Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Food and Drink in Spain

One of the things I love most about Spain is the food. Simply cooked, with quality ingredients, and healthy as you want it to be, since it’s low on fat and high on flavour. And the drinks are so cheap too! Look out for recipes and restaurant reviews, but you’ll only get positive stuff here. If you want to share a recipe, or you’d like a review for your restaurant, get in touch, and I’ll do what I can to spread the love about Spanish food and drink.

Home made guacamole – so easy!

Home made guacamole
Home-made guacamole – so quick and easy!

I love guacamole, and a few days ago, I came across some reduced avocados in Tesco. So I decided to have a go at making my own. I mean, how hard can guacamole be? Pretty easy, as it happens. There are lots of recipes around – some straightforward, some with a list of ingredients as long as your arm. Since I’ve been in Spain, I’ve embraced the ethos of just using a few quality ingredients so the flavours come through loud and clear, so I chose this recipe from BBC Good Food, and put a Sandra in Spain spin on it.

This is what you need:

  • 2- 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 large ripe tomato
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • I  fresh red or green chilli,  finely chopped
  • Juice of a lime

Halve the avocados and scoop out the flesh into a bowl, Then grate the tomato into the bowl, with the spring onions, chilli and lime juice.

If you want a chunky guacamole, mash all the ingredients together with a fork or a potato masher. Or give it a whizz with a hand blender. Personally, I like a bit of texture in dips and salsas, and if the avocados are nice and ripe, it’s easy enough to get a smooth yet chunky mix.

Now season with a little pepper, and a dash of tabasco sauce, but take that one drop at a time! It’s not very Spanish, but I also added a dash of Worcestershire Sauce.

Leave it for a while for the flavours to blend together, if you can resist the lovely fresh aromas! Then serve with tortillas or crackers for a tasty, anytime snack or as part of a tapas meal.

Oh, by the way, if you’ve made guacamole before and it’s gone a funny colour before you could eat it all, here’s a tip. Place the avocado stone in the container with the guacamole to preserve the colour. Enjoy!

While you’re here why not take a look at my delicious Lemon Curd recipe too.

Making the Mediterranean Diet easy on yourself

You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet, but you may not be clear on how it works, and why.  Here in Spain, where olive oil is king and fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful, cheap and in season, following this healthy eating plan is easy and economical.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

It’s a traditional way of eating, and it’s been a nutritional model for hundreds of years in Southern Europe. Mediterranean-style eating will increase your health and fitness, help to combat chronic disease, and help you lose weight.Globally, medical professionals and nutritionists consider the Mediterranean Diet to be one of the healthiest eating plans around.  And it also happens to be filling and flavourful.

The Mediterranean Diet is a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t really a diet at all – it’s more like a permanent lifestyle turnaround in attitudes to cooking and eating. At its core are lots fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. There is no room for processed foods or deep fried stuff in the Mediterranean Diet.

Health benefits

The many advantages of adopting the Mediterranean Diet were acknowledged a couple of generations ago. Researchers in the late 1940s found that the natives of Crete were blessed with healthier than average cardiovascular systems, after managing for years on a restricted diet due to wartime food shortages.  This was put down to eating mainly fresh, seasonal produce. Meat was in short supply, and processed foods pretty much non-existent

More recently, it’s been demonstrated that people eating the Mediterranean way live longer, more active, healthier lives. They also have less chance of developing chronic conditions likes heart disease, diabetes and cancer. At 82.5 years, Spain now enjoys the longest average life expectancy in the whole of Europe.

The Mediterranean Diet can help you to live a  longer, healthier life. It’s rich in antioxidants, which serve to inhibit oxidative stress, thereby halving the risk of developing  Parkinson’s Disease.

A pivotal requirement of Mediterranean-style eating is regular servings of fish. The Omega-3 oils in tuna and sardines boost brain health, so the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease in later life is also reduced.

The Mediterranean Diet is high in fibre, thanks to the fresh fruit and vegetables, and fibreevens out the body’s blood sugar levels and boosts insulin sensitivity.  This ‘two for one’  health benefit minimises the chance of diabetes. Refined carbohydrates and red meat only figure on the menu occasionally, so saturated fat content is automatically restricted. This, in turn, makes for a healthy heart.

