Saturday, April 30, 2016


I´ve been away from my kitchen for a few days. A friend and I took a driving trip through the Sierra de las Nieves (“mountains of the snows,” although the snow is all gone now) to the inland town of Ronda. After spring rains, wildflowers bloomed on rocky slopes and fields were vivid green with new wheat.

Ronda's landmark "New Bridge" (1793) spanning the tajo (gorge) that separates the old quarter of Ronda from the new city. On the right is the Parador Nacional, a hotel right on the edge of the tajo. The building was once the townhall.

Looking down from Ronda's cliffs to green fields and olive groves.

Sure sign of spring--bikers touring Spain after the motorcycle Gran Prix in Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez is over the mountains to the west of Ronda. A dozen of them stopped for lunch at the Mirador el Campillo in Ronda's Old Town.

Ibérico ham--what we had for lunch. Ibérico-breed pigs are raised in the Ronda area. Although they are not de bellota--finished on acorns--the hams and fresh pork are excellent.

Ronda also is known for its morcilla--blood sausage. Here the sliced sausage is scrambled with eggs and potatoes in a revuelto.
Skinny spring asparagus for a revuelto (scrambled eggs).
The menu on the wall? A fish and a mare depicted by prehistoric peoples in the La Pileta cave, a short distance from Ronda. These are reproductions of the drawings, recreated in the Ronda Museum which is in the Mondragón Palace, a building that dates from 1491, with astonishing views from the cliff's edge to the distant mountains.

From the Church of Espiritu Santo, at upper right, a path descends to Arab Baths where the Moorish town was situated (end of 13th century).

Path to the Arab Baths.

Thistles line the path.

Poppies and wildflowers along the path.

A different wild thistle. These are tagarninas ((Scolymus hispanicus). The prickly leaves are stripped away and the stems chopped to cook in a revuelto with eggs. In villages of the Serranía tagarninas go into a cocido with potatoes, chickpeas and pork. Tagarninas taste a little like artichokes, to which they are related.

A fine place for sundowners or a sunset dinner--Restaurant Abades Ronda, located right on the cliffside, behind the Plaza de Toros (bull fighting arena). The restaurant opened only a month ago and the staff is still working out a few kinks (the waiter's device didn't communicate to the kitchen, so one of our main dishes didn't arrive). But the food was fine and the setting spectacular.

An updated version of a traditional dish, rabo de toro or braised bull's tail. Ronda is a famous bull-fighting town. The meat is served atop truffled potatoes and topped with crisp purple potato chips. We enjoyed a bottle of a red wine from a winery within the Sierras de Málaga/Serranía de Ronda dominación. with our meal at Abades. There are some 16 wineries in the Ronda area, all of which can be visited with prior appointment.

Cock of the walk in the gardens of the small hotel where we stayed. Hotel Jardín de la Muralla is built against the old walls of Ronda. Rooms and terrace have views over surrounding countryside.

Pinsapo, a species of fir native to the Sierra de Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves around Ronda, has been around since before the Ice Age. This specimen is in the garden at the Hotel Jardín de la Muralla.

Breakfast--a thick slab of toasted bread topped with extra virgin olive oil and grated fresh tomato and freshly-squeezed orange juice. Sunshine on the hotel's east-facing terrace. (Photo by D.Ellefson.)

A recipe with tagarninas (wild thistle) is here. A recipe for rabo de toro (bull's tail) is here.

Hotel Jardín de la Muralla

Restaurante Abades Ronda

Tourist office Ronda

Strutting his stuff in a courtyard of the Casa del Rey Moro (18th century). Steps from the garden descend to the bottom of the cliff where a mina, or spring, once provided town water.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


What to serve for dessert for a dinner party or holiday occasion is, for me, always a dilemma. That’s because I don’t eat sugar. None whatsoever. (I am borderline diabetic and determined not to cross over.) So the usual cakes, pastries and puddings are out-of-bounds. I usually resolve the issue by going ahead and making a sweet dessert, then sitting back and watching my guests enjoy it. 

Slivered almonds top a sugar-free almond torte.
This week I decided to try a cake with artificial sweetening in place of the sugar, so that I could eat it too. I started with my basic recipe for a gorgeous almond torte known as torta de Santiago (that recipe is here ). I used all ground almonds, eliminating the flour, so the cake is also gluten-free. I used olive oil instead of butter. And I substituted white stevia powder for the sugar.

A tiny bit of (optional) honey with lemon juice gave the cake a slight glaze and helped slivered almonds adhere to the surface. I served the cake accompanied by unsweetened whipped cream and unsweetened berries. My guests thought it was terrific and I enjoyed a nice serving too. I never fessed up to leaving out the sugar.

Serve the torte with berries and cream, a lovely spring dessert.

