht before, you’re in for a spectacular experience. You may want to lock all the doors to your house, as the aromas emanating from your kitchen will have your neighbours inviting themselves over for lunch or dinner … Borscht has got to be one of the most deliciously fragrant meals I’ve had in a long time.

The combination of the sweet onions and beetroot, braised beef, and tart cabbage make for an intensely hearty meal that is a real delight for the senses. It’s not only delectable to the palate, but it’s really pretty to look at with its bright reddish-purple colouring.

And maybe best of all, it’s incredibly easy to make.

Borscht with Beef

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 min

Ingredients

750g (about 1 1/2 lbs) stewing beef, cut into cubes
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 beetroots (save the beet greens), peeled and grated
beet greens, chopped
1/2 cabbage, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large or 2 small leeks (the white and slightly green parts), sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white or red wine
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon dry parsley
1 teaspoon vinegar
6-7 cups filtered water

Method

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent, about 10 minutes stirring frequently. Add the beef, increase the heat to medium high, and brown on all sides, stirring occasionally. Add the dry parsley and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add the wine and reduce, about 2 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, add 4 cups of the water and the sea salt, and cook covered for 1 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the vegetables. Once the meat has cooked, add another 2-3 cups of water and the vegetables all at once. Cook for 30 minutes, covered. Add the vinegar and stir before serving.

Scullery note: My friend André says that borscht should be served with some freshly chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream. I had neither at home, but if a true Russian recommends this, I will give it a try next time.

By the way, I’d like to share with you that I have some wonderful surprises coming to the blog, which include a few Paleo cookbook reviews and two awesome giveaways. So, please sign up to follow my blog and stay tuned…

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I’ve not posted anything since last year November, so first things first: Happy New Year 2016 & Happy Chinese New Year! May it bring us all good health, happiness, and prosperity.

Yesterday the air was crisp, and the sky was so blue it seemed as if someone had taken a brush to paint it just perfectly so. There was not a cloud in sight. And the sunshine was so warm that it encouraged me to take off my jacket and walk about in short sleeves, something that normally at 14C I wouldn’t be doing. As Kiko (our mini schnauzer) and I got closer to the forrest we go through every day, we were greeted by yellow and blue butterflies bouncing around us and a couple of tiny little birds, whose feathers were iridescent in the rays of the sun, and who startled by our steps flew quickly away, chirping. I had the fleeting sensation of being in a Disney fairytale …

I’m still in northern Florida and the winter couldn’t be any more idyllic. The trees are already starting to bloom, signaling that spring is near. We all know that winter (or any season) is not the same around the globe. But when one’s surroundings are so picturesque and the sun is so warm, it’s so easy to forget that right now up north or across the ocean, there’s snow on the ground and freezing temperatures.

Some years ago, I lived in Germany, where winter is synonymous with snow … and other magical things.

Hanau, Genauso, & The Brothers Grimm

It was five minutes till ten o’clock in the morning, when I stood outside the café of the serene, red and white Schloss Philippsruhe. I really needed a coffee as I was battling jet-lag and had a full day ahead of me of house hunting. The shoppe-keeper, who was clearly perturbed, reluctantly came to attend to my incessant tapping on the glass door of the café only to inform me that ‘Wir sind noch nicht geöffnet!‘ As my dumbfounded look must have clearly given away that I had no clue what he was trying to tell me, he pointed to his watch and put up one of his hands indicating the number five, and mouthing the words ‘Fünf Minuten‘. Alas! I was too early. And he had absolutely no inclination of opening up that door before the exact time. So with that message now clearly conveyed, he turned around and shooed me away with a flippant hand gesture, reiterating – you know just in case – I had to wait five more minutes. Of course, by this time, it was more likely only two minutes until opening time … but who was counting?

The year was 2008. And it was sometime in late June. And thus I was not only introduced to the Hessian summer weather, with a slight chill in the air – similar to the temperatures we are experiencing currently in northern Florida, but also quickly initiated in the precise notion of genau (exactitude). This was my second day as an expat in Germany, the land of castles, delightfully quaint villages, green forrests, and fairytales. I was giddy with excitement and couldn’t feel more at home. (Occasionally, I’ve been told that I am more German than the Germans …and although it wasn’t necessarily meant at a compliment, I proudly took it as one… and maybe it has a lot to do with my ancesteral blood calling. All four of my paternal great-grandparents hailed from Prussia and Austria.)

As I stood there on the steps of the schloss and had literally a couple of minutes to spare until I was allowed into the café, I wandered off to the park around the corner, whose luscious green expanse is caressed by the flowing waters of the River Main in one of the most romantic settings in Hanau.

