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The Spanish Cuisine     The Recipes

About:   Paella    Cocido    Tapas


I live here in Spain, having arrived from Belgium by way of Germany.  I love it here!  Some dreams take longer than wished, and mine took almost 30 years to come true.  I had luck.  The area where I live is in the Communidad de Valencia, one of the 17 states of Spain. Upon its shores, laps the Mediterranean Sea.  'We' are famous here for being the citrus belt of Spain as well as the place where paella originated.

The following is an article I wrote as an introduction for my food column in the El 7 Set, our local newspaper, about the Mediterranean cuisine.


Of Sun, Sea and History


The Mediterranean countries share not only the sea, and it's abundance of seafood (and in many cases a rich and interconnected history) but a wonderful and varied cuisine as well.  Kissed by the sun, a veritable rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables grow and inspire cooks from Turkey to Greece and Italy, northern Africa, Spain and from southern France to mention a few countries.  Through northern Africa came the Moorish flair into the Spanish and southern Italian cuisine, whereas the Turks certainly left their influence behind in Greece and Cypress.


Valencia prospered under the over 500 year rule by the Moors who built an elaborate water canal system for agriculture.  The Arabs also brought dried fruits, nuts and most notably rice (Arabic: aruz) to the Valencian region, hence the many rice dishes here and variations of the famous Valencian Paella.   They also introduced exotic spices such as saffron, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as the artichoke and "nabas" - a small white vegetable related to the turnip and cabbage families.  But it was the Romans who brought two crucial ingredients to the Iberian Peninsula - olive oil and garlic.


The diversity and richness of the Mediterranean way with food has always been my favourite and so it is no wonder that my kitchen is seriously influenced by the cuisine of those countries touched by the Mediterranean sea and sun!


"Welcome to my Kitchen!"  



   - Patricia Conant


Click here for the World's Best 



Trivia: Spain is the world's largest and best supplier of saffron...has the largest fishing fleet in the world next to Japan...and has the most mountainous regions in Europe!    Spain produces the most vegetables in Europe...the most olives and supplies Italy with olive oil which is mixed with their own!    Which is consumed more in Spain...rice or potatoes?                                                                     Potatoes...in fact the Spanish consume more per capita than the English or Germans as well as consume the most meat and eggs in Europe.    They also eat the most salad.

(Click here for fascinating info on Moorish Spain and its influence on the Western civilization.)


The Spanish Cuisine...

is an honest and non-pretentious cuisine that is loyal to its regions with their specialties and has remained rather uninfluenced by northern cousins.   It is not known for it's elegance nor for its bakery/pastry goods but rather for its rustic approach to the Spanish passion of food.  Besides the national dish - the cocido - and well known favourites such as Iberian ham, sherry, paella and sangria, tapas are most probably where the Spanish Cuisine excels.   Spanish wine is finally gaining its due respect worldwide as well as Spanish cheese varieties.  


Spanish explorers introduced the potato from South America in 1540 where it was enthusiastically cultivated long before it became popular in northern Europe and the rest of the world.  Sir Walter Raleigh brought the potato to England in 1585 where it became the Irish staple.  The French were skeptical of it until Paramentier began his potato campaign in 1771.  Versatile and able to take on many guises from simple peasant fare to elaborate, it is THE staple in Spain.


The Spanish love their vegetables, almost as much as meat which takes first priority.  Where steaming/boiling them is common in northern Europe and most of the western world, the typical preparation method here would be sautéing them lightly first then adding small amounts of water or caldo (broth) to keep them from scorching.  Unfortunately, vegetables are still preferred the old fashioned way - very well done (overcooked according to French or Italian standards).  All food is well salted.


There are numerous food magazines on the Spanish market offering new influences not only on the menu theme, but also encouraging shorter cooking times, less salt and more modern (lower fat) methods.  There ARE vegetarians in Spain, health shops (more in medium to larger towns and cities) as well as vegetarian magazines/books but it is not easy to find vegetable variety in restaurants.  


