The Day We Pretended to Be Spaniards

This year’s Christmas theme was “Spanish-Inspired.” Adding the inspired bit allows me to be a bit loosey-goosey with the dishes. So, don’t get all up at me when you look at the menu and say, “Hey, that’s just an everyday sort of food…not something that the Spanish would eat on a holiday.” To that, I say, “Bah! It is reminiscent of Spain, ergo it goes on my Christmas table.”

Since there were quite a few dishes, I will keep the blather brief. Here’s what we ate:


  • Jamon Ibérico, manchego cheese, and Spanish olives
  • Garlic shrimp served with crusty French bread

Soup: Almond soup

Meat: Roast leg of lamb

Fish: Red snapper with romesco sauce


  • Swiss chard a la Málaga
  • Paella
  • Tortilla Española
  • White asparagus

Salad: Ensalada mixta


  • Apple and pistachio cake with egg nog ice cream (I know, so not Spanish, but it was really good)
  • Turrón (an almond paste candy that half of the party found odd and off-putting and half liked)
  • Blood oranges

Traditional Garlic Shrimp

From José Andrés host of Made in Spain

  • 4 T Spanish extra-virgin olive oil (I used the extra-virgin I had on hand.)
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 20 large shrimps (about 1 lb)
  • 1 guindilla chili pepper (or your favorite dried chili pepper)
  • 1 t brandy (sooo, I realized I was out of brandy right when I started cooking… bourbon it is)
  • 1 t chopped parsley
  • Salt to taste

In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-to-high flame. Sauté the garlic cloves until browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the shrimp along with the chili pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Turn over the shrimp and sauté for another 2 minutes. Pour in the brandy and cook for another minute. Sprinkle with the parsley, add salt to taste, and serve.


Completely easy and especially tasty. I was a bit concerned that the sauce would be just kind of eh, but it was a wow. Think about what it would have tasted like if I had actually used brandy? This one is a keeper.

Garlic Shrimp

Almond Soup

I stole this one from a fellow blogger at Traditional Food. (That’s why you have all the metric measurement bits in there.) It’s a Castilian recipe that is usually served as a dessert, but gets the soup course treatment around the holidays.

  • 2¼ pt milk
  • 3 oz sugar
  • 6 oz almond paste (I just used one tube which was 7 oz.)
  • 2 T fine fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Coarse salt
  • A few threads of saffron
  • A few sprigs of parsley
  • White peppercorns (I used black and went a touch overboard.)
  • 7 fl oz olive oil
  • 12 small, very thin slices of bread, fried in olive oil
  • 2 oz toasted chopped almonds

Bring the milk to a boil. In a mortar, mix together the base salt, saffron, pepper, garlic and parsley.

Mix the powdered almonds, sugar and the composition from the mortar into the boiling milk.

Lower the heat and let cook gently for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve garnished with the slices of fried bread and the toasted chopped almonds.


Like I said, I went a bit overboard with the pepper, so it was a touch spicy. And, here’s the honesty part: I ran out of time and neglected the garnishing. But, let’s review the recipe, shall we? How much “base salt” do we use? When do we put in the breadcrumbs and the olive oil? In fact, because they weren’t mentioned in the instructions, I neglected to add either. The recipe came out just fine—sweet for sure—but fine.

Roast Leg of Lamb

This travesty is via Simple, yes. Correct, maybe not.


  • ½ C orange juice
  • 1 C white wine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 t fresh thyme
  • 2 T fresh chopped rosemary
  • ¼ fresh ground pepper
  • 2 T olive oil

Blend marinade ingredients in a blender, just a few pulses until well mixed.

  • 1 (6-lb) leg of lamb, bone-in or boneless. If boneless, the leg should be tied up with kitchen string by butcher.
  • Marinade
  • Salt

Place lamb and marinade into a plastic bag. Squeeze out as much of the air as possible from the bag and seal. Marinate for several hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator. Remove the lamb, still in its marinade bag, from the refrigerator at least an hour before putting in the oven to help bring the lamb closer to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat oven to 450°. Remove the lamb roast from its marinade bag. Pat the marinade off the lamb with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper all sides of the roast. Arrange fattiest side up, so while the lamb is cooking the fat will melt into the meat.

Roast for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 325° and roast an additional hour (for a 6 pound roast), about 10-12 minutes per pound. If you are cooking a roast bone-in, the bone will act as an insulator and will require a longer cooking time than a boneless roast.

At this point start checking the meat thermometer. Note that every time you open the oven door, you’ll need 10 minutes or so to bring the oven back up to temperature, thus slowing down the cooking process. So, don’t check too often. Remove from the oven anywhere from 130° to 135° for medium rare. Lamb should never be cooked until well done or it will be too dry. Let stand for 15-20 minutes before carving. Cut away the kitchen string and slice with a sharp carving knife, ½-inch thick slices, against the grain of the meat.


