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.

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 seven 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

Oranges – so plentiful here in Algorfa, and so healthy!

The orange groves are heavy with fruit this year - which is good news for your health

The orange groves are heavy with fruit this year – which is good news for your health

As I walk Paddy through the orange groves, still heavy with fruit, I am eternally thankful to whatever or whoever brought me to this place, because I love oranges, and they are truly healthy. Everyone knows that oranges are full of vitamin C, and that’s important for health, but to someone like me with an auto-immune system disease like Lupus, vitamin C is crucial. It boosts my immune system, and guards against infection. This is really important for me, because a simple cold can turn into a chest infection with depressing ease.

Strong Spanish antibiotics might clear the infection, but I’m left with inflammation on the lungs, and that can take weeks to settle down. I start each day with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, made from two large locally grown Valencian oranges. This way, I’m doing my best to stay naturally healthy – especially since recent research has shown that getting vitamin C from its food source is much more effective than taking supplements.

Getting to the science bit, the flavenoid herperidin, which is found in the skin and pith of oranges, can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Personally, I’m not a fan of orange skin and pith, but I do make a food processor marmalade that uses the whole orange, so I get the full health benefits from my oranges. I’ll post the recipe for you to try, while the oranges are still really cheap and flavourful.

If you want a quick pick up for tired skin, juice some oranges and freeze them in ice cube trays. Then just rub a cube of frozen orange juice over your skin to close the pores and tone your skin. And you can make an excellent conditioner for your hair by mixing the juice of an orange with an equal amount of water and a spoonful of honey. Apply to clean hair and leave for 5 – 10 minutes before rinsing out. This conditioner also stimulates hair growth – that’s another plus for me, because due to the Lupus, I moult almost as quickly as Paddy. Using this conditioner once a month keeps my remaining hair looking shiny and healthy.

When it comes to keeping your body and your skin healthy, you don’t have to spend a fortune. Nature has everything you need – particularly here in Spain, where fruit and vegetables are seasonal and affordable.

Strawberries – more than just fruit!

Luscious strawberries -  Nature's natural pharmacy

Luscious strawberries – Nature’s natural pharmacy

Going around Lemon Tree Road Market on Sunday , my senses were assailed by the aroma of fresh strawberries. That’s great news for me, because aside from the fact that strawberries – along with cherries – are my favourite fruit, they are also one of the best anti-inflammatory foods going. You can also use strawberries for hair and skin care.

When strawberries are fresh and in season – as they will be, if you buy them from markets in Spain – the anti-oxidant and vitamin levels  are at their peak.  What’s more, strawberries in Spain are ridiculously cheap. On Sunday, I paid just €3 a kilo, and the price is dropping every day. Within a week or two, they’ll be down to around €1.50 a kilo or less, so don’t just serve them up for dessert. Here’s how to make the most of strawberries to improve your health naturally.

Anti-inflammatory benefits

Strawberries are rich in vitamin C, which is excellent at fighting inflammation. In fact, just 8 ripe strawberries contain more vitamin C than an orange, which is acknowledged as a rich source of the vitamin. So they’re great for boosting the immune system. But there’s more, and this is the science bit. The phenols in strawberries hinder the action of the inflammation-causing natural enzyme cyclooxygenase- otherwise known as COX.

COX inhibiting drugs are often prescribed for people with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis to cope with internal inflammation and pain. However, I can’t take any of them, because they either affect my blood pressure or my stomach. And with a history of heart disease in the family – both of my parents died young from blood pressure related conditions – it’s not advisable for me. In addition, I’m allergic to Ibuprofen, so that rules out just about all the anti-inflammatory drugs on the market.

That means I have to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. Strawberries are natural COX inhibitors, and are just as effective as drugs if you eat enough. And I can never eat enough strawberries! The result is that in strawberry season – winter in Spain – I get extra relief from the effects of the cold on my joints while enjoying my favourite fruit. What’s not to love?

Skin and hair care

One of the most annoying things about Lupus is the way it affects the skin and the hair. I could practically stuff a cushion with the hair that comes out on my comb every morning, and it gets a bit dull and lifeless too, particularly in winter. A while back, a Spanish friend who has really glossy hair told me her secret – she mashes a few ripe strawberries in a tablespoon of mayonnaise, then massages it into her hair and leaves for about 20 minutes before shampooing out. I tried it, and it really works. It doesn’t stop my hair coming out, but it does leave the rest of it looking thick, shiny and healthy.

