El Jefe De Jefes: The Humble Tortilla Española

Wait, I thought this was a travel blog?!’ I hear you ask yourself. Well, that it is. But since the cuisine of a place is so inextricably linked to its culture, I may as well take the liberty of justifying my culinary adventures (or misadventures for that matter) experienced during my travels, into this humble blog of mine. And experiencing a country’s cuisine is another way of travelling to that country, wouldn’t you agree?

I really should have written this post a long time ago. Given that I am a foodie, I’m surprised that it has taken me so long to actually attempt Spanish cooking at home. I do blame the Spanish bar culture though- these ubiquitous social caves where going in is often way easier than coming out; where unpretentious food, local drinks and loud conversations seamlessly merge into a good few hours of relaxed fun. It’s here that I first encountered the humble tortilla Española, or the Spanish omelette. And so began my love affair: with Spanish bars, with Spanish cuisine and with the tortilla itself.

You can’t come to Spain and not come across this dish, for it is indeed everywhere; even sold in rather unappealing plastic packaging across various supermarkets. The local bars make it the best though, fresh off the pan. You’ll be given a piece as a ‘tapa’ (bite-sized snack) with your drink, and if it’s been made correctly, with the first bite itself you’ll enter into food heaven. Having only three main ingredients: eggs, potatoes and onion, it is of an appealing yellow colour, firm on the outside and slightly runny on the inside (although it tastes just as good if you fully cook it through). This is just such a simple and comforting dish- and it really embodies the main principles of Spanish cuisine: using the freshest possible ingredients and letting them be stars of the show, whilst leaving out all the strong spices and condiments (Yikes! goes my Indian soul).

If you are itching to try something new in your kitchen because the current quarantine has inspired your inner MasterChef, keep reading my post and you won’t be disappointed 😉 Like many Spanish recipes, this one is meant to be shared and will serve four people.

Ingredients (for a small tortilla Española)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Half an onion (Spanish people fall squarely into two teams- one that prefers their tortilla with onion, and the other that prefers it without. And trust me, this rivalry is as big as Real Madrid vs Barça).
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 potatoes, small to medium sized
  • Salt
  • A small pan
    • It’s important that your pan is small in this case, because tortilla Española is quite thick in size, and if you use a medium or a large pan, then the egg mixture will tend to spread out.
Recipe
  • Chop the onion finely.
  • Cut the potatoes in quarters- extremely finely. This is important, otherwise the potatoes won’t cook very well.
The potato slices should be so thin that they should nearly be transparent.

This is where I will deviate from the original recipe in the interest of health, but I will write about both methods- the traditional and the not-so-traditional *cue Spanish protests*

Traditional method-

  • Heat a lot of oil in a wok, until it reaches its smoking point.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and fry the chopped onion first to caramelize them.
  • Once the onion is fried, take it out of the pan and chuck in the potatoes
  • Once the potatoes are fried, take them out and reserve the oil for later use.

My method-

  • Chuck the potatoes into a microwave-proof bowl, cover it with cling wrap and let it cook for 6 minutes in a 1000W microwave.
    • If you are unsure about the power input of your microwave, you can always pause it after 5 minutes and check how your potatoes are going.
    • They will be fully cooked when they will be quite soft.
Potatoes in
Potatoes out. 6 minutes; 1000W; and a little mashed afterwards.
  • Heat a little bit of oil in a pan and caramelize the chopped onion.
  • Once caramelised, remove it from the pan. Reserve the oil for later use.
  • Crack open the eggs in a large bowl and whisk them.
  • Add your potatoes and onions to the eggs and mix well. Add salt as per taste. Let the mixture rest for 15-ish minutes.
    • This is important to let the flavours mix well.
The final mixture should look something like this- THICK!
  • In a small pan, heat some oil
    • Make sure it’s a relatively generous amount- and not just coating the pan lightly. There needs to be some oil visible in the pan itself.
    • Confession time! This is where I failed. I didn’t add enough oil into my pan, and the bottom of my tortilla completely burnt. The rest of it was edible though, so you should be good as long as you have enough oil.
  • Once the pan is quite hot, chuck in the mixture and let it cook over medium heat.
Cooking in progress! Keep a steady eye on it!
  • Try moving the tortilla while it’s cooking by shaking the pan a little.
  • Check if the bottom and the sides are cooked by using a flat ladle to see if the tortilla comes off easily.
    • The top side will be undercooked and that’s okay- for now.

And now comes the trickiest step of the recipe– and is no less than doing acrobatics in my opinion. If done incorrectly, it has known to result in a very messy floor, a tortilla smashed beyond recognition, lots of tears and swearing.

  • Remove the pan from heat. Take a LARGE, FLAT plate and stick in on top of the pan. With a FIRM GRIP flip them over, so that the tortilla slides from the pan to the plate, with the top side now at the bottom.
    • Make sure you do the flipping in a quick motion and do it over the sink to avoid any mess, just in case. It helps if you have a small pan.
  • Now slide the tortilla back into the pan it came from.
  • Let it cook for a bit more- and that’s it!
How to do the perfect tortilla flip.
How NOT to do the tortilla flip.
The end result
Expectations. (The tortilla of my landlord- Ana)
Reality. (My tortilla 😦 First attempt though)

­­¡BUEN PROVECHO!