Um, the cooking time was pretty off. The instructions above are for using a rack and a roasting pan (instructions for on the rack in the oven are also given). I found that the lamb was pretty raw after the appointed end of the cooking time. I had to slice it open, up the heat to 400° and give it another 15 minutes. The lamb turned out all right in the end, but it was pretty frustrating for me. I’m not spending too much time dwelling, but this was the low point of my night of cooking.

Red Snapper Baked in Salt with Romesco Sauce

This gem comes from And, yes, I did waste that much salt.


  • 3 large plum tomatoes
  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 1 medium onion (unpeeled)
  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • 1 dried ancho chile
  • ½ C sliced almonds
  • ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 T Sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 slice wheat bread, toasted, cut into ½-inch cubes (about ½ C)
  • 1 t pimentón or other imported sweet paprika (I found pimentón at my local grocery store, so it’s not that hard to find.)


  • 2 2-lb whole red snappers
  • 6 lbs coarse kosher salt
  • 3 C water

For sauce:

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss tomatoes, bell peppers, and onion in small baking dish with 2 T olive oil. Roast until partially charred, turning every 15 minutes, about 45 minutes. Cover with foil; let stand 15 minutes. (I found that this didn’t char the veggies at all. I ended up roasting the peppers and onions on the gas burners on the stove.)

Meanwhile, heat 1 T olive oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add chile; fry until darkened and slightly puffed, turning once, about 30 seconds. Transfer to small bowl. Add enough hot water to cover. Let stand 30 minutes.

Peel and seed ancho chile, tomatoes, and bell peppers; place in blender. Peel onion; coarsely chop and add to blender. (I used the food processor as my blender does not do coarse chopping. It’s a blender so it blends.)

Heat 1 T olive oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add almonds; sauté until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Transfer to blender. Add ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, vinegar, bread, and paprika to blender; blend to coarse puree. Transfer to bowl; season with salt. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

For fish:

Preheat oven to 450°. Place 1 fish in each of two 13x9x2-inch metal baking pans (I put both on one pan). Cover each fish with 3 lbs salt. Drizzle 1½ C water over salt in each pan. Using hands, pack salt over fish to cover completely. This is what mine looked like:

Fish Under Salt Mounds

Bake fish until thermometer inserted into center of fish registers 135°F, about 30 minutes. Gently rap salt crust with back of spoon to crack; carefully remove salt. Use pastry brush to remove any remaining salt. Carefully transfer whole fish to platter and serve with sauce.


The sauce is good.Weirdly chunky with what appears to be corn, but is really almond bits. I know, I know. It looks like a bowl of chili I made with turkey leftovers, but it tastes completely like tomatoes and red peppers (So, right… not that much different than chili. But when was the last time you put chili on fish?).

Romesco Sauce

The fish was moist and not salty. (The salt doesn’t really seep through the fish skin.) Although decent tasting, I won’t make this recipe again. My reasons:

  1. Some of the salt fell between my counter and my stove so my kitchen smelled of fish for three days before I finally figured out where the stench was coming from.
  2. There are easier ways to cook fish then encasing it in an assload of salt. And, then you just throw it all away. (Yeah, there’s my Midwestern frugality coming through.)
  3. It just wasn’t worth the effort.

Swiss Chard

From Clifford Wright.

  • 2 lbs Swiss chard, heavy central stem ribs removed, washed well several times and drained
  • 6 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ C golden raisins
  • 1 T hot paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 t white wine vinegar (I used Sherry vinegar as I had it on hand for all of these other recipes.)

Place the Swiss chard in a large steamer and wilt, covered, over high heat with only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and chop coarsely.

In a large skillet, put the Swiss chard, olive oil, garlic, raisins, paprika, salt, pepper, and vinegar and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook until it begins to sizzle, about 3 minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture is well coated and blended, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.


Again, an easy recipe that can be made on a regular basis. Don’t like chard or have enough time to wilt and chop it up? You can use frozen chopped spinach for a pretty similar effect.

Swiss Chard


OK, so this is not the most traditional of paellas. (Hey, I don’t own a paella pan…yet… hint… hint. And, did you see the other crap I was busy cooking? I didn’t have time to sit around waiting for paella to boil.) This one comes from

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T paprika
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch pieces (I wanted a bit more flavor, so I used chicken thighs.)
  • 2 T olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 C uncooked short-grain white rice
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • 2 lemons, zested
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb chorizo sausage, casings removed and crumbled
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a medium bowl, mix together 2 T olive oil, paprika, oregano, and salt and pepper. Stir in chicken pieces to coat. Cover, and refrigerate. (I mixed everything in a baggie and let it marinate in that.)