Because of the Lupus, I also get a circulation rash on my legs sometimes, and if I forget to apply my factor 50 sunscreen – even in January – I’m liable to get a butterfly rash across my nose and cheeks. When the rashes go, they leave little scars and dead skin cells behind, so to keep my skin looking good, I make an exfoliating wash from strawberries – about 10 or 12 large ripe ones – plus a little sugar and olive oil.I  use it instead of regular shower gel once or twice a week, and it perks up my skin and leaves it looking glowing and healthy.

When my skin is itching or irritated, I find that if I just cut a ripe strawberry in half and rub it all over my face and neck, and anywhere else that’s irritated, it soothes the irritation better than anything. Leave the juice on the skin for a few minutes, then rinse off. Even if you don’t have problem skin like me, it’s a great pick me up for dull skin.

Other health benefits

Strawberries can protect against heart disease, and also help regulate blood sugar levels, thus reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. They can also help you manage diabetes if you already have it. And because they are low in calories and high in nutrients, strawberries are an excellent choice if you’re watching your weight. Oh, and they taste wonderful too, so if you see somebody buying up all the strawberries on the market say ‘Hello,’ because it will probably be me!

Image credit: Pixabay.com

Dry January is cheaper and easier in Spain!

New Year, but no Dry January for me. Cheers!

New Year, but no Dry January for me. Cheers!

Doing the daily Facebook check this morning, I notice lots of my friends are taking part in the Alcohol Concern Dry January Challenge. They’re doing pretty well with it too, so kudos to them.

Don’t worry – I’m not thinking of doing it myself. I know I’m not an alcoholic, because I don’t go to meetings. What’s more, I only ever drink if there’s an ‘a’ in the day. That posed a problem when I started to learn Spanish, because only Martes and Saboado actually sport that first letter of the alphabet, so rather than restrict my drinking to Tuesdays and Saturdays,  I remain stubbornly monolingual on the days of the week, drinking purposes for the use of. But I digress.

What prompted this post was our granddaughter’s fiance’s pleasure at finding another alcohol free cider. While some people might say that drinking alcohol free versions of your favourite tipple is missing the point, I don’t see it as a problem. There’s only so much water and Coke you can drink, and unless you go for diet versions, you’re going to take in way too much in the way of sugar and calories with soft drinks. Alcohol free beers and ciders are a good alternative, and if you’d rather not tell your mates you’re on a dry run because they’ll try to talk you out of it, it’s not so obvious.

The problem with alcohol free drinks in the UK is two-fold: There isn’t a very good choice, and they’re much more expensive than ‘real’ beers. That’s Rip Off Britain at its best again, because the brewers claim it’s more expensive to produce alcohol free beers, as the alcohol has to be removed after brewing.

One question: if that’s the case, why isn’t alcohol free beer more expensive in Spain? Here, every beer brand has an alcohol free equivalent, even the supermarket own brands, and while the quality and taste varies, the alcohol free version is the same price as the standard beer. So, if Spanish brewers can do that on every brand and charge the same price, why do UK brewers feel the need to charge a premium on the few beers for which they produce an alcohol free or low alcohol equivalent?

Back in the day, the only UK alcohol free beer was Kaliber, and it was disgusting. No way did it taste remotely like lager. These days, the quality is better – Becks and Cobra are as good as the standard versions – but it’s still more expensive, unless the supermarkets put on a special offer, and even then there is usually just one alcohol free version on offer, compared to several regular beers.

Here is Spain, there is sure to be an alcohol free version of your favourite tipple. Tony loves German wheat beer, and there is an alcohol free version of that. He’s doing his own version of Dry January – each year, he takes a break from alcohol between New Year and his birthday on 23 January. This year, after a rather liquid Christmas, he started the dry run on on 27 December. So, I’ve stocked up on alcohol free wheat beers, and San Miguels, Amstels and Bucklers.

Those are his favourite brands, and unlike the UK supermarkets, Consum has 3 or 4 alcohol free beers on promotion each month. Some of them – like San Miguel and Buckler – are completely alcohol free. Others, including Amstel and the wheat beer, have a small amount of alcohol, typically between 0.5 and 0.9%. While that’s not totally alcohol free, it’s a big improvement on the usual 5% or thereabouts for Spanish beers.