Almond meal and olive oil make a moist cake.

So good with a dollop of cream and strawberries.

Almond Torte
Torta de Almendras

Serves 8.

7 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup stevia (white powder sweetener)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 cups ground almonds (unsweetened almond meal)

Glaze (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Oil a 9-inch springform pan.

Carefully separate the eggs. Place the whites in a medium bowl, the yolks in a large mixing bowl.

Beat the whites at high speed until stiff. Beat in 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Beat the yolks until they are slightly thickened and increased in volume, 4 minutes. Beat in the oil, then the stevia. Add the grated zest.

Fold the whites gently into the yolk mixture. Fold in the ground almonds in 4 additions.  Pour the batter into the springform pan. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool the torte in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

For the glaze, combine the honey and lemon juice in a small bowl. Microwave on medium power for 30 seconds, or until the honey is fluid. Prick the surface of the cake with a toothpick. Brush the honey lemon glaze over the cake. Sprinkle with almonds.

Dense, moist and just sweet enough with sugar substitute.

Green almonds from the tree--promise of next year's crop.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Maybe you’ve heard that kale’s popularity has peaked. Not so in Spain, where this “foreign” vegetable is only just being discovered. It’s now being grown extensively in Murcia (eastern Spain), a region famous for its market gardens. Most of it goes for export, but, finally, kale has begun showing up in local markets here. TV programs feature this nutritionally-packed vegetable.

Bountiful kale harvest.

I’ve been growing kale in my huerta, vegetable garden, in order to assure enough of the leafy green for winter soups. Planted in the late fall, it provides handfuls of greens all winter long. Now, I’ve got to pull it all up to make way for the tomato plants.

I strip the leaves off, discarding the stems, and blanch the leaves in boiling salted water. Drained well, they are packed in plastic bags and tucked in the freezer.

Because kale is such a novelty in Spain, there really aren’t any traditional recipes for its preparation. Inspired by the similarity in nomenclature—kale and cole, the Spanish word for cabbage (kale is a member of the cabbage family)—I’ve adapted a very traditional Andalusian recipe, using kale in place of cabbage.

Beans cook with kale and other vegetables.

Potaje falls somewhere between a soup and a stew. It is usually served as one dish, unlike cocido, which may be separated into a first course of soup followed by a platter of meats and vegetables as second course

Potaje usually contains legumes and vegetables. Many are loaded with pringá, meat, bones, fat and sausage. Ham bone or añejo, salt-cured meat, contribute a lot of flavor. After cooking, cut the meat, fat and sausages into chunks for serving. Each person adds them to bowls of beans or mashes them up on top of a slab of bread.

The pringá--salt pork, fatty meat, sausages. Cut into chunks to serve with the beans.

In my village, the typical potaje de coles, cabbage pottage, is made with both chickpeas and cannellini beans. Or chickpeas and black-eyed peas. In other towns, only chickpeas are used.

This potaje makes generous servings of beans, vegetables and meats.

Cut the sausages and meat into chunks and serve with the beans.

Pottage with Kale and Beans
Potaje de Coles (o Kales)

Serves 4 to 6.

Top left, pellejo, salted pork skin.
12 cups water
6 ounces pork shoulder
6 ounces spare ribs
Beef marrow bone (optional)
3 ounces salt pork or pancetta
Ham bone, añejo or pellejo
1 pound cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1-2 carrots, peeled
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chopped kale (or cabbage)
4 ounces morcilla (blood sausage)
2 chorizo sausages
Use kale instead of cabbage.
8 ounces pumpkin or butternut squash cut in chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
¼ teaspoon smoked pimentón
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin
Sprigs of fresh mint

Place the water in a large pot. Add the pork shoulder, ribs, marrow bone, salt pork and ham bone. Bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat so the water bubbles gently. Partially cover the pot and cook 30 minutes, skimming occasionally.

Skim the froth that rises to the top.
Drain the soaked beans and add them to the pot with 1 teaspoon salt. Bring again to a boil and skim. Cover partially and cook 30 minutes.

Taste the liquid and add more salt if needed. Add the carrots, potatoes and kale to the pot. Simmer 15 minutes. Add the morcilla, chorizo and pumpkin. Cover and cook until beans are completely tender, about 15 minutes more.

Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the onions on a low heat until softened, 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 3 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the three kinds of pimentón and the cumin. Add this sofrito to the pot of beans and kale. Cook 5 minutes more.

Let the stew settle for 10 minutes. Remove the pork, ribs, salt pork, ham bone and sausages from the pot. Cut them into pieces, discarding the ham bone or añejo. Place the meat and sausages in a shallow bowl for serving. Ladle the beans and vegetables into bowls. Add sprigs of mint immediately before serving.

Waiting in the wings--tomato seedling will replace the kale in the garden.