The Mediterranean Diet in action

Mediterranean menus are built around plant foods. Fruits and vegetables are headliners, and so are chick peas, lentils and beans. Nuts and seeds are supporting actors, with whole grains, rice and pasta making up the chorus and filling in the gaps in the action.

The good folks who call the Mediterranean home region always eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, so the vitamin content is at its peak, delivering a full antioxidant hit. In many cases, salad comes before the main course. This takes the edge off the appetite, so you’re more likely to take smaller portions of the main meal, and also eat more slowly.

There’s not much space for red meat in Mediterranean eating. The main protein sources are poultry, fish and eggs, with the occasional steak. Beans and pulses supply plant protein, with many Spanish recipes including chickpeas or alubias (white, kidney-shaped beans). Fish is  grilled, poached, baked, or shallow fried in light batter.

Some Mediterranean nationalities – notably the Spanish and the Italians –really enjoy cured hams and sausages. These products are naturally cured, and contain no chemicals. Therefore they can’t really be considered processed foods.

Herbs and spices, rather than are salt, are the main flavourings for Mediterranean recipes, and butter is only used occasionally. Mediterranean people prefer their bread served with olive oil, garlic mayonnaise, or tomato paste. These are all healthier than butter, with no saturated fat and fewer calories per serving.

On the Mediterranean Diet, wine is fine in moderation. Spirits are an occasional treat – wine and beer goes down better with the lighter way of eating. Alcohol is automatically restricted, as it’s customary to drink with food,, rather than just for the sake of drinking.

The Mediterranean lifestyle 

It’s not just the food that makes the Mediterranean Diet healthy – lifestyle is another factor. Life is for living outdoors, with no stress and no rushing around.  It’s too hot for that, and Mediterranean people are more laid back than their Northern European counterparts. 

When Mediterranean people go home after work, they dine on fresh food, cooked from scratch. They’re happy to spend two hours or more seated at table, savouring the food and chatting between courses. This leisurely approach to eating naturally reduces the intake of food.

It’s roughly 20 minutes until the brain gets the signal that the stomach is full. This is the down to the actions of the hormonal system in which neurotransmitters also play a part. If you bolt down food or eat on the hoof, these signals won’t kick in to curb your appetite. Mediterranean of eating allows plenty of time for the brain to register the ‘full’ feeling.  

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest eating plans in the world. It’s built around high consumption of plant foods, low fat proteins from fish, eggs and poultry, and smaller servings of saturated fats and processed foods. Eating this way minimises the risks of contracting various lifestyle diseases. If you need to lose weight, it’s low in calories and fat, and high in fibre and filling power.

The Mediterranean way of eating is varied, wholesome and healthy. Combined with a low stress lifestyle and a good dose of vitamin D from the sun, it’s no wonder health professionals consider the Mediterranean Diet one of the healthiest eating plans ever.

You should try my Estofado de garbanzos y patatas recipe for a delicious winter warmer.

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas (chickpea and potato stew)

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas is a tasty Spanish stew which is quick, easy and economical to prepare. There’s a powerful plant protein hit, courtesy of the chickpeas, so you don’t need to add meat. However, if you prefer your stews to have at least some meat, try adding some smoked bacon lardons (taquitos in Spanish) with the onions and garlic. Or you can add meatballs or sliced chorizo sausage at the same point.

Before you get cooking, here’s a bit of insider information to help you create a stunning chickpea and potato stew that belies its humble origins. This filling, warming dish was originally developed for manual workers who needed filling power and fuel at an affordable price.

The thick gravy and unique flavour of this stew is due in part to extra starch being released from the potatoes during the cooking time. Once the potatoes are peeled and ready for slicing, cut halfway through the slices with a large, sharp knife, then just break them off. The resulting uneven surfaces allow the potatoes to release more starches into the cooking liquid than straight cuts.

The recipe also calls for grated tomato. This is a Spanish culinary technique which ensures that there are no irritating slivers of skin in the finished dish, and as a bonus, it helps to thicken the sauce and subtly enhance the overall flavour.  Don’t even consider chopping the tomato to save time!

Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

  • 4 medium potatoes plus 1 small one
  • 1 large ripe tomato, grated
  • A large onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic
  • A 540g jar of cooked chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • Olive oil
  • Small knob of butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh or freeze dried parsley
  • A little fresh or dried thyme
  • 2 level teaspoons of paprika – smoked paprika gives a very different flavour. Try both versions, and see which suits your preference.
  • Small glass of red wine (optional)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree or tomato frito. (This is similar to tomato puree)
  • Optional extra vegetables: anything you fancy or have available from the following: red or green peppers, courgettes, celery, green beans, peas, sweetcorn, squash. A word to the wise: aubergines don’t work well with this recipe.

Preparation method

Heat a little olive oil to soften the onions and garlic. Then add a small knob of butter and the red wine, if using. Add the parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

Grate the tomato directly into the pan, then add the paprika and some water to prevent the mixture burning. Cook everything for a few minutes.

When you’re ready, add the chickpeas, together with the preserving juice from the jar. This also helps to thicken the sauce.

Now add the large sliced potatoes, tomato frito, any optional vegetables you are using, and enough water to just about cover everything in the pan. Simmer for around 45 minutes, and then grate the small potato directly into the stew to help thicken the sauce even more. Cook for at least another half hour, until everything is cooked through and the sauce is really thick.

Serve with fresh crusty bread. This dish is even better if you cook it the day before you need it, since this gives the  flavours more  time to develop and blend together.

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas can also be cooked in a slow cooker or crockpot. Adjust the cooking times according to the instructions with your appliance. It freezes well, so you can make a batch and freeze what you don’t need tonight. However you cook and serve this tasty Spanish stew, enjoy it!

Take a look at another great recipe here for Homemade Guacamole.

Baked cod loin with cherry tomatoes, baby courgette and mushrooms

cod

Cod loin, ready for wrapping and baking.

At the moment we’re in England, and I’m missing the Mediterranean – especially the weather. There’s not a lot I can do about that, but I can bring a touch of the Mediterranean to the table. Just before we left Spain, one of our favourite bodegas and frozen food outlets closed down, and they sold all the stock off at half price. Among the €200 of bargain booze and food I snagged were some frozen cod loins, and I brought some of those over with us, as fish tends to be rather expensive over here.

Tony likes his fish as Nature intended, or with batter, but I’m a great fan of Mediterranean-style baked fish with vegetables. Instead of doing it in a dish, I made two foil parcels – one au naturel for Tony with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and another for me.

I seasoned the fish with lemon juice, salt and pepper, then I halved some cherry tomatoes and sliced up a baby courgette an English friend had grown in her garden. Finally I sliced up a couple of button mushrooms and piled the mixture on top of the cod. I added a dash of olive oil for extra flavour, then sealed the parcel and baked it in a hot oven for 20 minutes. While the fish was cooking, I prepared chips from Maris Piper potatoes for Tony, and a jacket potato for myself.

As an aside, that’s one thing we miss in Spain – named variety potatoes. Although the market stall holders insist that all their potatoes are ‘para frier’ – for frying – and Consum even label their spuds as such, we don’t have a lot of success with chips from Spanish potatoes. It’s not uncommon to get three different coloured chips from the same bag of spuds, varying in appearance from soggy and dark  through firm and pale to golden and almost crispy but not quite. So we make the most of the named varieties while we’re here, and take a sack of Wiljas back with us in September

The finished dish – tasty and healthy, and so easy to prepare.

so we – or rather Tony – can enjoy decent chips for a few more weeks.

Anyway, the fish turned out fabulously – firm, white and cooked through, with the vegetables still slightly al dente but also nice and juicy – which is just how I like them. And the best part was, I didn’t have a cazuela to wash out, which is a bonus when you’re in a static caravan sans dishwasher. I just threw the foil away. Foil parcels are a great way to cook all sorts of fish, either alone or with vegetables, although the extra moisture from the vegetables stops the fish drying out if you leave it for too long in the oven or on the barbecue.

If you haven’t cooked fish like this before, why not give it a go? You won’t be disappointed, and it’s much healthier than frying. So easy to cook and serve too – what’s not to love? Buen provecho, amigos!

