Ay, ¡qué buena pinta!

In return for the fabulous Sri Lankan Feast, Gabrielle and I invited Michelle and her sister Andrea over for dinner, as well as our friend Brianna (I say our friend, but really these are Gabrielle’s friends who I have slowly usurped).  I knew it would be difficult to compete, but I was also excited because Michelle and Andrea are meat eaters (Gabrielle and Brianna not so much), so I decided to make up what I’ve been wanting to eat myself: garbanzos.

Tasty face!

I’m not talking hummus, or the icky pickled garbanzos that you get in cheap salad bars, but Spanish garbanzos; hearty, homey comfort food.  Onions, chicken stock, chorizo… It is something that I ate in my homestay in the winter and warmed me up just enough to get  me to walk that forty minutes to class in the very brief but intense rainy season of Sevilla.  I have a weird relationship with garbanzos, because it was the first dish I loved in Spain, but it was also the dish I ate just before falling prey to traveller’s food poisoning (at the Fine Arts Museum.  In class.  Not pretty).  Luckily, enough time has passed that when I finally took a bite of my very own garbanzos, all I felt was intense nostalgia, nix on the nausea.  I’m relieved, to say the least.

It has taken me absolutely forever to get around to making these.  First, because a friend of mine in Spain was perpetually bragging about his mother’s garbanzos, full of chorizo, blood sausage, pork, and assorted other flavors he seemed unable to name.  I asked after the recipe, he said sure.  A month passed.  I asked again, he said oh, yeah… another month passed and a sent him a picture of me keying his car.  I still don’t have that recipe.  But I am a resourceful girl, and instead of hiring someone via Spanish craigslist to make good on my threat, I rummaged through a cookbook I got at a flea market for six euro and picked the recipe that most sounded like what I had eaten.

Curious side fact: these garbanzos are a good example of a staple of Spanish cuisine that threw me for quite awhile: food of the spoon.  I think it was my third day with my host family when they asked me this question: Do Americans eat much food with spoons?  I was momentarily speechless, then opted to apologize and show my confusion.  Yes, we have spoons in America?   We use them to eat with as well…  Apologetic confusion: good gambit.  Eventually it was explained to me that a food that is ‘de cuchara’ is a food eaten with a spoon, and it’s linguistically a little like the English term finger food: it’s an important culinary genre.  I thought my family was screwing with my head (I totally want to do that if I get an exchange student), but then my conversation partner also asked me how often I ate ‘de cuchara’ and I resigned myself to eating and loving food of the spoon, especially for lunch, the largest and most important meal of the day.

I apologize for the long, recipe-free lead in, but I need to tack on one more explanatory note, for there is one more recipe down there at the bottom of the page somewhere: la tortilla española.  We ate it because again, my apartment is rife with vegetarians and chorizo is not so veggie-friendly.  I blog it because I promised my friend Kat that I would take lots of pictures of how to make it.

Not the prettiest tortilla, but among the tastiest!

These are not Mexican tortillas, but a slab of egg filled with potatoes and onions.  Kat was a vegetarian in Spain – something terribly difficult.   I think that she ate more tortilla in our four months there than most Spaniards do in ten years.  It was often the only meat alternative on the menu of most restaurants, and she ate it frequently for lunch, handily portable tucked into a fresh baguette.

Tortilla was also my saving grace many times.  My host family once went away for the weekend and left food in the fridge for me: a store-bought tortilla and a frozen tuna pizza.  I had tortilla on toast with dijon mustard for breakfast and lunch two days in a row.  And when we went on a road trip to Portugal, the mystery of kitchen facilities was solved once again by pre-made store tortillas, eaten on the beach.

I learned to make tortilla first when I heard the sound of oil frying from my room in my homestay and ran out to see what was going on (the kitchen was a place that I was not encouraged to hang out in, especially since there was really only room for one at a time in there), and my host mother said, oh, yes, tortilla, and then lifted the lid on a frying pan to show a seething mass of olive oil and potatoes frying ecstatically.  I was excited.  Later I lucked onto some physical instructions from a cooking class in Palma de Mallorca.

NOTE: The recipe for tortilla has an icky picture of half-cooked eggs that I’m posting because I think it’s necessary to explain one of the steps of a decent tortilla.  I’m sorry, but it’s for Kat’s sake.  Everybody else just suck it up.

So yes.  Enough with the blah blah blah.  On to the food.

Garbanzos con chorizo

Translated and adapted down from El Gran Libro de Cocina

Doña Margarita knows best.