I’d love to know how it turned out for you guys! Do you have a different method of making this tortilla? If you’re not from Spain, do you have something similar in your countries- or maybe some other snack that is very typical? Let me know all this and more in the comments section, or through my IG- @navigating.without.borders 😊 

Cover photo: Tortilla de patatas, courtesy La Cocina de Frabisa

My quest for the most perfect Portuguese custard tarts

It is no secret that I have a huge sweet tooth. When planning my Portuguese sojourn, one of the items I wanted to tick off my bucket list was to try the famous Portuguese custard tarts, or ‘Pastel de Nata’ (lit: cake of cream). I had come across them in a Portuguese bakery in Perth, where the taste lingered long after they had melted in my mouth. The crunchy pastry was filled with creamy, delicious, not-too-sweet, gooey custard that oozed into my mouth as soon as I had popped them in. The downside was that they were very small in size and too darn expensive ($2 to $3 per tart as far as I remember). Unfortunately, when your desires don’t match your wallet size, you have no option but to rein in your cravings.

So obviously when I decided to explore the land that invented this perfection, I knew I had to devour as many as possible. After I arrived in Porto, probably one of the first questions I asked the hostel reception was about the whereabouts of this divine deliciousness. I was surprised to find that the ‘real’ Pastel de Nata actually came from Belém, a suburb in Lisboa (Portugal’s capital). Whilst it is easy to find a delicious and cheap Pastel de Nata all over Portugal, you have not tasted the real deal until you have visited the most famous bakery in Bélem that bakes literally hundreds and thousands of them on a regular basis.

Pastel de Nata from the streets of Porto- what I thought was the real deal, until I was told that it actually resided in Belém

History bears witness that originally, the nuns of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery of Jerome) came up with the recipe of Pastel de Nata and would make it in bulk. However, later in 1837, the recipe was passed onto someone outside of the convent and they founded the famous bakery ‘Pastéis de Belém’ (lit: cakes of Belém). This, confusingly, is also the name given to the actual tarts produced from this bakery to allow them to be differentiated from those produced in other places. Pastéis de Belém is literally a 2 minute walk from Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, making it an ideal place to get your sugar fix after you have spent a good amount of time being mesmerised by the monastery’s rich architecture.

Hard day’s work at ‘Pastéis de Belém’
Ok, it may not look very different from the tart I had in Porto, but my gosh, it was definitely more delicious. I think the pastry was definitely crunchier which produced a greater contrast between the pastry and the filling and elevated the experience to another level.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

And of course, since you are here in Belém, and by extension in Lisboa, why not take the time to appreciate the rest of the place?

Monumento a los descubrimientos: A monument celebrating the efforts of all the Portuguese navigators, religious authorities and army generals who travelled far and wide ‘discovering’ new lands (read: colonies) for the riches and personal gains of the Portuguese crown.
As seen near Monumento a los descubrimientos. Displayed above are Portugal’s South Asian colonies.
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
We’re back in central Lisboa, painfully climbing uphill to Castelo de São Jorge (St George Castle).
Also, have you noticed the resplendent tilework, or azulejos, that is visible all over old buildings in Portugal?
The iconic tram of Lisboa
Somewhere in Bairro Alto (old Lisboa).
It’s THE place to be for a great night out in Lisboa as it contains the highest concentration of bars and restaurants that keep the city alive right up until sunrise hours. The steep streets can help you burn those excess calories too.
A casino in the middle of Lisboa? No. A store selling nothing but over-priced, colourful tins of Sardines? YES! Welcome to ‘O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa’
Igreja de São Roque
Miradouro do Castelo de São Jorge (Viewpoint of St George’s castle)

Até já Lisboa. We will meet soon.

Cover photo: Somewhere in Praça Dom Pedro (Lisboa).

Cure for my nostalgia: Moroccan Mint Tea

Today has been one of those serene, slow-paced days where all priorities and lists take a backseat and one seamlessly floats through. It’s a Wednesday, but I haven’t been to work since Monday. All thanks to a sore throat and some clamorous pre-wedding shenanigans over the weekend that culminated in me losing my voice. Entirely. I’d be pretty useless as a pharmacist if I couldn’t do the one thing that I am paid to do: talking shit about drugs.

Perth is rolling into October, which means spring has officially arrived. As I opened the windows, I could feel the excitement of being outdoors that approaches with spring. Which reminded me that I needed to do a new post. 

Monday was a very fine day. It wasn’t too cold and there was plenty of sunshine. About 10 months ago, I remember stepping out onto the streets of Fes, Morocco with the weather being exactly the same.As I let my memories take over, suddenly I had an immense urge to drink mint tea.

You can pretty much call mint tea as Morocco’s national drink. It has garnered a cult status in Morocco’s gastronomic culture. It is there when you arrive as a guest in someone’s house, shop or workplace. It is the catalyst that breaks the ice between strangers. It is what keeps conversations going between friends. It is the drink of choice used by men to mull over “important” matters of the day when they are whiling their time away in men-only “cafe houses”. 

Mint tea  is warm, yet refreshing. And very relaxing. And insanely easy to make. Try it once and I bet you will be hooked onto it forever, like me. 

moroccan-mint-tea
An afternoon well spent: That sugar brick is only half its original size, as the other half was dunked straightaway into my tea. I’m certain my tour guide thought that I have diabetes. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp Sencha green tea loose leaves (or any plain mild green tea for that matter)
    • Moroccans use gunpowder green tea but that can be quite strong for some people
  • 1 cup water
  • Few sprigs of mint leaves
  • Sugar as desired

Method:

  • Bring water to boil
  • Add green tea leaves and continue boiling for 3 minutes
  • In the meantime, prep your mug of choice with mint leaves and sugar
  • Pour tea into the mug using a strainer 
  • Let the mint infuse into the tea for another 3 minutes
  • You can leave the mint leaves inside the mug or take them out- Moroccans have it either way
  • ENJOY! 

PS: You can use a tea- pot to make your mint tea. Just put mint leaves in the pot and pour in your boiled green tea. Let it infuse and then pour the resulting mint tea into cups. 

Cover photo image courtesy:  http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/tipsandtechniques/ss/How-To-Make-Moroccan-Mint-Tea.htm via Getty Images