Culinary Anthropologist

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  1. Sephardi orange & almond cake

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    This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden.  This cake has north African and Spanish roots.  According to Claudia, citrus cultivation and trade was particularly associated with Sephardi Jews around the Mediterranean, and there are any number of orange cake recipes in Sephardi culture.

    smbloodorange0001.jpgThis cake is remarkable for its total lack of both butter and flour.  You could use five or so clementines or tangerines instead of the oranges.

    Don’t worry if the cake sinks as it cools, or in fact turns out looking rather boring.  Trust me it is delicious, especially if served as a pudding with freshly sliced blood oranges and whipped cream.

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  2. Mackerel escabeche

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    This recipe is adapted from one by Thomasina Miers. Escabeche usually refers to a technique of frying fish and then marinating it in a vinegary liquid with onions, spices and herbs. Flavourings vary enormously from country to country; escabeche is popular in Italy, Spain, Latin America and the Philippines.

    smmackerelescabeche0009.jpgThis dish is a relative of good old fish and chips, which is not as British as one might think. They share origins in a dish beloved of the Shahs of Persia some 1500 years ago – sikbāj – sweet and sour stewed beef. This later made its way around the Arabic world, with fish replacing beef in Christian parts. The amazing history is told by Prof Dan Jurafsky on his blog, ‘The Language of Food’.

    Dan writes: “The word escabeche came to Spanish from Catalan, which acquired it from its neighbour, Occitan, who got it from the Genoese, who stole it from the Neapolitans, and so on, back eventually east to the Arabic of Baghdad and the Persian of Ctesiphon.” And the story continues with the Jews being expelled from Spain and Portugal and going to northern Europe, taking their fish dishes with them. Finally, in England, Belgian frites were married with battered and fried fish doused with vinegar: fish and chips.

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  3. Membrillo

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    Aka quince cheese, membrillate (Spanish), cotognato (Italian), pate de coings (French) and marmelata (Portuguese), this has to be one of my favourite things to do with quinces.  It is the classic accompaniment for manchego cheese, but also very good with aged cheddar.

    smmembrillo0002.JPGThe trick is to avoid graininess, a common flaw.  Quinces have tiny rock-hard grains in their cores, which will pass through just about any sieve.  Most recipes tell you to cook whole quinces then blitz and sieve the lot, but this results in grainy membrillo.  So remove the cores before or after boiling the quinces.  I prefer after, as a) cutting cores out of raw, hard quinces is tricky, and one of these days I will slice right into my hand, and b) the cores and pips help add colour and pectin, so better to leave them in until just before you sieve.

    The other tip is to add some acidity in the form of lemon juice or tartaric acid, to balance all that sweetness.

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  4. Fabada Asturiana

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    This hearty stew hails from Asturias, in northern Spain, where they grow the best white beans.  The beans are dried and then used in this dish year-round. It really is the beans that make the dish – they are large, white and uniquely creamy and should be the most expensive ingredient in your stew since true fabas Asturianas sell for a small fortune.  This dish does not take much effort, but do give it time – five or so hours if possible.  There is probably nothing better on a dark, chilly evening than a steaming bowl of smoky fabada accompanied by a glass of deep red Rioja.

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  5. Beetroot gazpacho

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    I had this twist on the traditional Spanish tomato and bread soup at La Taberna del Pindal in Arenas de Cabrales in Asturias, Spain.  The trick, I discovered later, is to roast half the beetroot to bring out its lush sweetness, and grate the other half raw to keep its vibrant colour and fresh taste. Combined with the usual tomatoes, peppers and onions it makes a fantastic purple gazpacho, which is even better the day after it’s made.

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  6. Andalucian pinchitos morunos

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    These spicy kebabs are popular in Andalucia and originate from the era when the Moors occupied Spain.  It works superbly with pork, chicken or lamb.  Marinate the meat as far in advance as possible.  This recipe is adapted from one in the fantastic Moro restaurant cookbook.
     
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  7. Andalucian pinchitos morunos

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    These spicy kebabs are popular in Andalucia and originate from the era when the Moors occupied Spain.  It works superbly with pork, chicken or lamb.  Marinate the meat as far in advance as possible.  This recipe is adapted from one in the fantastic Moro restaurant cookbook.
     
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  8. Oil, vinegar and phonological assimilation

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    Some olives in Morocco. Although they could
    just as easily be in Spain.

    I’d always wondered why the oil and vinegar seemed to be labelled wrong in Spain.  If, like me, you’re more familiar with Italian than Spanish, and you see two bottles on the table, one labelled “aceite“, you’d be pretty sure that was the vinegar.  You’d be wrong, though – although admittedly you’d work it out pretty sharpish if you saw that the other one was labelled “vinagre“.  Or just tasted it, I suppose.

    The Italian aceto (vinegar) comes from the Latin acer meaning ‘sharp’ or ‘sour’, and that’s where we get English words like acid and acetic from too.  (Even the word vinegar comes this way, in fact, via the French vin aigre or ‘sour wine’).  Similarly, the word for ‘oil’ seems to have Latin origins in most European languages – the Latin oleum gives us oglio, oil, Öl, huile and so on.  So why would Spanish (a Romance, i.e. Latin-based language) be so different, and where does their word for ‘oil’, aceite, come from?  Well, now that we’ve made it to Morocco, all becomes clear …

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  9. In search of the perfect pig

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    Smcastellsign0001.jpgAs we got higher into the Pyrenees, the road signs got gradually less French.  Call it Occitan, call it Catalan – whichever way you look at it we were moving into new territory.  As if to illustrate the point, we also quickly found ourselves in the middle of the biggest hailstorm I’ve ever seen.  This, of course, was the perfect moment to discover that our sunroof didn’t seal properly.

    Smpatanegra0001.jpgWe’d come to Spain to settle an argument.  Ever since visiting Hungary, something had been nagging away at us (and I don’t just mean Barnaby).  Which is the true king of pigs?  In the Spanish corner, the pata negra pig, black of foot, fed on acorns and cossetted like a prize sumo wrestler (do sumo wrestlers eat acorns? Probably).  In the Hungarian corner, the mangalica, curly of hair, and a whacking 70% body fat.  Both tasty, no doubt – but in the world of cured pork products there can be only one winner.  Only time, and extensive sampling, would tell …

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