The Spanish Lunch
Spanish recipes, information about Spanish cuisine, and reasons why you should cook Spanish food at home. The anatomy of a Spanish lunch and recipes for Spanish classics tortilla de patata and sangría.
Even with the proliferation of fast food chains and the almost complete disappearance of the mythical after-lunch siesta, a Spanish lunch is still a rather leisurely affair.
In recent years, Spanish cuisine has been a hot topic within international food circles, and for good reason too. Rooted in several cultures, Spain’s gastronomy is at once traditional and inventive. Spanish cuisine has a dazzling variety of both regional and national dishes and, as you know, makes liberal use of olive oil and red wine. And the fact that some of the top chefs in the world today are Spanish doesn’t hurt Spanish food’s reputation either. Think of Ferrán Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak, and Martín Berasategui. These and other chefs (mostly Basques and Catalans) have been particularly good at capturing palates both within Spain and around the world.
If you like to cook, or if you think you’d like to start, cooking Spanish food at home can be a great way to:
- Eat well everyday: The Mediterranean diet has widely recognized health benefits that stem from using olive oil as opposed to butter, eating more fish than red meat, and relatively greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
- Immerse yourself in Spanish culture: Whether you’re trading recipes with your Spanish neighbors or hosting dinner parties for Spanish friends who balk at some of the food you’ve brought from home, whipping up some Spanish food can give you more insight into the country you’ve chosen to call home.
- Join an international food phenomenon and impress the ladies (or the gentlemen) with your tortilla-making skills: with all the Spanish restaurants and tapas or “small plates” restaurants popping up all over the world, Spanish food is ever more popular with the masses.
Are you hungry yet? No? Ok, let’s change that.
A Spanish Lunch Menu
For Spaniards, lunch (comida
) is still the biggest meal of the day. Even with the proliferation of fast food chains and the almost complete disappearance of the mythical after-lunch siesta, a Spanish lunch is still a rather leisurely affair.
A full Spanish lunch generally consists of:
- Sparkling or still water, wine, and/or other drinks
- A first course (primer plato)
- A second course (segundo plato/plato principal)
- Dessert and coffee or herbal tea
Our lunch will be no different – a bonanza of tried and true Spanish classics:
The First Course: Soup
A bright red, cold soup packed with vegetables, gazpacho
is a summer favorite. Dice some tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, and bread for added texture and flavor. Place the vegetables on a plate or tray and each guest can spoon the right amount into their own bowl. Other options include a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of cumin, or chilled bowls.
Then when the weather is cold, try a heartier soup like lentil or squash.
The Second Course: Tortilla de Patata
Tortilla de patata
, also known as tortilla española
or Spanish omelet, is a simple, hearty dish made from potatoes and eggs – a classic widely available throughout Spain. And it’s vegetarian unless you decide to add strips of ham or other meat. Other tortilla
variations include adding diced green bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, or mushrooms, though you can literally add just about anything.
Accompany the tortilla de patata
with oven-roasted bell peppers brushed with olive oil or a fresh green salad.
Spanish tortilla is not to be confused with the Mexican tortilla, a staple of Mexican cuisine made of flour or corn and an integral part of enchiladas
, and other Mexican specialties.
A loaf of Bimbo will not do here. Go down to your local bakery (panadería
) and get a fresh loaf (barra
, etc) or some rolls (panecillos
). Accompany your bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.
Water is a popular, healthy choice, either sparkling (con gas
) or still (sin gas
), and best accompanied by wine.
Wine is largely a matter of personal taste, but as a friend of mine put it, “You can never go wrong with a bottle of red wine from the region of La Rioja.” To lighten it up, mix red wine with carbonated gaseosa
(to start, try 60% gaseosa
to 40% wine).
Fruit juices and sodas are also fair game. Coffee in Spain, however, is reserved for after the meal.
At home the most common Spanish dessert is a piece of fruit or a yogurt cup, of which Spain has countless varieties. But if you’re looking for something more decadent or something for a special occasion, I’m sure your neighborhood cake shop (pastelería
) can tempt you with an assortment of sugar-laden cakes and pastries, if it hasn’t already tempted you every time you’ve walked by.
A hot drink can also be a great way to end a meal, with or without dessert. Common choices include a cortado
(espresso with a drop of milk) or an infusión de hierbabuena
(mint tea) or poleo
Quickly flip the tortilla over.
Sarah’s Spanish Tortilla
- 1 small to medium potato, peeled
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp white or yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup diced vegetables (70–80 g)
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 pinch of paprika
Using a knife, slice the potato lengthwise into 4 pieces. Thinly and uniformly slice each potato piece crosswise; you can use a Japanese mandoline for this if you have one. Set the potato slices aside.
Heat the oil in a small nonstick frying pan (or crepe pan) over medium to medium-high heat. Add the potatoes. Cook for 6 minutes while occasionally turning the potatoes over with a wooden spoon so that they brown evenly in the oil. Add the onion.
When the edges of the potatoes start to turn golden brown—after approximately 3–4 more minutes—fold the vegetables into the potato-onion mixture. Continue frying until the potatoes are lightly golden brown and the vegetables are soft—approximately 3–4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Drain the oil from the potato-vegetable mixture using a colander set over a bowl. Set this oil aside for now.
Beat the salt and paprika into the eggs. Fold them into the potato-vegetable mixture.
Heat the reserved oil in a pan over medium-high heat, making sure to evenly coat the bottom and sides with the oil. Pour in the egg-vegetable mixture and cook 1–2 minutes or until the underside of the tortilla is golden brown.
Cover the pan with a large plate, and with one hand resting on the plate, quickly flip it over. Remove the pan; the tortilla will be resting on the plate. Slide the bottom of the tortilla into the pan and
cook the bottom for 1 more minute or until golden brown.
Remove the tortilla from the heat. Cut it into wedges and serve it warm or at room temperature with slices of crusty bread.
- 1 liter of red wine
- 1 can of lemon-flavored soda (Fanta, Schweppes, etc)
- ½ shot glass of orange liqueur
- ¼ shot glass of gin, or to taste
- 1 whole cinammon stick
- 2-3 whole pieces of fruit, sliced (for oranges and lemons) or diced (for apples and firm peaches)
- Sugar to taste (Don’t be afraid to use a lot of sugar here. Just keep spooning it in until it tastes "right".)
Mix all ingredients together in a big glass jar or pitcher with a lid, adding as much sugar as you like. Stir.
Refrigerate for at least an hour, discard the cinammon stick, pour the sangría into glasses, and enjoy! You could also add ice to the glasses.
So whether you’re cooking Spanish food for a group of friends or the simple pleasure of it, a leisurely, home-made Spanish lunch can be a great mid-day treat. Just don’t forget to say “¡Que aproveche!” before you eat.