Restaurant offerings of vegetables are rather standard and often contain meat or ham.  Typical of our seafood-bountiful area would be a few fried aubergine slices, grilled green pepper and green beans with ham with perhaps a seasonal vegetable such as zucchini added.  Only the better restaurants offer a little more selection on the menu. 


Spain is a wine drinking country and so it is served with meals or tapas and rarely drunk to excess.  Those that don't feel like it, enjoy a natural bottled water instead.  In fact, when the Spanish celebrate, wine or beer are just part of it and not the means to have a good time.  The Spanish, like the Italians do not need alcohol to 'loosen up' and have fun - that comes naturally.  It is interesting that when 'certain other cultures' celebrate for example New Years the main goal seems to be to start early and heavy almost in competition of each other to get as stupidly drunk as possible - then commiserate over it the next day about how much one drank.  


The Spanish can have a rip-roaring good time as the night progresses, but very rarely overdo it to drunkenness.  Wine is paced, water is drunk without embarrassment and a hard alcohol such as brandy is something enjoyed after a meal.    This is not to say that alcoholism does not exist in Spain, just that it is not dominant here.  


Interestingly, England has the highest per capita rate of alcoholism in Europe.  The day begins and ends for many in the pub, or for the upper class - the club.  (Among all my international friends, I know of no English person who didn't have stories to relate about 'a drinking'  father, mother, other family member or close neighbour that they had to grow up with or live next to.  Obviously health problems due to alcohol excess as well as having the highest dietary fat content in Europe are social concerns.) 


The Spanish start their day or desayuno with a thick hot chocolate (pourable pudding consistency) with churros, a kind of pastry or coffee.  For country labourers and workmen few hours later, at around 10 or 10:30 is the second breakfast (las onces) which may be sausages, eggs and bread.  Around 12pm, tapas may be nibbled on with a little wine.  The lunch or comida a bit late for most European standards and is often after 2pm. and is a substantial affair of two to three courses.  La merienda is the late afternoon snack and la cena is usually between 9pm and 10pm and is lighter than the comida, but still may be of soup, fish, vegetables.  


The Spanish often forgo the cena at home and enjoy instead tapas at the local bar.  Wine or water is drunk with most meals, but no one in Spain drinks coffee or tea WITH the meals.  This is something strange that foreigners do here.  Coffee is enjoyed as an expresso (café solo) after la cena or possibly after la comida or as a pick up anytime in between.   A 'sombre' (shadow) is coffee with mostly hot milk, 'café con leche' (coffee with milk) is half and half, a 'cortado' (a short one) is with very little milk.  


In summer, one often orders however one likes it with a glass of ice.  Or one orders one of the many summer coolers such as batido (a milkshake) granizado (a half frozen yet liquid lemon drink) or horchata (a milky-like delicious drink made from tiger-nuts or almonds) After sweetening, one pours it over the ice and enjoys it.  The fan or 'abonico' is ever present in Spain as is time to relax a moment or watch the world go by before returning to the business of life.


As you can see, the Spanish enjoy their food, portions served are always generous and yet the Spanish are not known as a heavy weight folk in general.  Perhaps it is the wine...


Paella Valenciana       


  On Paella





Info on:

  Paella Valenciana



  The Basics

  Spanish Rice


First of all, if you are a paella fan, you probably know how to pronounce it.  If you do not and pronounce the two ll's, it will be painful to hear by those who know.  For the English speakers, it is easy:  Think 'pah' and  'eh' 'yuh'  pah EH yuh.  Two 'LL's' in Spanish does not an 'L' make, it makes a 'yuh'.  I won't go into the very subtle treatment the first 'L' may receive in some parts of Spain - this not being a Spanish Language 101 page. This little lesson will do.