Not all alcohol free beers are created equal, so if you’re thinking of a dry run, it’s worth trying the different ones. Just buy a couple of cans if it’s a new one for you. Tony doesn’t like Skol or Finkbrau, Lidl’s own brand. He thinks that both have a ‘chemical’ taste, and Skol gives him a headache. Of course, somebody else may be fine with that, so I wouldn’t recommend anything.

However, when you do find a brand you like, it’s worth stocking up when they’re on offer, because there are some great savings to be made. Last month, San Miguel was 39 cents instead of 54 at Consum, and Franziskaner wheat beer was €1 instead of €1.35.

So, are you having a Dry January? How is it going? And what’s your take on Spanish alcohol free beers? Personally, I’m not a fan. To me, they all have a strange taste. If I’m on a dry run, I prefer a shandy.

Brandy – Spanish or something else?

Alfoso 1 El Conquistador - going down very nicely over Christmas.

Alfoso 1 El Conquistador – going down very nicely over Christmas.

As my regular readers and my friends know, my two drinks of choice are cava and vodka. Never been much of a beer drinker, although I like the occasional cider. Anyway, coming in third behind the cava and vodka is brandy. I like my brandy with soda and ice, or with port and lemonade.

About 25 years ago, a Cornish farmer introduced me to the delights of port and brandy. In those days, brandy was my drink of choice, but after the mega hangover that followed a birthday night on port and brandy – and the alcohol-related death of the farmer who introduced me to it – I gave brandy a wide berth for a very long time.The day after my birthday, we visited the Royal Cornwall Show in Wadebridge, but the only thing I saw was the ceiling of the First Aid Tent, as every time I tried to stand up, I got very woozy. Luckily, it was a stinking hot day, so I blamed it on heat exhaustion, and nobody questioned it.

Now I’m older and wiser – well, older anyway – brandy is back in my life. I still enjoy a port and brandy, but these days it’s diluted with lemonade, and made to last a lot longer. It took me a while to become accustomed to the very different taste of Spanish brandy, after being used to the French stuff. That Napoleon must have been a right boozer, mustn’t he? I mean he’s been dead about 200 years, and you can still buy his brandy. But I digress.

Anyway, these days, I’m happy enough to drink Spanish brandy. In fact, I love the Torres 10 Year Old. My favourite brandy of all though, is Asbach, from Ruddesheim in Germany. At €22 a litre, it’s not cheap, but neither is it particularly expensive, compared to some of the French cognacs. I always treat myself to a litre at Christmas, along with a bottle of Torres.

However, when I was doing the last minute bits and pieces in Consum on Christmas Eve, I noticed they had another brandy on offer – Alfonso 1 El Conquistador Solera Gran Reserva, at €10.50 instead of €11.95. I also noticed that it was 40% alcohol by volume – unusual for Spanish brandy, which is usually 36%, or even 30% in some cases. So, into the trolley it went.

Of course, when I got home, I had to try it. I mean, you can’t have your Christmas pudding ruined by bad brandy, now can you? Or at least, that was my excuse. I have to say it’s just about the smoothest Spanish brandy I’ve ever had – including the Torres. Whether that was down to the higher alcohol content or the method of production, I don’t know, but I’ll certainly buy it again.

So, I’m curious now – what do other people think? Spanish brandy, French, German – or something else? Asbach is still my overall favourite, but the Alfonso 1 and Torres are not far behind. Maybe you can recommend a good Spanish brandy for me to try? I’m always happy to engage in research if it means I can promote Spanish products. That’s another excuse I’ll be sticking to!

Pork Loin La Murta Style – wonderful stuff!

Pork loin La Murta style - wonderful!

Pork loin La Murta style – wonderful!

I do most of my shopping in Lidl, because I love the prices and I love the quality of most of their stuff. And some days, you get lucky and get 30% off their already low prices on fresh stuff that’s short dated. Last week, I picked up a 350 gram pork loin for €1.90 instead of €2.70. I was wondering what to do with it, so I looked in my favourite Spanish cook book – Debs Jenkins’ Spanish Village Cooking. If you don’t have it on your bookshelf, you really need to remedy that.