Heat 2 T olive oil in a large skillet or paella pan over medium heat. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, and rice. Cook, stirring, to coat rice with oil, about 3 minutes. Stir in saffron threads, bay leaf, parsley, chicken stock, and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 T olive oil in a separate skillet over medium heat. Stir in marinated chicken and onion; cook 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and sausage; cook 5 minutes. Stir in shrimp; cook, turning the shrimp, until both sides are pink. Mix everything together. (OK, the recipe calls for a pretty layering bit, but by this time of the evening, I was just tossing dishes on the table and hoping that everything was edible.)


Fabulous. It’s simple and not particularly traditional, but it does evoke the flavors of paella. And, it made for great leftovers the next day.


Tortilla Española

This is by far my favorite Spanish recipe. I know it’s typically a tapas recipe, but I couldn’t resist adding it to the Christmas dinner as a starchy side dish. This recipe is courtesy of the New York Times.

  • 1¼ lbs potatoes, 3 or 4 medium
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 C olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 extra-large or jumbo eggs

Peel and thinly slice potatoes and onions. Meanwhile, heat oil in an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. After 3 or 4 minutes, drop in a potato slice. When tiny bubbles appear around its edges, add potatoes, onions, a good pinch of salt and a liberal sprinkling of pepper. Gently turn mixture in oil with a wooden spoon, and adjust heat so oil bubbles lazily. (I had to mine in batches.)

Cook, turning potatoes gently every few minutes, until they are tender when pierced with a small knife. Adjust the heat so they do not brown. If potatoes begin to break, they are overdone; stop cooking immediately. As potatoes cook, beat eggs with some salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Drain potatoes in a colander, reserving oil. Wipe out skillet, and heat over a medium flame for a minute. Add 2 T oil. Gently mix warm potatoes with eggs, and add to skillet. As soon as edges firm up, after a minute or so, reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 5 minutes.

Insert a rubber spatula all around edges of tortilla to make sure it will slide from pan. The top will still be runny. Carefully slide out onto a plate. Cover with another plate, and holding plates tightly, invert them. (This is tricky and if you are already under a bit of stress from cooking, it could cause a pre-dinner meltdown… as witnessed by the ever suffering Paul. We prevailed against the tortilla and the flipping was a great success.) Add another tablespoon oil to skillet, and use the spatula to coax tortilla back in. Cook 5 minutes, then slide from skillet onto a clean plate. Serve warm (not hot), or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.


I didn’t add enough salt. I like my tortilla on the salty side. But, it’s still so tasty, I didn’t care. And, because you serve it at room temperature, you can make it ahead of time and just have it sit out while you wrap up other dishes.

Tortilla Espanola otherwise known as Spanish tortilla

White Asparagus

This is so easy, I’m not even going to give you a real recipe. Buy some white asparagus. (I found fresh ones at Costco.) Steam said asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil and Sherry vinegar. Salt and pepper them. Call it a day.


Like green asparagus, just more anemic.

White asparagus on a plate

Ensalada Mixta

This salad recipe came from

  • 1 head Iceburg or Romaine lettuce
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • ½ C green olives, stuffed with anchovies
  • 1 can (approximately 15 oz) white asparagus (I used fresh lightly steamed as I already had them and canned asparagus just creeps me out a bit.)
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, sliced in long thin strips
  • ¼-1/2 yellow or red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 6 oz can tuna, drained
  • 1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters
  • Red wine or sherry vinegar
  • Extra virgin Spanish olive oil
  • salt to taste

Hard boil the eggs. Allow to cool in cold water. Then, peel and cut into quarters, or slice in thick slices.

Cut the lettuce head in half. Rinse the lettuce under cold water and allow to drain. While lettuce is draining, cut the tomatoes. Peel and slice cucumbers and slice the red peppers. Grate the carrot.

Open the cans of the other ingredients and drain each one.

Break up the lettuce into small pieces for a salad. Make a bed of lettuce on a large platter. On top of the bed, place the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers and carrots. Then spread out the tuna around the bed of lettuce, breaking it up into small chunks with a fork first. Place the egg slices, asparagus, olives and baby corn ears and artichoke hearts on top.

Dress with oil and vinegar and sprinkle with salt to taste.


As my sister said as she was assembling it, “Weird. You put all the colorful things on the bottom so that the canned and white bits are on the top.” It’s a salad with a smattering of stuff for everybody.

Ensalada Mixta

You’ll notice that I’m not discussing the desserts because I didn’t make them. So, that was it. We did Spanish-inspired Christmas and everyone survived. Isn’t that all we can ask of the holiday season?


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  1. #1 by ken on 12.31.2011 - 1:22 pm

    it sounds like a delightful meal……………………….glad i was there to enjoy it and the warm-ups the next couple of days..thanks again.

    • #2 by e.marie on 12.31.2011 - 1:45 pm

      glad it “sounded good”… but what did you really think? 🙂

  2. #3 by Katie on 1.1.2012 - 4:18 pm

    Sounds awesome! I want to try all those side dishes! That fish needed A LOT of salt!

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