Hanau itself is not a particularly pretty town, as it’s full of typical square 60-70s style post-war buildings and what used to be the old American military base that is now the Wolfgang Industrial Park.

But Schloss Philippsruhe is situated in the more picturesque suburb of Kesselstadt. And as I was forced to wander around the grounds of the schloss park, admiring the natural beauty, being lulled by the sound of the river, and greeted by the chirping of birds, I had no clue I was walking in the footsteps of Hanau’s probably most illustrious sons and exports, the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Their fairytales have been translated into many languages, adapted into more sanitised Disney versions (the Grimm versions are rather grim – pun intended), and are oftentimes topic of controversial psychological analyses. But in the end what we all love about them is that good overcomes evil, they allow us to dream and believe in magic, and ‘happily ever after’ seems attainable.

The brothers Grimm were not only storytellers. They were also the authors of the Deutsches Wörterbuch, the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary. However, they only made it to the letter F … ending very fittingly, albeit not purposely, on the word Frucht (fruit) before they both passed away.

As anyone who has read a fairytale knows, fruit and food in general are conspicuously and inconspicuously present throughout all or most of the stories. From Snow White’s poisoned apple, to the pumpkin that is turned into a carriage by Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, to Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house, to Jack climbing a beanstalk, to the beautiful princess in Princess and the Pea, whose sensitivity to feel a pea under a mountain of twenty mattresses is the key to her happy future with the prince, food plays varying roles in the characters’ lives just as it does in ours.

Once Upon A Table

One could argue that what takes place in the kitchen and on the kitchen furnaces is magical and mysterious. After all, a cook is one who transforms simple ingredients into tasty dishes and succulent meals. Oftentimes, a large dose of creativity is beneficial. There are numerous myths and legends surrounding many of our every-day dishes of today, such as who can claim to be the original inventors of mayonnaise, with some placing its origins in Mahon, Spain, and others claiming it’s a French invention, or why the first Pizza Margherita was created. As with most things historical, it is sometimes hard to discern the truth from folklore, just like a fairytale.

I am particularly partial to traditional foods. For one, they are prepared and eaten with the seasons; and two, they are generally more nutritionally balanced. I am always intrigued by the history of dishes and love to learn why we eat what we do today. In my quest for recipes with a historical context, traditional foods come first. Some sadly have almost disappeared from our recipe books and tables, such as is the case with this ‘spineage’ pie, which I recreated in a Paleo version.

Having spent most of my life in Southern Spain and having had a Spanish mother, my favourite recipes tend to be Andalusian in origin, such as the two I’m sharing below. The Andalusian cuisine is highly influenced by what is available locally (so it varies somewhat from province to province), and also by our mixed cultural heritage with its rich Moorish background and our ties to the New World via the exploratory expeditions that were launched from Huelva.

Traditions from Huelva + Cádiz

Huelva is the southernmost province bordering Portugal, whilst Càdiz is the southernmost province in Andalusia. Cádiz city is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain, having been founded by the Phoenicians, who called it Gadir. (People from the city are known as gaditanos.) And from the tip of Spain in Tarifa (‘the surfing capital of Europe’) in the province of Cádiz, one can see the Atlas mountains in northern Africa. The history of both provinces are closely linked to the discovery of America and numerous seafaring adventures.

Both Huelva, from where Columbus set off on his many expeditions, and Cádiz are known for their exquisite and tasty seafood. The white gamba (shrimp) de Huelva, the langostinos (large tiger prawns) de Sanlucar de Barrameda, the erizos (sea urchins) de Cádiz, ortiguillas (sea anemone) and galeras (mantis shrimp) de Chipiona, camarones (krill), and chocos are some of the most popular.

Chocos (cuttlefish in English – google chocos de Huelva to see what they look like) are a mollusk typically found on the coasts of Huelva, where my mother was born. People from the city and  province are oftentimes colloquially called choqueros, which shows how significant this mollusk actually is to the history, culture, and economy of the area. One can find chocos all year round in practically every tapa bar or restaurant – typically cut into rings or pieces, lightly dusted with flour, then fried in extra virgen olive oil, and sprinkled with coarse sea salt before serving. They are related to calamari (squid), but have thicker, tastier, and more delicate meat.

My father who loves chocos in any version recently discovered that BJs carries 5oog-packages of frozen, wild-caught calamaris. And well, one entire shelf of our freezer is dedicated to them now.