Lemon curd – straight from the tree!

After last year’s bumper crop of about 50 lemons on our tree in the garden, I expected a lean time of it this year. However, the tree has obviously got its mojo working now, because there are even more of them this year, and they’re bigger and even better. Some of them could even go to a fancy dress party as grapefruits or even small melons with very little adaptation. I’ve already made preserved lemons fresh lemonade and lemon marmalade, as well as using a few in gins and tonics and vodka and lemonade, just to stop them going soft. Today’s make is home-made lemon curd.

As I child, I loved lemon curd in tarts, sponges and on toast, and I haven’t lost the taste for it, although my palate’s become a little jaded after years of shop bought stuff. In England, with the price of lemons, eggs and butter, it’s an expensive make, but here in Spain, I made a goodly quantity for around €2.50, plus a bit of elbow grease and electric.

It’s surprisingly easy, if a little time consuming, but it’s worth it. The recipe is one I adapted from the BBC Food site. I doubled up on quantities, as it only made 2 – 3 jars, and I had friends lining up as tasters! This will make around 5 x 350g jars or 7 x 250g jars.  Don’t be tempted to use larger jars, because once it’s open, it soon begins to deteriorate, even when kept in the fridge.

I always sterilise the jars in the oven, then fill them while the lemon curd is still warm but not too hot.  Heat the oven to 160C/325F/ Gas mark 3 and place the jars on a tray in the oven for between 15 and 30 minutes.

You can make lemon curd in a large saucepan, or use a large bowl as a bain-marie. I prefer the latter, because there’s no risk of burning the mixture, there are no messy saucepans to clean, and you don’t leave any on the sides of the pan. If you don’t have a big bowl, do as I did and use the inner lining of a 3.5 litre crock pot or slow cooker standing in a large saucepan of water. Whether you’re using your own lemons or buying them from the market, pick or purchase them at the last minute – the fresher they are, the better your lemon curd will taste. Here’s the recipe:

  • 8 – 10 lemons, depending on size. As mine were so big, I only used 7. Remove the zest and squeeze out the juice. If you don’t have a zester, use a fine grater or vegetable peeler to remove the peel before juicing the lemons. If the pieces of peel are too large, chop them with a vegetable shopper or a sharp knife. An electric juicer will extract more juice, and the lemons should be at ambient temperature, so don’t store them in the fridge.
  • 400g/ 14oz of caster sugar.
  • 200g/ 7oz butter cut into cubes. The recipe suggests unsalted butter, but I think regular salted butter gives a better flavour.
  • 6 large eggs + 2 extra egg yolks. Lidl or Mercadona are cheapest for large eggs.

Combine all the ingredients except the eggs in a large bowl, and set it over a pan of simmering water. Stir the mixture until the butter is melted, then whisk the eggs and fold them into the other ingredients. Allow the lemon curd to cook for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, stirring now and then. It’s ready as soon as the mixture is really thick and creamy and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Let it cool a little, then divide it between your jars.

It really is that easy! You can eat it as soon as it’s cool, but it will be even better if you can exercise a little patience and allow the flavours to develop for a few weeks. A word of warning though – once you’ve tasted fresh home-made lemon curd, you’ll never want to go back to the shop bought stuff!

lemon curd

Berenjenas con tomate y queso

Berenjenas con tomate y queso - a really tasty supper!

Berenjenas con tomate y queso – a really tasty supper!

One of the best things about living in Spain is the availability and affordability of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables. A trip down the market will yield a trolley full of fresh, in season fruit and veg for around €10 or less. And it’s as good as organic, because the small producers who sell their produce on the markets don’t use chemical fertilisers and pesticides. What could be better? Only a friend rocking up with home grown aubergines (berenjenas) and beefsteak tomatoes, fresh from the soil.

I’ve used aubergines in casseroles and roasted vegetable mixes, but that’s about it, so I went on a mission to discover new ways to cook them, as I could see I’d get fed up of sauted aubergines before I worked my way through them. One recipe was an aubergine, tomato and cheese bake with breadcrumbs, and while I liked the sound of the flavour combination, I didn’t fancy a stodgy bake in 38 degrees of daytime heat outdoors, so I started to think of ways around it. And I came up with this idea.