First, a note from Doña Margarita on preparing garbanzos:

One should soak dried garbanzos for at least 12 hours before cooking them, in cold water with a little salt and a leveled tablespoon of baking soda for every 100 grams of garbanzos. (Handy metric calculator here)  Before cooking the garbanzos, wash them well so the flavor of baking soda doesn’t remain.  Put them in the pressure cooker when the water is hot, but before it boils.  The garbanzos require 30 minutes of cooking time in the pressure cooker.  Calculate 75-100 grams of uncooked garbanzos per person and 150 grams if they are cooked.

Soaking, chillaxing. Apparently garbanzos are named after the fact they look like little rams' heads. Kind of.

Note from me on Doña  Margarita’s note: I don’t have my pressure cooker with me, so I just boiled them for about 45 minutes to an hour in a regular old pot. Also, her portions are preeeeetty hefty.  I made enough for three to four persons and I think it ended up closer to six generous servings.  Also, there’s a word in Spanish, comensal, which means companion at the table!  How great is that?  Finally, the garbanzos will spookily foam up a bit as they boil.  Go ahead and skim that off about every fifteen minutes.

I don't know what it is, but I know I don't want it.

The garbanzos boil up tender in a little under an hour, but just fish one or two out from time to time and bite in.  You want them to be cooked through – no crunchiness, but you should take them off before they lose any structural integrity;  I like mine toothsome instead of mushy. And remember, you’ll be tossing them into a soup, so the texture will be a plus.

We are pretty and like to fog up camera lenses with our steamy irresistability.

Go ahead and used canned garbanzos if you’d like, but just rinse them VERY VERY well.  The liquid they come in is just nasty.  I wanted to start from scratch and avoid any of that flavor after I ruined a dish of Indian garbanzos because of it.  So yes.  Rinsing.  Integral.

We are finally ready to prep the actual dish.

Let it be known: I’m posting the halved recipe here because I figure more people are going to want to serve 4-6 persons (or less) than 8-10 ‘companions of the table’.

300 g of garbanzos (about 3 cups, dried, 4 cups boiled.  Weight is better than volume, if possible)

1 medium onion

75 g chorizo (more would definitely not go amiss)

1 clove of garlic (ditto)

1 1/2 tomatoes (smaller hot house tomatoes, not 1 1/2 beefsteak guys), blanched*, peeled, seeded, and chopped

25 g toasted almonds

parsley to taste (I liked about 2/3 as much as my almonds, visually, after chopping)

3/4 liter of stock (chicken is best)

Oil (about 2 tablespoons – and make it olive!)


Yes, you could easily make this dish vegan by using vegetable stock, but if you do that, PLEASE don’t cut out the chorizo entirely, but instead use soyrizo.  It’s the backbone of the entire flavor profile, and truthfully I don’t know how much you would enjoy it without that smoky, subtly spicy base.

I'm a lucky girl that doesn't need to convert, because Alida bought me a scaaaale...

Heat a little oil in a very deep saucepan (I have no clue what a vasito actually ends up being, volumewise, because it translates as something like little cup – you don’t need a cup of oil, just a tablespoon or two). Saute – ‘fry lightly’ – the garlic and chopped onion with the chorizo, sliced (I then halved the pieces to spread out the chorizo treasure in the resulting stew).  When the garlic and onion are golden, add the tomato. Season with salt.  I also used pimentón agridulce, or bittersweet Spanish paprika because it happened to be at hand and adds smoky depth and warmth that compliments the chorizo.

Soup base, just after adding the tomatoes

Cook on low heat for five minutes.  Meanwhile, mash the almonds and chopped parsley with a mortar and pestle, or a food processors, or lacking those use a good sharp knife and chop them until your arm falls off, like I did.  Add to the pan with the stock (or pour the whole mess into a large pot with preheated stock), the garbanzos, the almond- parsley mixture, and the chorizo.  Heat on low to medium heat until it just comes to a boil.  Dish and serve.  My family ate this with a lashing of table vinegar, but I have yet to find a vinegar here as mild and flavorful; instead, I use Frank’s Red Hot or another vinegar based hot sauce.

How can you say no?

*Note: to blanch a tomato, just dunk it in almost boiling water for thirty seconds or less and then pull off the loosened skin with a paring knife.  You don’t want to cook the tomato, just warm it up enough to denude it.

Tortilla española, or Tortilla de patatas

Repeat warning: Nasty but necessary picture of uncooked eggs follows!