What is the national dish of Spain?  And the flower?  Wrong.  It is not paella and the rose.  If you said the cocido (rather like a meal in a pot or stew) and the carnation, congratulations.  That flower between the teeth of a dancer on a poster you may have seen was most likely a carnation, and by the way, flamenco is not the national dance of Spain.  But I digress...

Paella has its name from the pan it is cooked in - paellera - the Valencian word for pan and is a typical dish of the Levant which is in the east of Spain and  comprises the Pais Valencia and Murcia, both making the Communidad de Valencia or Community of Valencia.  And it is more Arabic than 'Spanish' and is the most well known culinary contribution of this area.  The original paella was a poor man's fare and so a little of everything on hand went into it.  

The typical Paella Valenciana has chicken or rabbit, a little broad green bean and white bean as well, and perhaps (most likely, actually) a few snails.  The meat used is cut through the bone into small pieces of about two to three fingers long.  There is a confusion between the mixed meat/seafood Paella Andalucia and the Paella Valenciana.  Tourist restaurants will often list the Paella Andalucia with its dramatic display of mussels and prawns with chicken or pork, as Paella Valenciana.  However, here in the Communidad de Valencia ALL types of paella are known with the differences distinquished simply by asking for a mixed paella (Paella Andalucia) or one without seafood which will be a Paella Valenciana.  It depends who asks.  If a tourists asks (and it could be a tourist from Madrid, not only a foreigner) it will be assumed that they want the mixed variety which is the most commonly known.  

Today, it is at home all over Spain and each region contributes to its own variation.  Barcelona in Catalunya (N.E. of Spain bordering France) has a boneless version called Paella Parellada as an example. Paella Andalucia is the most commonly known paella that most tourists remember.  This is the variation that has prawns (large shrimp), mussels, clams, chicken or rabbit, a little pork and sometimes sausage, and usually no green beans. Paella Marinera is, of course, all seafood.  Paella can be made in any version you prefer.  My mother doesn't like the idea of seafood and meats mixed and prefers one or the other.  I like them all, however I can give you a few tips: choose a meat combination such as pork and chicken (of course you can use beef, but pork survives the cooking better and will not taste dry) and if you can, cut the meat through the bone.  The marrow of the bone contributes greatly to the flavour.  A chicken leg for example will typically be cut in two or three pieces (the small end joint added to a broth or discarded).  Brown the meat separately to keep the paella bright, however, this is not crucial.

Paella is really a Sunday dish when the whole family is together, or for special occasions.  It is best cooked outside over an open wood fire and this is how it is often done.  'City folk' just go out to a restaurant as it is not really a 'home' dish.  Grandmothers (and often the men folk who enjoy making a ritual out of the art of paella making) still make it out in the back garden where you can be sure the remnants of a fire are still there.  The open fire supplies the even and high heat necessary for a really great paella.  Many fiestas in our area have a paella planned into the festivities with a huge paella pan or more going at the same time.

Unfortunately, most tourist's only encounter with paella is on one of our coasts in a tourist trap restaurant with less than great, probably oily paella, where, because the seafood is cooked with the rice, ends up rather tough and dry (easier for the restaurant to just toss it all together).  A pity.


Spanish Rice

The rice used in Spanish dishes is always a medium to short grain variety grown in the low lands of the Levant region and is slightly sticky when cooked.  It is sturdy, survives the cooking technique for paella and can absorb much liquid.  The best is, without a doubt, Bomba rice which is the more expensive brand and not found in all shops, hence, it is saved for the special occasions.  Andalucia is now another producer of a rice relatively new to Spain - the long grain (arroz largo or grano largo) rice which is used here exclusively for salads or pilaff dishes.  It is also called varidad Americana.  It must never be used for paella as it cannot endure the cooking technique.



Paella is taken off the heat source slightly undercooked and left to sit for 10 to 15 minutes to finish.  This prevents it from becoming 'gummy'.