I sliced an aubergine into fairly chunky slices – about 1/2″ in old money – then salted them and left them for about half an hour. That draws out the water and stops them going to mush, and also brings out any bitterness. Then I washed off the salt and patted them dry on kitchen paper. I drizzled a little olive oil on a baking tray, and coated the slices with it. Then I put a slice of tomato on each aubergine slice and seasoned it with black pepper. I then topped the tomato with a thin slice of cheddar cheese – you could use any cheese for this, but cheddar is my favourite. I considered grated cheese, but dismissed it as too messy.

I cooked them in my halogen oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes, until the cheese was nicely browned. I’d give it an extra 5 minutes in a conventional oven. I served up my aubergine slices with a jacket potato, because that’s what I fancied, but it would also go well with pasta, brown rice or potato wedges. And you could vary the toppings by adding onion, peppers or mushrooms. Turn them into finger food for a party by serving them on thin slices of bread or crackers, so they’re easy to pick up.

So, what did they taste like? Only one word – fabulous. The aubergines were cooked through, but still firm, as were the tomatoes, and the cheese added a lovely savoury touch. I’ll definitely be cooking this again. It was filling yet light enough for a summer lunch or supper, with the taste of the Mediterranean. Not too high in calories either, so ideal if you’re watching your weight, and of course those brightly coloured vegetables are sky high in antioxidants. Why not try it for yourself soon?

Update: Since this recipe first appeared, readers and friends have successfully tried it with blue cheese, mozarella and haloumi, so why not ring the changes?

My favourite Spanish sandwich

Tuna, the main ingredient of my favourite Spanish sandwich.

Tuna, the main ingredient of my favourite Spanish sandwich.

A sandwich is a snack that, on the face of it, is so simple, but when you look deeper into the subject, there’s a vast potential for disaster. Basically, a sandwich is bread, butter or some other spread, and filling, and that’s where the problems can arise. Each component has to be just right for the perfect sandwich. This is what’s in my favourite Spanish sandwich.

Bread

Obviously, you can’t have a sandwich without bread – if there’s no bread, there’s no sandwich. But what type of bread? For my favourite sandwich, there’s only one possible choice. Fresh wholemeal or granary bread, and it has to be ready sliced.

I don’t mind uneven slices of bread to go with soup or salad, but if it’s a sandwich, I want it nice and level, not looking like a roller coaster made from bread. It’s almost impossible to slice a loaf evenly, unless you have a machine to do it, and the bakery’s machine is more efficient than anything I can ever come up with.

Spread

I don’t do butter these days. Living in Spain,  bread is served with just about everything except butter, which is mainly used in cooking. We have olive oil, ali oli or tomato salsa with bread, and I carry this over into my sandwiches. I make my own ali oli with low fat mayonnaise, minced or grated fresh garlic, and a little lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley. The lemon juice adds a tang, and the parlsey tones down the effects of garlic on the breath.

My tomato salsa is simply grated fresh tomato, with a splash of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Use a grater with a dish or bowl beneath, and place a whole fresh tomato, pointed end down, on the grater, or cut it in half first. Apply just a little pressure, and the skin will peel back as you grate, forming a protective layer for your fingertips as you work through the tomato. I usually make a big batch of ali oli and  salsa, as it keeps well in the fridge for several days.

I’ll use one or other of these on my sandwich, but if we’re talking my favourite sandwich, it’s ali oli on one slice of bread and tomato salsa on the other.

Filling

No contest here – it has to be tuna. The tinned tuna we buy in Spain seems so much chunkier that that available in England. It’s usually in olive oil or sunflower oil, but because it’s so thick and chunky, you can drain almost every vestige of oil away with no problem, if you’re concerned about your fat intake. Once the tuna’s in place – always on the bread with ali oli – it’s time for the crowning glory. That’s a liberal scattering of cold, tinned sweetcorn, topped with thin slices of cucumber. A little extra freshly ground black pepper – I just love it – and then the bread with tomato salsa tops the whole sandwich off.

It takes much less time to make my favourite sandwich than it’s taken to write about it. It’s a healthy lunch or supper choice, based on the Mediterranean way of eating. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it. Time for a sandwich break, I think!