An amalgam of a translation of my cooking class recipe, verbal notes from my host mother, and my opinion popping up here and there. The traditional tortilla is made with just potatoes, but I MUCH prefer to use onion as well: use about half and half onion to potato or 2/3 potato to 1/3 onion.

4 eggs

1/2 kilo of potatoes

Olive oil, a cup or about 1/4 liter.


8 inch diameter pan, preferably nice and deep.

Part 1: Wash and cut the potatoes into thin slices, or little chunks.   I peel mine, but if you are using something like Yukon golds or baby reds, it’s not  necessary.  Once you have put the oil on to heat, add the potatoes, adding a little salt, and fry them over medium high heat.

I don’t actually measure exactly how much potato or onion I end up using.  I start with two potatoes, peel and chop them, then add them straight to my tortilla pan.  When it’s about half to two thirds full, I chop up onion until the pan is full of ingredients – be sure to interpret this ‘full’ as a leveled off pan – if you mound up the potatoes, there will be too much filling and you won’t have a cohesive tortilla; the egg won’t be able to bind it together well enough and it will crumble apart depressingly on your plate.  Then I add enough oil to come almost to the top of my filling:

Look closely at the oil level - don't skimp!

Either way, fry the potatos in the oil until they fall apart when you stick a fork in them (when they unmake themselves, according to my host mother).  They’ll have taken on a nice golden hue from the olive oil, as well as a lot of flavor.  Drain the potatoes, either in a colander or on a plate covered in paper towels.  Let them cool a for a few minutes; the longer you let them sit, the more oil has time to escape.  You can do this part ahead of time if you are having people over.

Don’t wipe all the oil out of the pan; you’ll need a little bit to keep the tortilla from sticking.  Beat the eggs with a little salt (I habitually undersalt my tortilla, I’d say a half teaspoon or a little more is getting close to a more appetizing tortilla), then add the cooled potatoes (and onions if you so chose) to the egg mixture, then pour into the oiled pan over medium heat.

Now: go ahead and start pulling the cooking eggs up from the bottom as if you were just making scrambled eggs, letting the raw eggs seep down and hit the hot pan.  Until it looks like this:

Not nice. But hard to describe, no?

At this point, I’d say your eggs are about 1/3 cooked.  Now just let it sit.  Stop poking at it. It’s time for it to make the leap from scrambled eggs to tortilla.  Let it cook for about 3-5 minutes until you can feel that it has taken on the shape of the pan and is one coherent mass.

The fun part!  Take a plate and put it upside down over the top of the pan.  Place a palm on top of the plate (see photo) and flip the tortilla onto the plate.  Replace the pan on the burner and slide the tortilla off the plate and back into the pan so the uncooked part is now sizzling happily.

All ready to flip!

If you can, run the edge of your plate along the pan to shape the tortilla; my pan is too small and my plate to big, but see what I mean here (that was the cooking class in Palma)

This makes a much more presentable tortilla. Foto courtesy of Kat

Let this side cook for another few minutes, flipping it as many times as you need to to get that beautiful golden color.  Just don’t cook it too long – overcooked eggs are rubbery and unappetizing.  My host mother is more of a purist and insists that you should only have to flip it once.  But she’s been cooking them for years and has a bizarre sixth tortilla sense.

Slice wedges and eat with salad, alone, on bread, for breakfast, for lunch, for 3 AM drunk food…

You can make tortillas out of anything.  Leftover vegetables, slices of chorizo: whatever you want, tortilla will be happy to convert it into a fancier dinner that is a little slice of Spanish sunshine on your plate.

Hearty dinner, vegetarian friendly... what's not to like?

Oh, and we had a pie, of course.

Filling was meh, but the crust... Well, you can see for yourself.


3 Responses to “Ay, ¡qué buena pinta!”

  1. 1 Gabrielle November 23, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Thank you for including me in the hosting credits. For the record, I cooked nothing! But I am an appreciative diner.

    • 2 desasdishes November 23, 2009 at 2:26 am

      You are one of the most appreciate diners that I’ve ever cooked for; it’s why I keep doing it 😉 Anyways, it’s your turn Tuesday.

  2. 3 Michelle November 24, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    The garbanzos were excellent, especially with the hot sauce! Also, I ate the pie filling first just so that I could slowly enjoy the pie crust later. So delicious!

    I am definitely going to try making tortilla this weekend. I will report back on my progress.

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!


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