Monday, 21 November 2011

Sopa de Garbanzos Cubano


1 libra de garbanzos
1 posta de pollo despellejado (muslo con encuentro)
2 cucharadas de aceite
½ taza de papa picada en cuadritos
½ taza de calabaza picada en cuadritos
2 dientes de ajo
1 cucharadita de sal
½ cucharadita de pimienta
½ cucharadita de comino molido
½ cuchadita de pimentón dulce


Remoje los garbanzos durante toda una noche y luego ablándelos en agua suficiente, con la posta de pollo. Déjelos refrescar. Separe la posta de pollo, deshuésela y sofría las masas en el aceite, con la cebolla y el ajo. Agregue este sofrito y el resto de los ingredientes al cocido de garbanzos, rectifique la sal y póngalo nuevamente al fuego hasta que la papa y la calabaza se ablanden.

Sírvalo bien caliente.Buen Provecho!

This article was written by Sabrina Rongstad-Bravo

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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Recipe- Paella Valenciana


10 pieces of varying Split Chicken Wings, Thighs, Drummetes
½ Lb Shrimp (with shells)
3 large Scallops cut in half (or 6 small)
1 Lb Assorted Mussels and Clams
½ to 1 cup Tomate Frito, tomato sauce, or tomato puree.
4 Cloves Garlic (minced or chopped)
3-6 Piquillo Peppers (sliced into strips) plus a few strips reserved to use as garnish
½ cup Peas
1 cup Green Beans (cut into 1" sections)
1 tsp. Saffron Threads or ¼ to ½ tsp. Powdered
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups Paella Rice
4-6 cups Shellfish Broth (recipe below) or substitute Chicken Broth or bouillon.
Salt to taste

* Pork Ribs, Rabbit, and Escargot are optional ingredients.

Prep Time/ Cook Time
30 minutes preparation, 35 minutes cooking (cooking time may vary depending on the type of burner/stove/oven you are using)

To make the shellfish broth: Boil the mussels and clams in 6 cups of water until the shells start to open. Drain, reserve the liquid, and discard any unopened shells.

For the sofrito:
Add the Olive Oil to the Paella Pan and Sauté the Chicken Wings and Pork for 5-10 minutes under medium-high heat. Add the Tomate Frito, Piquillo Peppers, and Garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Build the Paella:
  • Add the Rice and stir the mixture to coat, about 1 minute.
  • Add the Peas, Green Beans, Shrimp, Scallops, and Saffron.
  • Stir under medium heat for 1 minute to incorporate the mixture.
  • Tip From Sabrina's Kitchen: Be sure to crush the saffron threads to release the flavor before adding. Also keep in mind that saffron releases it's flavor with heat, so be sure to add it while the paella is cooking.
  • Add the hot Shellfish Broth (recipe is listed above) to the Rice Mixture (add 6 cups if using Bomba Rice, otherwise add 4 cups.)
  • Tip From Sabrina's Kitchen: From the point of adding the Hot Shellfish Broth and the liquid coming to a boil, the total cooking time to completion of the recipe will be about 15-18 minutes (it may take a few minutes longer for deep pans, if using a small burner/stove, or if using a slow-cooking rice such as Bomba.) Do not stir after this point, and control the heat so the bottom is not scorched.
  • Add Salt to taste (it is best to add less at first, as the seafood releases salt while cooking.)
  • Arrange the Mussels, Clams, and the Piquillo Peppers reserved as garnish onto the surface of the paella. Continue cooking until rice is almost done, but still firm in the center (Al Dente.)
Garnish with lemon wedges and enjoy the best Paella of your life!

Tips for Beginners
Paella is more of an art than a science, so it may take a little practice to be able to make it quickly. These tips may help: Have your ingredients cleaned, chopped, and measured in individual bowls so that you may add them quickly when the recipe is cooking. Be sure to use a big enough burner or stove for your pan. Ideally, you wand a medium-low flame that is dispersed over the entire bottom of the pan.

Cooking times are approximate; lower heat = longer cooking time, higher heat = faster cooking time (but at the risk of burning.)