Inspired by my visit home this past summer where I divided my time between Chipiona (my hometown), Sevilla, and Huelva (where I got to spend a week with my aunt and uncle on the seashore), I’ve been making a lot of guisos (stews). These two recipes are traditional fisherman dishes of which almost every home cook in my little corner of Spain has his/her own version. And figuring out how they came about is as easy or difficult as tracing the history of the local fishing industry and the history of the potato (Columbus sailed from Huelva to the New World and most of the expeditions returning to Spain dropped off their bounty in the Port of Sevilla – the potato was first introduced to Europe via Spain) or figuring out when the first legumes were cultivated in Spain … the origins may be as elusive as they are mythical.

For the Papas con Chocos, I asked my uncle to ask his wife how she makes them since they eat this dish about once a week; and I got to enjoy it from her kitchen a number of times this summer. Mine is a little variation on her version. The chocos or calamari are cooked until they are mouth-watering tender. That combined with the spices and the potatoes that are cooked to just about falling apart creates a delicate stew that is satisfying and delicious. A true peasant meal.

For the Habas con Chocos, it is traditional to make this dish with fresh faba beans and not much else. Again, the chocos are cooked until they are mouth-watering tender. As I wanted to have a more nutritional version, I added chopped mustard leaves, which also gives the dish a nice peppery flavour.

Both are delectable, filing, easy to make, comforting, and very economical. And now, maybe even a little bit legendary.

Papas con Chocos
(Potatoes and Cuttlefish -or Squid- Stew)

If you can find cuttlefish, I highly recommend using that instead of squid since the meat is more tender and succulent. Nonetheless, squid imparts the delicious, distinctive flavour this dish is known for, as well.

Serves: 2-3
Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 1 hour 50 min

Ingredients

500g (1 lb) squid
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large (or 2 medium) tomato, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish pimentón (or sweet paprika)
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
a pinch of saffron sprigs (about 8 or 10)
1 bay leaf
4-5 cups filtered water

Method

For the squid: If you buy fresh, clean and gut. Rinse well and cut the body into rings. Then cut into bite size pieces. Cut the tentacles into bite size pieces too. Set aside. (If using frozen, thaw out, and rinse. And cut into bite size pieces as just described.)

In a medium sized pot, pour in the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and tomato. Cook over medium heat about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the white wine and reduce, about 2 minutes.

Add the squid, pimentón, salt, saffron and bay leaf. Stir well. Add 2 cups of the water and cook over medium heat for 60 minutes, covered.

Add the potatoes and the rest of the water and cook covered for an additional 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost falling apart tender. During the cooking time, watch the stew so the liquid isn’t reduced too much; and add more water as necessary. You should end up with a nice, stewy sauce, which the potatoes thicken up. Remove the bay leaf from the stew. Serve in soup bowls.

Note

In Spain, it is traditional to mash the potatoes with a fork in the bowl, thereby mixing them with the sauce.

Scullery notes

To peel the tomatoes easily, simple boil enough water in which to place the tomato/tomatoes. Once the water is boiling, place the tomatoes inside and turn the heat off. Allow to sit in the water for a couple of minutes, then drain. Make sure the tomatoes are cooled before handling to avoid getting your hands burned. Peel with a sharp knife. You can also use canned tomatoes.

Habas con Chocos y Hojas de Mostaza
(Calamari with Lima Beans & Mustard Greens)

Serves: 2-3
Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 50 min

Ingredients

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup white wine
500g (1 pound) calamari o cuttlefish
1 teaspoon Spanish pimentón (paprika also works)
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 bay leaves
300g (c. 12 ounces) lima beans
5 cups mustard greens, chopped
4-5 cups filtered water

Method

In a medium pot over medium heat, pour in the olive and add the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

In the meantime, prepare the calamari. I used a frozen packet. If you do too, make sure you thaw it out completely. Rinse, drain, and cut the calamari into rings (if they are not already cut for you), and then cut the rings in halves. If you have the tentacles as well, cut those in half so they are not so long. Set aside.

Once the vegetables are ready, add the wine to the pot and reduce about 2 minutes. Make sure to stir a couple of times. Now, add the calamari pieces, the spices, sea salt and bay leaves. Give it all a good stir so the calamari are well coated with the pimentón. Add 2 cups of filtered water, stir again and cover. Cook over medium heat for 60 minutes.

Add the lima beans, chopped mustard greens, and the remaining water. Add more water if necessary while it’s cooking. The stew should have plenty of liquid, but not be a soup. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes or until the beans are tender.

Serve in soup bowls.

Scullery notes

1. Mustard greens are full of nutrients and have a delicious peppery flavour. However, if you cannot find them, you can also use kale, turnip greens, or any sturdy leafy green. If you substitute with something like spinach, remember you only need to cook that a couple of minutes and you can use the heat of the stew to do it. So add after the lima beans are done, cover the pot and turn the heat off. The spinach will cook in the steam in about 4 minutes.

