Veggies in Spain
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
If you are a vegetarian living in, or visiting Spain, your ability to enjoy fresh vegetables will vary considerably depending on where you are.
Down my way in Andalucia the weekly markets are full of fresh veggies, but the restaurants do not serve them. The same copious vegetables I buy in great quantity are strangers to the kitchen of Spanish restaurants for many kilometres around me. It is a mystery to most of us who live here as to why that should be the case. If you see a vegetable on your plate, it will have come from a tin.
Why is that?
Luis Benavides-Barajas is the author of 17 books on the culinary history of Spain. His books include recipes from all over Spain. Although born in Zamora, north west of Madrid, he has now for many years lived in Andalucia. An area those he grew up with in the north of Spain call a "culinary desert."
He is in no doubt why home grown Andalucian chefs refuse to use home grown veggies.
He tells me: "It is simple. It is because they are lazy. It is much easier to open a tin when a diner comes into the restaurant than to cook fresh vegetables. Because they never cook them, they don't know how to. So they simply open a tin. It's easier for them and, as so many of them have no standards, they don't care if the customer doesn't like or want tinned produce."
Of course there are many dishes you can enjoy as a vegetarian in Spain. But the majority of them you will find in northern Spain, where cooking is an art form and not simply a means to an end - as it is in so much of southern Spain.
Chefs in Galicia, La Rioja and Basque country - for example - are sure to present you with a choice of dishes that suit your tastes.
In Spain you don't have to be stuck with just an omelette.
Try Setas a la Plancha. Grilled mushrooms are lovely and, depending on where you are in the country, are likely to include locally grown mushrooms.
Pimientos fritas are a favourite of mine. Cheaper than chips, these long peppers can be rubbed with salt and then deep fried in olive oil. This is one meal that can be slightly burnt and taste all the better for it.
In Galicia you may be served fatter peppers, known as Pimientos de Padrón. They are more fiery and some will blow you away - in a spicy way.
Berenejas fritas are a good vegetable option if you are down south. Aubergines are superb in Spain. Plump and cheap they can be deep fried until golden and then served with either salt (lovely) or, (even better), drizzled in dark brown sugar cane honey. It takes time to persuade friends to dry this classic combination but, once they do, they are converted. You can even have aubergines with eggs. Take my word for it, you will not regret it.
And talking of eggs, you cannot go far wrong with a good serving of Revuelto, or scrambled eggs.The Spanish use olive oil and garlic in making scrambled eggs. You can add mushrooms, asparagus or prawns.
Spicy potatoes (Patatas Bravas) have become popular the world over since tapas bars and Spanish restaurants have opened all over countries outside of Spain; for example in the UK.
Habas, or broad beans, don't have to be served with ham. Sizzle the beans in garlic, white wine and olive oil.
Spinach and chickpeas go well together. Espinacas con Garbanzos is a favourite winter warming dish.
Soups come in a variety of vegetable options.
For example, Sopa de ajo (garlic soup) is always popular, especially down south. It is made with fried bread, egg and many cloves of garlic.
Then there are more creamy soups, such as Crema de Calabacin (courgette), Puerros (leeks) or Asparrago (asparagus).
You always have the option of the Spanish classic. Gazpacho. In Córdoba and Granada you will see the thicker version called Salmorejo. In Malaga it is called Porra.
This is a gazpacho that is very thick, made without water and served chilled. Lots of tomatoes are used. Some places serve it with pieces of egg but you will want to avoid those that also include pieces of ham.
Finally, a favourite of mine when I was growing up in England, but which is incredibly popular here in Spain.
Egg and chips. Yes, you read me correctly. Huevos con Patatas is a real favourite of Spanish diners.
To think that in the 1960's I had to go to the then new star of English high streets, the Wimpy bar, to enjoy egg and chips.
Now I can go to the restaurant in my Spanish village and savour exactly the same dish.
I'm not a vegetarian but without doubt I have eaten more veggie only dishes since living in Spain than I ever did in my previous life.
Proof positive that, if it is vegetables you crave, they don't have to come fresh from a tin!