The amount of liquid to add to the rice varies depending on the rice variety and the other ingredients you have added to the paella. When the cooking is half way done, feel free to add a little more liquid to the pan if the rice seems too dry.

If the rice doesn't seem to be cooking properly around the edges because the burner/stove you are using is just a little too small, you may partially cover the edges of the pan to help retain heat and ensure even cooking.

Regional Variations
Each region of Spain has their own unique variation of Paella, so feel free to experiment. Journey to the mountainous regions by adding chorizo, rabbit, or judion beans; journey to the coast by adding squid or langostino (lobster); or discover your own favorite by experimenting with smoked paprika, onions, or even vegetarian.

This article was written by Sabrina Rongstad-Bravo

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Friday, 19 August 2011

Cuban Cuisine:Recipe- Cuban Flan (Custard)

Cuban Flan (Cuban style custard)

Cuban Flan

Flan de Queso (Cheese Flan):
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 can of evaporated milk
1 8z cream cheese
6 eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
¼ tsp salt

1 cup of sugar
1 tbsp water
(All directions follow at the end)

Flan de Coco (Coconut Flan):

(To make Coconut Flan: Use same above list of ingredients, except for the cream cheese. Instead, add about ½ (half of) 8oz can of shredded coconut- in heavy syrup- .Use a spoon to add the coconut into the mixture in order to avoid pouring too much of the liquid. Follow same cooking directions as follows below)

Flan de Caramelo (Caramel Flan):

(To make Caramel Flan: Use same above list of ingredients, except for the cream cheese, and add 7 eggs instead of 6. Follow same directions as follows below)

Flan de Guayaba y Queso (Guava Cheese Flan):

(To make Guava Cheese Flan: Use same above list of ingredients except for the following: Only ½ package of 4 oz cream cheese (softened), and add ½ cup guava paste (softened). Follow same directions as follows below)


First, prepare the caramel: In a sauce pan, and over medium heat, add 1 cup of sugar and sprinkle with about 1 tbsp of water; mix well just to have the sugar lightly moistened. Melt the sugar in the pan, stirring to avoid lumps or burning. Once the sugar is completely dissolved (caramelized), and it has a golden brown color, immediately, pour caramel into a baking dish and tilt around to cover all sides and have the caramel spread evenly around the bottom and sides of the dish. Set aside.

Next, Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F. In a big bowl, and using a spatula, place the cream cheese (cream cheese can be placed in a microwave oven for a few seconds to soften) and mix with the eggs. Add the evaporated milk, condensed milk and mix. Add vanilla and salt and mix thoroughly using a whisk.

Mix the ingredients

Pour the flan mixture into the baking dish where you poured the caramel. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Place that baking dish into a roasting pan and fill roasting pan with boiling water to reach about ½ way the size of the baking dish. Then, place that roasting pan into the oven rag and this rag should be in the center of the oven. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 1 hour.

After an hour, insert a toothpick into the middle of the flan to see if it comes out clean. Once the flan is done, let it cool at room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes and turn upside down into a serving dish. Cover the serving dish with aluminum foil, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Variations when cooking: (For this variation, please, don’t leave it unattended). If you don’t have or don’t want to use an oven, you can use a pressure cooker to make the flan.

You will need the following utensils:

1 Flanera pan (size 1.5 Qt). You can buy a flanera at a Latin grocery store or online (it has a lid and 3 special closures to ensure the flanera pan closes well and tight and no liquid is spilled during pressure cooking).

1 Pressure Cooker (size: 4 to 6 Qt).


Make the caramel in the same flanera, where the flan is going to be cooked. Follow same directions for caramel as described above. Once the caramel is done, tilt around the sides of the pan or flanera to cover the bottom and all sides well, as on the picture below.

How to Make Caramel:

Add the flan mixture into the flanera and close it tightly.

Pouring the mixture

Place flanera inside the pressure cooker and fill the pressure cooker with tap running water to reach about ½ way of the size of the flanera pan. Close pressure cooker and, before placing it on the stove, make sure the stove is already heated on high.