The dish known outside of Spain called Spanish Rice is unknown here.  This dish obviously takes its inspiration from paella as it is yellow, has many common ingredients and is also, though not equally, delicious.  However, it is a quicker dish to cook as it has fewer steps, uses long grain rice and water, usually uses only chicken pieces that have been pre-browned (or boneless) and lidding it is important to the cooking process.  Long grain rice cannot survive the paella cooking technique.  This is a dish I enjoy for what it is but it is entirely different from paella.  It is a favourite Cuban and Puerto Rican dish as well.  Not to recognize the difference is to say baked beans is the same as a garbonzo (chickpea) dish.  My Spanish Rice recipe is in my cookbook "Welcome to My Kitchen" to be published in 2002.


The Basics

Valencia rice (a short grain, sturdy variety)



(prawns, clams, mussels, squid)








green beans-broad, flat

lg. fresh, white beans( or lima etc.)



green pepper (bell)

tomato (and sauce)

red pimento


artichoke hearts




salt, pepper

bay leaf

saffron or rice colouring


liquid, best is a good


a little white wine

olive oil


Garnish: lemon wedges,

optional: white asperagus spears and pimento slices

Basic Ratio for 6 persons:

To 500 g. rice, 1250 ml. liquid, 1 chicken and/or rabbit, +- 250 g. meat

about 1 dozen clams or mussels and 1/2 k. of prawns

And of course, the paella pan, a large shallow pan with two handles, originally intended for outside cooking over a hot, wood fire.  Unless you have a gas stove and a 'paella ring' that is attached to the gas creating a larger fire ring, your paella will not cook evenly.  You can cheat by continuing the cooking process by baking it in a very hot oven, covering it with aluminium foil with a few slits poked into it.  Remove the foil when the paella is half done and lower the heat by half.
A good paella is done when the rice is still firm (al dente), and all the rich, wonderful liquid is absorbed.  Once the paella starts to cook, do not stir it.  When done-this will take about 20 minutes-garnish and allow to sit for 10 minutes.  (Do not stir the  ingredients.) Its consistancy is moist, not creamy like a genuine Italian risotto (who, by the way have their rice dishes from the Spanish) yet is certainly not bone dry with separate kernels.
tip: Use a large enough pan.  The best paella is only a finger-width deep and has a little golden crust on the bottom.  This takes practice!


El Cocido


Not the paella, but the cocido is the foremost representative and beloved national dish of Spain.  Indeed, it is internationally the most well known by all visitors to Spain – but ask any Spaniard and the answer will be the ‘cocido’.  The literal translation is ‘cooked’ but the closest description is ‘stew’ or ‘hot pot’, though those hardly do it justice.  It can have the consistency of the ‘dry’ stew or be ‘wet’.  In any case, it was a full meal that every worker took with him from home to be warmed up later and eaten with much bread.  

But a cocido (koh-SEE-doh) is more than just a stew - closer to a pot-au-feu á la España.  Ironically, this famous icon of Spanish cuisine dating from Queen Isabella's time  is inherited from the very Sephardic Jews* Spain was obsessed with expelling in 1492 called the adafina.  According to Jewish law, work is forbidden on the Sabbath, and so before the Sabbath began a pot with ingredients was left to cook very slowly all day to be eaten at sundown.  *Jews that chose to convert to Catholicism, added pork and sausage to the dish creating the cocido version that remains practically the same today.  

Various meats including chicken, sausage, vegetables and garbonzos are the basics.  Potatoes were added after its introduction to Spain by Cristobal (Christopher) Columbus in 1540.  The most famous is the Cocido Madrileño or Stew Madrid.  In this version beef, ham, salt pork, sausage, blood sausage, a stewing chicken, garbonzos, potatoes, cabbage and carrots are the ingredients besides onion and garlic.  Often a pig's trotter and a marrow bone and variations of other seasonal vegetables are included.  