If you’ve been paying attention to my previous posts, you already know that Debs produced the book to raise funds for the La Murta Fiesta Committee, using over 150 simple traditional recipes submitted by the villagers. I’ve already tried Market Garden Chicken – of which more later – so I was confident I would find a great recipe for my pork loin, and I wasn’t disappointed.  This recipe, on Page 121 of the book, is so simple anyone can do it, whether you are a good cook or a Kitchen Virgin.

 

  • 600g pork loin
  • 1/2 glass olive oil
  • 1/2 glass vinegar
  • 1/2 glass sugar

Obviously, I adjusted the quantities to suit my pork loin, so I pretty much halved the ingredients. It doesn’t really matter what size glass you use, as long as you use the same one for all the ingredients to keep the proportions right.

The preparation is so easy, you’ll probably think – like I did – that you missed something important. Just cut the loin into medallions, then season to your taste with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the pork. Then remove the meat, add the sugar and vinegar, and heat through until the sauce changes colour. Then return the meat to the sauce and cook for a bit longer, turning occasionally to coat them in the sauce. Simples!

Because cooking is an art and not a science, I made a couple of changes. I used apple cider vinegar, since pork and apples go well together, and I cut down on the sugar a little, and replaced some of the cider vinegar with fino sherry. I was concerned it may turn out a little too sweet for our taste, as Tony and I are pretty much strangers to sugar.

The resulting dish was melt-in-the-mouth pork loin in a sweet and sour sauce that complemented it perfectly. I’ll definitely cook this again, but I’ll cut down a little more on the sugar, and up the sherry, because it was still slightly sweeter than we like, although the empty plates told their own story! I may even try it with honey instead of sugar – I think that would work too.

Debs recommends serving it with chips, but as we had it on Sunday, I served it with new potatoes boiled in their skins, cauliflower and broad beans. And the whole meal took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. What’s not to love?

Tomato paste is not just for bread and tostadas!

Fresh tomato paste is so versatile - I always keep a bowl in the fridge

Fresh tomato paste is so versatile – I always keep a bowl in the fridge

The first time we went to Alquibla in Algorfa – which has since become our favourite ‘abuelo’ restaurant – we were served with bread, ali oli and tomato paste while we waited for the salad. It seemed much more interesting than boring old butter, and of course, it was healthier. At that time, my Spanish wasn’t up to dragging the recipe out of the waiter, but on my next shopping trip, I spotted tomato paste in the cold cabinet at Consum.

It was okay, but nowhere near as good as the restaurant version, and at just over a Euro for a small tub, it was hardly economical. A swift surf on the Internet turned up a recipe, and it’s surprisingly easy to make. Just grate some tomatoes – yes, you heard that right. Simply rub the pointy end of the tomato over the grater teeth, and the skin will peel away gracefully to form a protective shield for your fingertips. Or if it’s one of those huge tomatoes that’s almost the size of Murcia, you might want to cut it in half.

Grating also helps you to get every bit of flesh from the tomato, but be sure to use a grater with an integrated bowl, or things could get very messy. Oh, and make sure the lid is firmly in place too, because tomato paste is good for many things, but cleaning marble floors isn’t one of them.

Once you have enough grated tomato, drizzle in some olive oil, and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. If the mixture seems a little slack – maybe because the tomatoes are very ripe – stir in a little tomato frito to bind it together.You can also add some crushed or grated garlic if you want, but I find it masks the clean, fresh taste of the tomatoes a little. I make up a load, and keep it in the fridge. If it’s covered, it will keep for several days.

Tomato paste makes a great breakfast spread on toast for tostada con tomate, and it’s a good way to use up yesterday’s barra de pan. If you want a meal in a hurry, saute some onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic and taquitos of serrano ham. Then add some tomato paste, heat through and serve over pasta. Delicious! I also add it to soups and stews as a thickening agent, or use it as a spread instead of butter.

I must tell you about my favourite sandwich. I spread one slice of wholemeal bread with tomato paste, and another with ali oli. Then I add tuna and sweetcorn for a tasty sandwich which is low on fat and calories. With the ali oli and tomato paste, you don’t need to add extra mayonnaise to the tuna, and you’re saving more calories by not using butter. This is a Very Good Thing – after all, the calories for the cava have to come from somewhere, don’t they?

Photo credit: Dreamstime.com

 

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