Place the pressure cooker on the stove and when the top valve begins to rock, reduce heat to medium until the valve rocks at a steady, soft pace. If valves starts rocking too rapidly a few minutes later, reduce heat again, slowly, until it reaches a steady, soft pace. You might need to reduce heat a couple of times, so don’t leave the pressure cooker unattended. (If your pressure cooker doesn’t have a rocking valve, follow manufacturer’s instruction, reduce temperature to medium–low once you see the first vapors coming out, and set the timer the same as below).

From the moment in which the valve starts to rock, set timer for about 35-40 minutes, after which, you should remove pressure cooker from heat (If you notice that after 30 minutes, the valve stops rocking by itself, and no more vapor comes out, remove pressure cooker from heat. It means there’s no more liquid inside the cooker. Remove from heat immediately).

Wait until all vapor has come out of the cooker and all pressure is released. Open lid, wait a few minutes until it is cool enough to handle, and carefully remove the flanera. Let it cool at room temperature (about 10-15 minutes), and open up the flanera.

Flan still in the pan
Using a knife, carefully scrape around the edges to ensure the flan is well separated from the sides of the pan.
Scrape around the edges. Flip it over into a serving dish. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for about 2+ hours before serving.

This article was written by Sabrina Rongstad-Bravo

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cuban Cuisine: Stuffed Potatoes- Papas Rellenas


Stuffed Potatoes-Cuban Papas Rellenas - 

2 lbs large potatoes (peeled and cut into quarters)
1 lb picadillo (seasoned ground beef)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup dry bread crumbs
4 eggs
1 tsp salt

Add salt to a pot of cold water, and boil the potatoes until they are soft. Drain the potatoes, and then mash them, then set aside to allow them to cool. Separate the egg yolks from the whites in two bowls. Mix the egg yolks into the mashed potato mixture, whisk the egg whites for a minute.  Take a 1/4 of a cup of the mashed potatoes, and form it into a ball. Make a dent in the ball, to give it more of a bowl shape. Fill the indentation with a tablespoon of picadillo, and then reseal it. Reshape the potato as a ball again. Dip the ball in the egg whites, then roll the ball around in bread crumbs until it is coated. For a better coating, or for a crunchier texture, you may dip the ball into the egg whites again and coat it with another layer of bread crumbs. Refrigerate the potato balls for at least four hours before frying.To fry, pour enough oil into a skillet or frying pan to cover half of the balls, the oil should be at least 350°. Place several balls into the frying pan and cook on each side until golden brown, usually 2-3 minutes, taking care not to overcook. Drain the stuffed potatoes on paper towels, do not stack them. The other cooking method is to deep fry the papas rellenas at 375° until golden brown, they cook best deep-fried when they are frozen.

To Make the Picadillo:
1 lb ground meat
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small can tomato sauce
1/4 cup dry white wine
Pimiento stuffed olives
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, brown the ground meat, onions and garlic. If meat is not too lean, pour out whatever fat you render.turn heat down to medium low. Add the tomato sauce and wine. While it simmers, chop up the pimiento stuffed olives and add to meat mixture, it is ok to add a little bit of the brine, if you wish. Adjust the seasonings per taste.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cuban Cuisine: Roasted Chicken with Sauce- Pollo Asado con Salsa


Pollo Asado en Cazuela recipe - Roasted Chicken with Sauce

1 large roasting chicken
1 juice of a sour orange or the juice of a lemon or lime
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves - mashed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 onion, chopped
1 laurel (bay) leaf
3 Tablespoons oil or lard
1/8 teaspoon black pepper


Marinate the chicken with salt, the citrus juice and the mashed garlic for several hours. Drain it but reserve the marinade and then sautée the chicken to golden in the oil or lard. Add the white dry wine, bay leaf, onion, pepper and the left over marinade.

Cook at a lower temperature, turning over often to make sure all of the chicken cooks evenly, until done*. For easier cooking and serving, you can cut chicken up in pieces before marinating. You can add peeled and diced potatoes if you wish.  

Chefs note: Chicken will be done when no pink juices flow when pricked with a fork, but don't check too often or all juices will run out and leave meat too dry.