2. I used both frozen calamari and frozen lima beans. Fresh are also fine, in fact better. For the lima beans, there’s no need to thaw out. If you can find fresh faba beans, use those instead as their flavour and texture are more delicious.

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Florida vs London

The rain was coming down in torrential buckets after the stifling heat of the day, enticing my curiosity to go outside and observe nature in the tropics. In Florida the rain is different to that in London, where moments before I had been transported by the prologue of the book I’ve just started, Capital. Here at this latitude, it is almost always accompanied by a fanfare of thunder and cracking that makes one realise the heavens can be quite ferocious and nature has no friends (as we say in Spain).

Rain in Florida is crude and raw. And sometimes finicky. It can vary from a permanent sheet of water that lasts for hours to intermittent vicious downpours that last minutes and then open up the skies to a brilliant, intense sun the next moment.

In London, the rain is more elegant, refined. The skies are more considerate and less noisey, almost as if apologising for being English, ‘I’m sorry, but you know it’s just me again’. It happens often with no discrimination of season. But rarely will it put you out on a grand scale.

London is selective even with its show of creatures. There’s the urban red fox who has unwillingly been pushed into the city (because humans have taken over their natural habitat) and the surprisingly enchanting sight of the exotic green parrots who have made the banks of the Thames their home, possibly defying Mr. Darwin himself at that latitude.

In contrast, Florida’s creatures lurk in crevices, are in constant motion that makes one’s vision continuously do double-takes. The ubiquitous lizard that comes in a variety of sizes and shades of green and brown (as if one size fits all is not enough variation for this little critter) is harmless but nonetheless never seizes to startle me. There are snakes that slither in front of you popping up out of nowhere. There are huge cockroaches that appear in the most inconvenient moments. There are teeny, tiny frogs that show up inside your house unannounced…and dead. (Leaving one to wonder just how did it get inside in the first place when all the doors are shut? And why is it lifeless? Did something else bigger and scarier bring it in?) And of course, there are those monstrous demons called alligators croaking in the swamps, patiently waiting for their prey. Their guttural sounds warn of their presence on Kiko and my daily walks, making our excursions a little uneasy.

Heat Wave in November

There once was a year that I spent Christmas and New Years in the Rivera Maya, Mexico. I remember posing for a picture in front of a huge gaudily, but joyously decorated Christmas tree in a central plaza in Merida, dressed in shorts and sandals and revelling at the marvel of summer at Christmastime. For someone from Spain like myself, there is something uncanny about this, kind of like observing a Dalí painting, where your mind has trouble wrapping itself around reality and surrealism.

Back then I lived in NYC and escaping to the sun-drenched, immaculately white beaches weighed more heavily with me than snuggling up to a warm fireplace surrounded by my loving family and traditional holiday fare. The exotic won.

Fast forward about ten years and once again I find myself at a similar latitude in the tropics and in a similar season. However, this time around I’m longing for the mundane, as we are experiencing temperatures in the mid 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) with a humidity that makes taking a step outside unbearable. Plus, at this point, I’m slightly perturbed that I can’t wear my Ugg boots or the snood I made for myself last Spring.

Time for Cuchareo

At more reasonable latitudes in the northern hemisphereit’s that time of year when the mornings are brisk and the evenings even more so. And the days are chilly too, maybe even down right properly cold. It’s time for scarves, jackets and coats, and dusting off the boots. It’s a time of year that generally gives us a reprise from the long, hot summer days and brings us shorter ones with the promise of winter and holidays.

I am a person who easily bores, and therefore the seasonal switch suits me perfectly. Contrary to many, I welcome most change enthusiastically and excitedly. I take delight in new experiences and new things. As for seasonal changes, I love the variation of temperature, I enjoy the new gifts with which nature surprises us, and I dive wholeheartedly into the opportunity to change my wardrobe and in definitely being able to wear some footwear a little more restricting and warmer than a flip-flop.

They say be careful what you wish for. Last winter in Connecticut with record snow storms, I was wishing for sun and heat. I got the perfect combination this summer in my beloved Andalusia. But now, residing in Florida, I find myself longing for some chill in the air, for an excuse to wear my comfy winter robe and slippers, to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa whilst reading a good book, and to allow myself to be mesmerised by the glittery sparks of a fireplace. Yet, I’m rather ‘forced’ instead to enjoy the incredibly high temperatures (and humidity) that we are experiencing and live with what seems like eternal air conditioning.