 

Fresh figs – good for you in so many ways!

Fresh figs, picked this morning and full of nutrients and flavour

Fresh figs, picked this morning and full of nutrients and flavour

Have you seen all the fresh figs around the local markets at the moment? Some people are a bit unsure about what to do with them, being more accustomed to dried figs. While dried figs are also very good for you, it’s a really good idea to make the most of the fresh ones while they are around. They are great to eat just as they are, and you can also use them for skin care.

We have a fig tree in the garden, and it is heavy with fruit. There are far too many for us to be able to eat – and it’s not wise to eat too many in one sitting anyway. I did that silly trick last year, and spent several anguished hours, praying for something solid to emerge. Good job we have two bathrooms, is all I can say. But I digress. So, this year, I’ve been looking for different ways to use our figs, and there are a surprising number of things you can do with them.

The milky juice that comes from the stem of the fig is a good remedy for warts and facial blemishes. If you have a problem with acne or spots, mash a couple of fresh figs into a paste and spread it over your face. Leave it for 20 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

For a great face and body scrub, mash two figs and mix with a tablespoon of sugar, two tablespoons of fresh orange juice and a few drops of olive oil. Use once a week to remove dead skin cells and leave the skin healthy and glowing.

Eating figs can help your skin from the inside. Figs are high in calcium, which is essential for the production of collagen. And because figs are high in water content, they help to hydrate and moisturise the skin. Figs are also high in antioxidants, which help to mop up disease-causing free radicals, which can also damage the skin, so they’re great for helping you to stay younger looking.

As well as being good for the skin, figs are great for general health too. They help to lower cholesterol and brood pressure, and are excellent for regulating blood sugar levels. Some doctors advise people with diabetes to eat figs to help control the condition. And of course they are high in fibre, so they can help sort out any digestive problems you may be experiencing.

All things considered, figs are one of the healthiest foods around, and here in Spain and the Mediterranean region, we’re lucky enough to have a steady supply of fresh figs through the summer. If you haven’t done so already, maybe you should take a fresh look at fresh figs.

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Fighting internal inflammation the Spanish way

Luscious strawberries -  Nature's natural pharmacy

Luscious strawberries – Nature’s natural pharmacy

Everybody has to contend with inflammation at some point. It’s the body’s natural response to trauma or injury, and the area affected will be hot, swollen and red, as well as painful,. That’s down to two factors: the release of white blood cells, containing chemicals to protect the scene of the crime, and increased blood flow to the area due to the automatic response of the immune system to any perceived threat to the body.

Inflammation may be acute or chronic, and it can also affect the internal organs. Internal inflammation contributes to a number of chronic, life-limiting illnesses, including diabetes, asthma, arthritis and coronary heart disease. Poor lifestyle choices and excessive stress can set off an internal inflammatory response, which is invariably chronic, or long term.

The single most significant factor in chronic inflammation is diet – you absolutely are what you eat. If you put junk into your body, rubbishy things will happen inside you. Regular overeating can also trigger an inflammatory response, and habitually taking in more calories than your body needs messes around with the immune system, thereby hampering any attempts by your body to fight inflammation.

I have Lupus – it was a deciding factor in moving from divine but damp Devon to the healthy climate of the salt lakes of the Costa Blanca, and I battle chronic inflammation on a regular basis. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I can’t take any sort of anti-inflammatory medication. However, in the years since I moved here, I’ve discovered that I can control my internal inflammation naturally, just by rocking up at the local market on a regular basis.

Anti-inflammatory diets are mostly based around the Mediterranean Diet, and that’s acknowledged by health and nutrition experts to be just about the healthiest diet going. It’s also the way we eat here in Spain, so there’s plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish, as well as lots of fibre and healthy complex carbohydrates.

Now here’s the science bit – those with a low boredom threshold might want to skip this. Fruits and vegetables are brimming with lots of antioxidants which combat inflammation. That’s flavenoids and carotenoids to you. Here’s a tip – brightly coloured stuff has the highest antioxidant content. It looks prettier on the plate too, but maybe that’s just me being whimsical.