More to come in Learning Spanish is Fun!
  • History of Cuban Food
  • Roots of Cuisine of Spain
  • History of Mexican Food from Aztecs to Conquistadors

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Cuban Cuisine:Recipe- Oxtail Soup- Rabo Encendido

Cuban Oxtail Stew recipe - Receta de Rabo Encendido Cubano

 "Rabo Encendido" (literally means Lit Tail) is more of a stew than a soup, at least the Cuban version, and there are as many versions as there are Cuban Chefs. I made this the other day and it actually tastes better the next day.  You can make it with or without the chocolate powder. It's delicous hearty stew to be eaten on cold days to warm you up.

4 pounds oxtail, cut in chunks
Flour for dredging meat
1/4 cup olive oil
Two onions, chopped
Two green peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, mashed with 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon unsweetened chocolate powder (for a slight mole taste)
One can (12 ounce) tomato sauce
One cup red wine
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1 cup dice potatoes
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery

Dredge the meat with flour. In a large pan or Dutch oven, brown the meat on both sides in the oil, approximately five to six minutes. Remove meat. Sauté the onions and green pepper in the same pan. When the onions start to get translucent, add the mashed garlic and cook for one additional minute.

Add the tomato sauce, wine, beef broth and all spices. Add the potatoes, carrots and celery. Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer for two hours or until meat is tender on low heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Add additional beef broth if needed.
Remove bay leaves, serve. This is delicious by itself or rice as an accompaniment.

Bueno Provecho !

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Recipe: Cuban Arroz con Pollo -Cuban Chicken with Rice


Cuban Arroz con Pollo - Cuban Chicken with Rice

Arroz con Pollo is one of the most popular Latin American dishes. It's a derivation of Paella, the traditional Spanish dish, it has a lot of the same ingredients: safron, white whine, chicken, red bell pepper and peas. Arroz con pollo recipe can require annato seeds and oil to give it that vibrant yellow color but it's entirely optional. I have cooked Arroz Con Pollo without Annato seeds and still comes out delicious. I cook the rice with a bit of beer instead of water and it gives a nice Cuban touch. This recipe serves about 4-6 people.


For Chicken:
1 large chicken, about 4 pounds, cut into 8 pieces.
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Sofrito and broth:
2 olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
3 cups water (*)
1 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups beer*
1/2 tsp annatto seeds, or 1/4 tsp saffron threads
1 Tbsp tomato paste

1/4 -1 cup of Raisins to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

-Wash the chicken and blot dry with paper towels. Mix the oregano, cumin, white pepper and vinegar in a large glass bowl. Add the chicken, turning the pieces to cover with the mixture. Let marinate at least 15 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a large heatproof casserole. Brown the chicken pieces all over, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a platter and pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

For sofrito:

 Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic to the oil in the casserole, cook over medium heat heat until soft but do not brown, about 1 or 2 minutes. Add the tomato and cook for one more minute. Return the chicken to the casserole with the sofrito and cook for about 1 or 2 more minutes.


Add the water, wine and beer(*), saffron (if you use it instead of annatto oil), tomato paste and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, place annato seeds in small saucepan with 1/4 cup of the chicken cooking liquid. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain mixture back into the chicken. Thoroughly wash rice swishing with your hands, and drain off the water. Continue doing this until water runs clear.

Bring chicken mixture to a boil, stir in the washed rice, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. If it starts to dry out and rice is still al dente, add more liquid. If it gets too soupy, uncover during the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking. Just before it is done, stir in half of the peas (petit pois),raisins and pimientos. Garnish with Red Peppers. I usually roast mine first to give it a smoky taste.

Nota Bene: Making it with Beer is a nice Cuban Touch and gives it a nice tangy flavor. I adjust the quantity to the total needed for cooking.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Recipe- Tortilla Espanola - Spanish Tortilla


This is a Classic Spanish Tapas Dish eaten everywhere in Spain, in all the Tapas Bars, plain, cold, with a bit of aioli sauce or ( garlic sauce). Some recipes call for chorizo or red peppers. I like the simple version with just eggs, potatoes and onions. It's delicious just in it's simplicity and can be eaten for breakfast or as a snack or in between two baguette slices.

  • 4 huevos 4-6 eggs
  • 1/2 kilo de patatas 1/ 2 kilo of potatoes
  • 1 brown onion 

Pasos Receta:   

Paso 1 : Lavar y cortar las patatas en laminas finas.  