I don’t mean to complain, after all not many in the northern hemisphere can relate to enjoying a swim in the pool or going to the beach in early November! Nonetheless, as I don’t foresee being granted my wishes any time soon, I’ve turned to creating a bit of autumn in the kitchen instead. Food is such a comforting lifesaver in all situations. Isn’t it?

Growing up in Spain, one of my favourite dishes was anything to be eaten with a spoon, which translates to pottages, stews, soups … colloquially we call it cuchareo from the word cuchara which means spoon. Typically the season of cuchareo starts when the first chill can be felt in the air, which should be just about now …

This potaje de calabaza is hearty, delicious, very easy to make and a meal in itself. Without the fish, it could be a starter. And if you cook the pumpkin in advance, you can make the soup in just under an hour.

Potaje de Calabaza con Col Rizada, Dorado y Beicón
(Pumpkin Pottage with Kale, MahiMahi and Bacon)

Serves: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 45 min

Ingredients

2 1/2 – 3 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
5-6 handfuls of chopped, cleaned kale
1 cup lima beans (optional if strict Paleo)
1 large filet of MahiMahi (or another thick, white fish)
6-8 cups of filtered water
1/4 cup white cooking wine
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4-6 slices of bacon
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curcumin/turmeric
sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

In a large pot, cook the bacon slices. Once done, remove the bacon from the pot and place on a paper towel. Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the celery and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Pour the white wine over the celery and onion and reduce, about 3-4 minutes. Add 6 cups of water, the pumpkin pulp and spices, excluding the sea salt and pepper*. Stir well. Add the kale and lima beans and cook covered over medium heat for 30 minutes or until the kale and beans are tender, adding more water if necessary. Stir occasionally.

For the fish: I prefer to slightly sauté with some butter or olive oil it in a pan before adding to the pottage, just a few minutes on each side. This makes for a flakier fish. Using your hands, tear chunks apart and add to the pottage. Cook another 1-2 minutes longer.

(You can also cook the fish directly in the pottage. Cut it into chunks and add to the soup, cooking about 4 minutes until done.)

*Season the pottage to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and give it a stir.

Pour into soup bowls and sprinkle some torn up bacon bits over each bowl. Serve immediately. (Another nice touch is to add some grated hard Manchego just before serving.)

Scullery notes

(1) If you’re using frozen fish, make sure to thoroughly thaw out before cooking to avoid excess water and ensure it cooks through properly.

(2) I used frozen lima beans (I hadn’t eaten them in years and I’m thrilled with the buttery texture!). I didn’t thaw them out as it’s not necessary. If you’re lucky to procure some fresh ones, all the better!

(3) Depending on the size of your butternut squash, you could have enough for two recipes. For freezing, I like to bake the squash and mash the pulp into a bowl, the same in which I later freeze it. To use frozen pulp in the pottage or a soup, simply thaw out thoroughly prior to using.

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  • Ceri JonesNovember 6, 2015 - 09:03

    A lovely recipe and a collection of photos to bring your descriptions to life. Being that warm this time of year is I’m sure bit confusing for those more used to the far northern of the northern hemisphere! Great to see you putting your camera and cooking skills into action.ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlNovember 6, 2015 - 18:31

      Thank you Ceri! It was fun taking some time ‘off’ to explore and take photos. It’s a pretty area and it deserved a mention on the blog, although yes, it’s hard to get used to warm weather all the time. 😉ReplyCancel

  • Becky Winkler (A Calculated Whisk)December 18, 2015 - 12:44

    This cuchareo looks delicious, and I love your gorgeous photos of Florida! I just went for the first time ever in August for the wedding of one of my best friends, and am hoping to visit again soon since she and her husband just moved to Aventura.

    I am a constant seeker of warmer and warmer weather, but there is something nice about having a few cooler days in fall and winter. Maybe cranking up the AC for a bit before making something like this would do it? 😉ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlDecember 18, 2015 - 14:02

      Hi Becky!

      Yes, I guess that could work to generate some chill in the air and be forced to put on a sweater! 😉 For now, I’m enjoying the heat at what is an unnatural timing for me. Sometimes it’s soothing to the soul to have these incongruences… I hope you get to visit again soon.
      Debra xxReplyCancel

  • SabineDecember 25, 2015 - 14:51

    I so enjoyed reading through this post and be transported to autumnal Florida straight away from my beloved Paris on a grey Christmas holiday. Merci!ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlDecember 26, 2015 - 21:43

      Thank you Sabine. Merci a toi pour lire mon blog! Debra xxReplyCancel

  • […] bet you’ve never had pumpkin, mahi-mahi, and bacon at the same time. You […]ReplyCancel

  • […] bet you’ve never had pumpkin, mahi-mahi, and bacon at the same time. You […]ReplyCancel

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