All plant-based foods contain different, naturally occurring phytochemicals, and the People Who Know believe these help to control chronic inflammation. Okay, phytochemicals like lycopene in tomatoes, or flavenoids in fruits are not essential, and you won’t die if you don’t get them. However, they do help to protect plants from disease, and it appears that they can also do the same for humans when it comes to internal damage due to oxidation and those pesky free radicals we keep hearing about.

So, what’s the market got to do with it? Well, that’s where I get all my anti-inflammatory medication, in the form of fresh, in season produce that’s picked ready to eat, so the flavour is perfect and the vitamin and nutrient content is at its best. If you buy Spanish strawberries in England, they won’t taste the same as mine from my local market, because they’ll have been picked before they’re ready to eat, then shipped in cold storage. Not only will you be disappointed with the flavour, you won’t get the full antioxidant hit either.

I’ve highlighted strawberries because not only are they my favourite fruit, they are also just about the best anti-inflammatory food going. The latest research concludes that eating 3 – 4 bowls of strawberries a week has the same anti-inflammatory effects as taking COX inhibiting medication. That does fancy things with enzymes in the body to help reduce inflammation, but it is also a no-no for people with hypertension or a history of heart disease in the family, as it can cause strokes and other nasty side effects. I might be wrong here, but I never heard of anyone getting a stroke through eating strawberries!

It’s not just strawberries either. At the time of writing – (late May) – the cherries, blueberries and apricots are piled high on the stalls, and there are avocadoes a-plenty to be had. Sweet potatoes (boniatos) are also looking good. Try one baked with tuna and home-made coleslaw for lunch. Those lovely pointy sweetheart cabbages make great coleslaw, and you can get three or four for a Euro. Or knock up a fabulous anti-inflammatory curry with sweet potatoes, chick peas and turmeric powder.  This versatile spice also has many other health benefits.

Google ‘Anti-inflammatory foods,’ then head down to your local mercadillo to fill your trolley. It may take a while to notice a significant difference, but I find that I hardly ever need to take pain killers now, and the only lifestyle change I’ve made is switching to an anti-inflammatory diet. Give it a try – you have nothing to lose, and great new taste experiences to gain!

Arroz de Ayuno

Arroz de Ayuno -like paella without the meat, but just as tasty!

Arroz de Ayuno -like paella without the meat, but just as tasty!

In Spain, Arroz de Ayuno (fasting rice) is traditionally eaten during Lent. (La Cuaresma) Many Spanish people avoid eating meat during Lent, so this dish is ideal. The bay leaf, garlic and saffron give a really good flavour, so you don’t miss the meat. This dish is just too good to keep for Lent – it can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

It’s very economical, and makes a hearty meal with a salad and fresh crusty bread. Arroz de Ayuno is suitable for vegetarians, and also goes well with roast lamb or pork, so it’s a very versatile dish. I am very much a rice person, and this is one of my favourites when I want to have a few meat free days, or if I’m on a bit of an economy drive and I want to eat out of the fridge and the cupboards for a few days.

For best results, use Valencia rice or risotto rice, as they absorb the liquid better than other varieties. Buen Provecho!

Ingredients (for 2)
100 gr. rice
½ jar of white beans
1 medium sized potato, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 stick celery, chopped
1 large tomato, grated
1 tbsp tomato frito (tomato puree)
2 eggs, hard boiled and chopped
½ an onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, grated
Pinch of Saffron
1 bay leaf
Olive Oil
1 tbsp of freeze dried parsley
300 ml vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a paella pan or large, heavy bottomed frying pan.

Add onion and bay leaf, stirring until the onion has softened.
Now add the grated tomato and potato to the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring continually.

Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes until the rice goes transparent, then add the stock.

Add saffron, garlic, tomato frito, salt and pepper and white beans, stirring to mix everything together.

Bring the mixture to the boil, then allow to simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The dish is ready when the rice has absorbed all the liquid and the potatoes are cooked through. If you think the mixture is becoming too dry, add a little more stock or a little white wine. The finished dish should be moist, like paella.

Sprinkle the chopped eggs over the rice and garnish with fresh or freeze dried parsley to serve.

Image credit: www.generacionnatura.org

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