The roads outside my home are white. Not with snow, but with salt from combatting all the ice, and snow we have had recently. Just a week ago I was enjoying a great vacation in Spain where we didn’t see snow. Then we came back to reality and one week’s worth of below freezing temperatures with some nights below zero. Yikes!
Maybe we should have stayed just one more week?
Spain is an amazing country. Sure they are going through financial pain and unemployment is a huge problem especially with the young folks, but it’s still a great place to visit. Some of the things I learned on my latest trip are that Spain has the largest wine growing region in the world, with 2.89 million acres. It is the most mountainous wine producing country (this according to the book “Wine”, by Andre Domine). They also have some great beaches on the Mediterranean Coast. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for beach weather. It rained six out of the seven days we were visiting, which was a bit unusual. At least it only rained a little each day. On our one sunny day we made it to the beach in Valencia and had a nice walk in the sand and surf. It was a great respite from the rain. Any country that boasts great beaches, mountains, food and wine is tops on my list of places to hang out.
I also think Spaniards are about the friendliest Europeans I have met compared to the French, Brits or Italians. In Madrid when we got off the metro to go to a flamenco performance we were stumped by the map in the Metro station. A young family of four got off at the same stop and saw us staring at the map with that lost look, and asked if we needed help. They were kind enough to walk with us two blocks to make sure we knew where the Flamenco venue was even though they had a crying two year old with them.
Food and wine are very reasonable at numerous tapas bars and restaurants. Spaniards love to eat out and there are lots of foodie choices in most cities and towns. Madrid has a population of about 3.2 million according to Wikipedia and Tripadvisor.com list 5,930 restaurants. Little ol’ Denver, Colorado(where I’m from originally) has a population of around 2.9 million and sports only about 2,448 restaurants on Tripadvisor.com.
May I be so bold as to say Spain is a foodie paradise!
On our trip we started in Madrid for one day, then went to Granada for two days, then back to Madrid for one night to cue up for the high speed(185 mph!) Renfe train the next day, then Valencia for two days, before retuning to Madrid for one more night before heading home. In all of these places we found outstanding restaurants and tapas bars.
In Valencia I went to the huge Central Market. I wished I had a place where I could have cooked at, but we were in a hotel. I was blown away by the abundance of vegie stands, fish stands, fruit stands, olive and olive oil stands that all sported great looking groceries. The freshness of the seafood and the variety of fish and shrimp had me taking a lot of pictures, as that’s about all I could do with the seafood.
One of the olive oil stands had free samples where I dipped bread bits into many types of tasty oil. I held off buying any as I still had one more train ride to go before flying home from Madrid and olive oil is heavy stuff. I did buy some yummy dried and roasted fava beans as well as Mediterranean pistachios to bring home. I didn’t do much other food shopping until I got to Carrefour a huge grocery/department store from France that has locations all over the world. It was the biggest grocery store I have ever been in, and I bought a bunch of olive oil, rice and saffron to bring home.
In Madrid there was a different type of mercado. The Mercado de San Miguel was an old iron and glass building that housed a bunch of food and drink options. We bought tray full of seafood tapas from one of the stands then got a plate full of olives for just one euro to go with it. There were several wine bars to choose from and we tried the goods from two of those. We bought a nice cod croquette to go with a glass of white wine that was delish! If you are ever in Madrid I hope you can check this place out. It’s just off the Plaza Mayor, and fairly easy to find.
My favorite food stop on the trip was in Valencia where a friend of a friend recommended Navarro restaurant for paella. It was so good we went back on our last day there to have a different type for our last lunch in Valencia. You can see my review on tripadvisor using this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187529-d993266-r191597981-Navarro-Valencia_Valencia_Province_Valencian_Country.html#REVIEWS
The funny thing was that as good as the paella was we were the only ones eating it both days we ate at Navarro. Everyone else looked like they were locals, and I guess they were there for the other items on the menu like the amazing seafood and salads. We had the vegetarian salad for a starter both days we went there. It had three types of lettuce, several chopped vegies, as well as olives, tomatoes, sliced beets, avocado and grilled tofu. It was the best salad I have had in Europe!
When I got home I was determined to make paella in a way that you my dear readers could make also. Knowing that a paella pan is a rare thing in American kitchens I tested my recipe in a saute pan and a enameled cast iron dutch oven. I think the cast iron cookware worked best and would recommend that type of pot if you have one. This one pot meal is prepped and cooked in less than 45 minutes making it a great dinner item.
To make it easier for you to make paella in your kitchen I’m having a giveaway of:
one bottle of Spanish olive oil, one bag of Bomba rice and a small jar of saffron, all of which I bought in Valencia. One lucky reader will receive all three to make paella in their home. Just leave me a comment of your favorite rice dish and you will be entered in the giveaway. Good luck and happy eating!
Paella, fast and furious style
1 cup of Bomba rice, or Uncle Ben’s original converted will do
2 cups stock, chicken or vegetable see note
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh garlic minced
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup cut green beans
1/3 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen lima beans
1/3 cup chopped tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron, see note
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
In a saute pan or enamel cast iron pot saute onion, red bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil on medium heat for 5-7 minutes stirring until onions are soft.
Add rice and cook one more minute stirring to coat the rice with the oil.
Add the spices, salt if using, lima beans, all but 1/4 cup of the stock and turn heat up to medium high stirring once or twice to distribute the stock. Once it comes to a boil reduce heat and cook for eight minutes uncovered.
Stir in tomatoes and green beans and cook for five more minutes at a low simmer.
Add peas, stirring one last time, and cook about five more minutes at a simmer until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is just barely cooked through. You may need to add the rest of the reserved stock at this time.
Stir to fluff it up a bit and serve with a nice salad, bread and olives for a Spanish type meal.
Serves two, but is easily doubled to serve four.
This is a good vegan or vegetarian meal if you use vegetable stock. If you want meat add 8 ounces bite sized raw chicken at the beginning when the onions, garlic, and bell peppers are sauteeing. Chorizo, shrimp, and rabbit are good with this also.
Saffron is considered one of the most expensive food ingredients in the food world, but you only need a little and a small jar(.7 grams) of saffron threads bought at Trader Joe’s will only set you back $5.99. This small jar would make about three to four batches of paella thus costing you about $1.50 for a paella that serves four. You can also buy it on Amazon.com for about $12.50 for 2 grams plus shipping.
I like to grind my saffron threads in a mortar and pestle like my friends from the middle east taught me instead of buying ground saffron.