Saturday, May 7, 2011


Congratulations to the 2010 James Beard cookbook awards winners. (See the list here)

Speaking of cookbooks, let me tell you about mine. As you can see from the lineup in the left-hand column, I have five cookbook titles currently in print. All are about the food of Spain, with recipes, anecdotes and information. Although there is some overlapping—recipes for potato tortilla appear in all five; gazpacho in four and recipes for paella in three of them—they are each quite distinctive.

COOKING IN SPAIN (Santana Books, Spain; 2006). Where it all started. My first cookbook (pictured at left) was published in 1987 by Lookout Publications in Spain. The book and recipes grew out of a monthly cooking column that I wrote for Lookout, an English-language magazine published in Spain. (I wrote food and other features for 30 years, until the magazine eventually folded.) The new edition of COOKING IN SPAIN was published in 2006 by Santana Books in Spain.

I wrote the book specifically for expats like myself, who needed to find their way around Spanish markets—what is that weird fruit? how do you cook that kind of fish? what are all these cheeses? sausages?—and, having tasted Spanish food in restaurants and tapa bars, wanted to try some of the dishes in their own kitchens. A Spanish-English glossary of ingredients, cook’s tour of regional cuisines, shopping tips and more than 400 recipes made this the “bible” of Spanish cooking.

The new edition, with color photographs by Jean Dominique Dallet, keeps all the market and kitchen info but has been edited down to 300 recipes. (Did anyone really want three recipes for cooking tongue?)

Because this book was written for people who shop and cook in Spain, recipe ingredients in COOKING IN SPAIN are given in metrics; dry ingredients such as flour and sugar are measured by weight, not volume. Although I provide conversion charts in the book, I think it’s easier to just buy a scales (up to 5-kilo) and a 1-liter measuring cup.

MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN—225 Authentic Regional Recipes (HarperCollins, USA; 2002). This is my most personal cookbook, with stories of how I learned Spanish cooking in village kitchens and tapa bars. I tell you about a visit to a ranch where fighting bulls are raised (in the company of one of Spain’s first female bullfighters); about baking country bread in a wood-fired oven; about gazpacho made right in the fields; close encounters with tentacled creatures; María’s Christmas turkey, and much more.

There’s a whole chapter on paella and other rice dishes and seven variations on the gazpacho theme. Vegetables and salads get big play in this book. Pork rules the roost in the meat chapter (no beef recipes other than bull’s tail and bull’s testicles). The seafood chapter has the most recipes—39—reflecting the importance of fish and shellfish in Spanish cuisine. I surprised myself with the dessert chapter, which comes in second with 36 recipes for cakes, pastries, puddings, confections and fried sweets. And, you thought there was nothing more than flan!

The recipes in MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN have American measures. A British softcover edition, with metric and British imperial measures, is published in the UK by Frances Lincoln. (No photos.)

MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN was a top-ten cookbook pick in 2002 by Food & Wine magazine, New York Times, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

(Check out the blog, The Secret Ingredient, for more cookbook news from my publisher, HarperCollins, here.)

COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—Food of La Mancha (WilliamMorrow, USA; 2006; and Frances Lincoln, UK; 2008). I loved writing this book, which was inspired by Cervantes’s book, Don Quixote de La Mancha. For a cookery writer, Cervantes provides fantastic leads. The very first paragraph of the novel describes the character of Don Quixote by telling what he had for dinner every day of the week. The story of Camacho’s wedding feast provides more food tales. And Sancho Panza continually grouses about his victuals.

I spent time in this region—the heart of Spain—exploring, tasting, talking to people who produce food, sell it, cook it and eat it. I interviewed a maker of Manchego cheese, a marqués who produces fine wine, a knife-maker, a woman selling her produce at a farmer’s market, a top chef. I harvested saffron, caught trout, and went on a partridge hunt. I weave these stories in with the recipes.