The practicality of this dish was it could be started early in the day, and added to in stages allowing the housewife (ama de la casa  - lady of the house) to attend to other chores.  Two pots are used for this dish as some of the ingredients such as the vegetables are cooked separately in a little of the meat broth.  A frying pan at one stage is used to fry the garlic and the cooked cabbage.  As you see, this is not a typical, easy stew.  However, the separate flavours create a unique and delicious dish.

A cocido creates its own three course meal:

Noodles would be cooked in the broth and served as the first course.

Then the meats are arranged on a platter and served.

Lastly, the garbonzos and the vegetables are arranged on another platter with a little more of the broth to moisten and served.

Most homes served the soup first then brought out the meat and the vegetable platters at the same time.  Often a separate simple tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes is served in a pitcher for those wishing it with the meat.  And of course, bread and wine.

In days past, the wealthier made theirs with more meat and the poorer with more vegetables typically grown in the various regions and was the Sunday dinner.  Any left over meat was recycled the following day and cooked with a freshly made tomato sauce - another famous dish called ropa vieja  or 'old clothes' - delicious, by the way.  My family recipe is in my cookbook, though made from left over roast or braised meat.

These days, few cooks want to spend the time on this classic Spanish dish at home and so order it in restaurants - or hope that grandmother will make it!

The cooking method and timing is rather complicated and the ingredients list long and so I am not including it here...but it is in my cookbook Welcome to My Kitchen!


*In leaving Spain, the Sephardic Jews settled in various countries such as Italy and Greece before finally arriving at a more tolerent and cosmopolitan Turkish Ottoman Empire, the empire of its timeline.  On their migration they adapted and developed unique dishes reflecting their Spanish background.  One particular dish Pita Zebolla (an adaption of the Spanish word 'cebolla' -seb-BOH-ya meaning 'onion) reflects also their Grecian influence using pita (phyllo pastry) filled with onion.  This dish can still be found in some restaurants in Istanbul.








  On Tapas...

(and Co.)

Info on:

What they aren't



TAHpah - lid, cap, top.  A covering for anything.  A cooking pot, a pot of paint, a jar, but most lovingly known in Spain for a lid on the little hungers between meals.  And what an ideal word to describe these little samples of delicacies, from prawns with garlic in olive oil, (Gambas al ajio) meatballs (Albondigas), tortilla (no, not the Mexican flat bread, but the solid and at least 2 finger thick potato and egg cake such as Tortilla Española, or one made with various vegetables such as green asparagus, onion or zucchini).

They can also be little slices of baguette bread mounded with...whatever!  Every cafe/bar will have a selection but the best places to visit are those that specialize in tapas and these of course are called tapas bars.  A tapas bar or tasca is a very special part of Spanish living.  There, much socializing, sampling from a tempting palette of titbits, while standing and sipping on wine, or in summer months on sangria is the way to stave off the little hunger pangs.  One place I know has over 20 different kinds, many with seafood or not, mayonnaise based salads, mixed salads, stews (cocidos),  'pinchos' or skewers of meat, oysters, small stuffed sweet peppers, marinated herrings, deep fried baby squid and on and on!  And of course, olives.  There are literally hundreds of kinds of tapas!

Outside of Spain, tapas - snacks or nibbles - are by some mistakenly called appetizers which in Spanish would be the first course or 'primero plato'.  

Most Spanish usually do not make a meal out tapas, but a serious selection, plenty of bread, wine and perhaps a bit of cheese will easily replace a meal.  A normal tapas portion is really just a little sample and are traditionally served with bread and on little plates such as saucers or if hot, on small little terracotta (barra) dishes as wide as a hand and about a thumb width deep.  A larger portion is called a racion.

Do not be fooled into believing that these little hunger-stavers are just quick little dishes tossed together.  Most of them are very time consuming to create yet are gone in a swallow!

Visit "Tapas - a history" for an English version with much information and recipes or "Tapas de Cocina" for a huge listing of recipes in Spanish.

You will find tapas and more recipes on The Recipies page.




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