More Moorish Food
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
There can be no doubting the huge influence of the Moors on Spanish cooking. Some may tell you that everything about Spanish food is down to the skills of Spaniards. But they are in denial. The Moors played a big part in the development of food throughout mainland Spain.
And that all began many centuries ago. In palaces such as the Alhambra (pictured above) and on the streets of many a Spanish city.The Moors invaded Spain in AD711. Their influence continued for 800 years and, even today, they leave their mark on Spanish cooking.
So very many names of Spanish food and ingredients originate from North Africa, especially Morocco. Aciete (oil), arroz (rice), albóndigas (meatballs), almendras (almonds) are just a few words that have Moorish origins. The land in southern Spain, in particular, has also been heavily influenced by the Moors. I only have to wander or drive around what is left of the Vega of the Granada countryside to see today how the ever so clever Moors planned the planting of trees to ensure they delivered, for example, healthy fruit. They planned efficent irrigation systems in cities such as Granada and Córdoba.
Many of the olive trees one sees planted in regimented fashion around Granada and neighbouring Jaen were first planted by the Moors. They also introduced the Almond tree to Spain - and where would Spanish cooking be without the admirable almond? The Moors first planted crops of sugar, mint, spinach and aubergines. Ingredients still used today in so many Spanish meals.
The method of cooking in clay pots came from the Moors, as did wood burning ovens. Their influence on the cuisine is undeniable. Moorish kebabs are one of the most popular dishes served in any Spanish bar or restaurant. A favourite of mine, the churrasco, hails from the Moors. Frying with olive oil and preserving in vinegar (escabeche) were both Arabic practices, the latter is favoured today by those seeking to preserve fish for longer.
The mortar and pestle are a must in the kitchen when cooking Spainsh food. Used by the Moors to grind nuts into smooth creams that helped make soups such as ajo blanco (white garlic soup) and, years later, gazpacho. Likewise we have the Moors to thank for salmorejo (a cream of garlic, bread and vinegar). Savoury and sweet foods are also in Spain only because of the Moorish influence. Almond pastries, fritters in honey, milk based puddings, quince paste, peaches in syrup, iced sorbets, raisins and pine nuts used together in sauces - all of them were brought to Spain by the Moors.
Of course, it is spices for which the Moors are most famous. Think about it. How would many a Spanish housewife or restaurant chef cope without spices? Cumin (comino) is widely used with vegetables and tomatoes. Coriander (cilantro) is used to flavour barbecued skewered meat. Cinnamon (canela), Nutmeg (nuez moscada) and aniseed (matalhuva) play a big part in modern day Spanish cooking.
And, let us not forget, the very influential spice of Saffron (azafrán). It is a quintessentially Moorish spice that is used so often in Spanish cooking. Indeed, in paella, fish and shellfish stews, there is no subsitiute for Saffron.
Tha author of seventeen books on the gastronomy of Spain, Luis Benavides Barajas tells us: "Make no mistake about it. Without the important influence of the Moors throughout Spain, we would not be cooking and eating much of the Spanish food that is considered to be so typical of the country today."
It seems that in the Spanish kitchen it is a case of: "the Moor the merrier."