Surprisingly, here’s a Spanish cookbook with no paella recipe, no gazpacho. Instead are several saffron-flavored rice dishes made in cazuela and gazpachos, plural, a hearty shepherd’s stew with poultry in place of cold tomato soup. I’ve included lots of great soups, including the terrific Castilian garlic soup, and flavor-packed stews with legumes. Recipes for fresh trout and for salt cod fill out the fish chapter (although this inland region does have fresh seafood). Beef, pork, kid, lamb and game dishes from this region are noteworthy. As in MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, there are recipes for fabulous desserts and sweets. 

Standard American measures used for ingredients (British edition has metrics). (No food photos.)

COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN was a top ten cookbook pick in 2006 by the Chicago Tribune. 

TRADITIONAL SPANISH COOKING (Frances Lincoln, UK; 2006). The British edition of this book, first published in 1996, is distributed in the US. TRADITIONAL SPANISH COOKING won the prestigious André Simon cookbook award in 1997. In 2010 it was named 25th of 100 all-time best cookbooks by The Observer, right up there with Julia Child and Nigella Lawson (see the list here ).

In this book, I put traditional cooking in historical context—Altamira’s cave paintings as menu on the wall; the Romans who came to conquer and stayed for lunch; the kingdoms of Al-Andalus where people supped in flower-scented courtyards where fountains bubbled and musicians played;  before Columbus, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sat down to dinner, there was not a potato or tomato in sight. No chocolate. Imagine.

Sprinkled with Spanish proverbs about food (la olla y la mujer, reposadas han de ser—woman and stew need to settle), the book has recipes for many typical dishes from home cooking, seldom found on restaurant menus. Eel braised with garlic; cuttlefish with peas; rabbit with home-made noodles; “poor folks” potatoes and stuffed eggplant.

I’ve included some very unusual recipes, such as piñonata, a dense, pine-nut honey cake once served as a wedding cake in some Andalusian villages. It requires making noodles with ground nuts, frying them and mixing with boiled honey, spices and pine nuts before packing into molds. I later discovered a very similar recipe in a Sephardic cookbook.

Recipe measurements are metric and British imperial. Flour, sugar and rice are given by weight. (No photos.)

TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN (Santana Books, Spain; 2008). Loving those tapas in Spanish bars is one thing. But, how do you get the tapas from tasca to your table? This is both a cookbook and a guidebook. It starts with a tasting guide to tapas round Spain—how to enjoy them and what to eat. Then I show you how to translate those great dishes to your own kitchen.

The recipes are arranged by the way tapas are prepared and served—spread on toast, stuck on a cocktail stick, in a cold salad, hot off the griddle, in a cooked dish with sauce. Many tapas can be turned into starters or main dishes by increasing the serving size and adding accompaniments. I give you menu ideas in the chapter Planning a Tapas Party.

The book includes guides to Spanish ham, cheeses, olives, olive oil and wines; a handy Spanish-English glossary, and 140 recipes for favorite tapa dishes.  Measurements for ingredients are given in three standards, metric, British and American. Photos are by Michelle Chaplow.

Recipes in all of these books have been tested by me in my home kitchen. You can order any of the books by clicking on the cover pictures at left. 

Want to know more about the books? Just leave me your questions in COMMENTS below.


  1. Dear Janet,

    I hope you are well!

    All your books look splendid... is there any one book you recommend? I am looking for a nice Spanish cookbook that I can 'kosherise' quite easily - so as few pork and shellfish recipes as possible. I know that's asking a bit much from the Spanish cuisine but I thought I'd give it a try :)

    Thanks and take care!

    This Good Life (Esther)

  2. Esther: I suggest MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, published in the UK by Frances Lincoln. I'm afraid that any Spanish cookbook is loaded with pork and prawns! You will have to work around them. ¡Que aproveche!

  3. Dear Janet,

    Thanks for the tip :) I hope all is well with you and your family. Give my best to Ben!