The summer after senior year of college, knowing I was soon to sell my soul to the big bad world of global cosmetics, I tried to rid my system of any remnants of the travel bug before my international consciousness was limited to the confines of my Midtown cubical. At the end of my two-month stint in four different countries, I left my mother in Tangiers and boarded a ferry for a final two weeks flying solo in southern Spain.
As a well-practiced backpacker, I’m always up for travel suggestions from friends who honor the same type of stylish frugality I have become accustomed to when abroad: spending my nights in hostels for 10 euro so that I can spend three times that on the city’s cuisine. As far as recommendations for the latter were concerned, I turned to my friend Ben, who over the course of his college experience took several Spanish-speaking countries by storm, and upon his return convinced all of us that he could no longer produce full sentences in our language after one or two cerveza.
As a lone gringa with no language skills no matter how many cerveza, Ben made sure I knew key words and phrases—the most important in his eyes being “beer,” and the most useful being “get away from me,” which I pathetically cried while being attacked by a group of pre-pubescent 12 year old boys in Malaga. Even more helpful was the one foodie haunt Ben told me about that was not to be found in any Andalucía guidebook: the Seville bus station, which according to him, had the best tapas in all of Spain.
Before I reached Seville, I told my new friends from the ferry, one of whom was from Granada, about Ben’s advice while we were sharing a skillet of Paella in, yes, none other than the Tarifa bus station. As we filled our stomachs with mounds of fresh squid and plump, smoky rice, Julia said that a friend of hers always used to say to eat where the bus drivers eat—apparently the Spanish equivalent of the donut-loving American cop when it come to tapas.
Having been reassured within my first hour in Spain that Ben was indeed a genius, I threw my backpack down in the hole-in-the-wall Seville bus station restaurant. Skeptical, I ordered the chickpea and spinach tapas, and was immediately blown away by the hardy, bold flavored stew. When I returned, I raved to Ben about his recommendation, and upon comparing notes, discovered he had meant the swanky tapas restaurant right next door to the station. Oops.
Regardless, the chickpea and spinach tapas was one of my favorite finds in Spain. And though I happened on it by mistake, from this dish alone, I too will tell my stylishly frugal friends bound for Spain to keep one thing in mind: eat where the bus drivers eat.
From my small kitchen, where the tapas are big enough for bus drivers, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Andalucian Chickpea and Spinach Stew
Makes 10 appetizer servings
10 oz baby spinach, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped (or one can diced tomatoes)
2 to 3 large garlic cloves, minced
½ tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
Two 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
crusty bread for serving
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
In a large oven-proof sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the onion until translucent. Add the spinach and 1 cup of water and simmer until the spinach is wilted and cooked through and the liquids have nearly evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper, and any additional oil as necessary. Saute until the tomatoes have softened completely and are beginning to fall apart, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the chickpeas, an extra glug of olive oil, and a cup of water or stock. Stir to combine and bring to a gentle simmer. If there is not enough liquid, add more.
Cover the pan with foil or transfer mixture to a casserole dish and place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the chickpeas have softened completely, and the liquids have thickened to a stew consistency.
Serve straight from the pan with a basket of crusty bread.
Makes 10 servings
Classic Paella usually contains multiple varieties of seafood and meat. But to pare down the shopping list, we went with chicken and Spanish chorizo from the meadow, and shrimp from the sea.
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken thighs, each cut into 4 or more pieces
1lb Spanish chorizo sausage, cut up in 1 inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, diced
1 cup frozen peas
3 cups short-grain white rice
1 pinch Saffron (optional)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
3/4lb pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
In a large cast iron skillet (with significant depth), heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken thighs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Once both sides have a nice golden crust, remove to a plate and repeat with the Chorizo, adding any additional oil as necessary.
Saute the onions in the remaining fat until translucent, scraping up any leftover drippings from the meat. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil and onions. After two minutes or so, add the wine, and cook until the liquids have evaporated by nearly half, about three minutes. Stir in the tomatoes (and their juices), the shrimp, pinch of saffron, paprika, salt and pepper.
Return the meat to the pan, stir to combine, and cover with the stock, and any additional liquid (water) as needed to submerge the rice mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer on the stove until the rice is cooked through, about 20 – 30 minutes.
Serve warm, straight from the skillet.