Paso 2 : Se baten los huevos con un poco de sal y una vez batidos se añaden las patatas, mezclándolas bien con el huevo batido. Una vez puesto el aceite a calentar se echan las patatas, añadiendo un poco de sal y se fríen. Truco: Si la tortilla gusta con las patatas más desechas puede ir desaciéndose la patata con la rasera mientras se muev Cuando se vean doradas se apartan y es importante que escurran el aceite en un colador o en un plato con papel absorbente.

Paso 3: Se prepara de nuevo la sartén en el fuego con dos cucharadas pequeñas de aceite que cubran una lamina del fondo de la sartén. Se echa la mezcla del huevo y las patatas. Truco: mover agitando la sartén con habilidad para que no se pegue la tortilla.

Paso 4: Se le puede dar vueltas hasta que quede dorada por ambos lados según el gusto...
Y ya está nuestra tortilla de patatas.

Recipe Steps:
Step 1: Mince onions and cook until they are translucent. Take them out of the pan and put aside in bowl.

Step 2: Wash and cut the potatoes into thin slices.  Heat the oil, add the potatoes, adding a little salt and fry. When potatoes are golden brown, take them out of the pan, and drain oil a colander, and place potatoes on a plate with paper towels.

Step 2: Beat the eggs with some salt and pepper and once beaten add the potatoes, mixing thoroughly with beaten egg.

Step 3: Put pan back on stove, covering the bottom of the pan with a sheet of oil. Put onions and the egg mixture and potatoes.

Step 4: Shake the Pan a bit as if when you are making an omelet like Julia Child.When you perceive that the egg mixture is like a curd and a bit hard, put a plate on top and turns the tables (it's easy, just have to do it safely).  Cook until  both sides are golden brown according to the taste, put a parsley in middle for presentation  ... . And Voila there's your omelet! 

This is delicious with a cup of really thick Spanish hot chocolate and it's easy to pack in your lunch box.

Nota Bene: Patatas is the Spanish ( from Spain) word for Papas or Potatoes 

More Cuban and Spanish Recipes Coming Soon in Learning Spanish is Fun !

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Mayan Hot Chocolate

Mayan Hot Chocolate

In Mexican ancient civilizations, before the Spanish conquistadors imported chocolate to Spain and added sugar, the ancient Mayans and Aztecs drank the bitter cacao
("Ka-Kow") mixing it with wine, and adding spices: vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chile.  Remember when Juliet Binoche adds chiles to her chocolate in the movie Chocolat ? Well, you don't have to be a movie star or an Aztec Emperor to make your own Mayan Hot Chocolate with this ancient recipe of chile-infused milk, cinnamon, nuts and vanilla. This is an excellent drink when the weather is cold or to treat yourself after a long days work, surely, it will warm you up and soothe your soul.

1 chile pepper, cut in half, seeds removed (with gloves)
5 cups whole or lowfat, or nonfat milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or 3 tablets Mexican chocolate, cut into 1/4"pieces
2 tablespoons sugar or honey, or to taste
l tablespoon almonds or hazelnuts, ground extra fine
Whipped cream

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat water to boiling; add chile pepper. Cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Remove chile pepper; strain water and set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cream or milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick until bubbles appear around the edge. Reduce heat to low; add chocolate and sugar or honey; whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and sugar dissolves. Turn off heat; remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Add chile-infused* water, a little at a time, tasting to make sure the flavor isn't too strong. If chocolate is too thick, thin with a little more milk. Serve in small cups and offer ground almonds, hazelnuts and sesame seeds and whipped cream.

Serves 4-6
*Chile can be infused in Milk instead of water
Enjoy !

To Learn More Have a Peak at this Blog on Ancient Civilizations and  History of Chocolate

This article was written by Sabrina Rongstad-Bravo

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Thursday, 23 June 2011

Part 1: History of Chocolate: Ancient Civilizations and the Cacoa Bean


In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millenia.

The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Chocolate, the fermented, roasted, and ground beans of the Theobroma cacao, can be traced to the Mokaya and other pre-Olmec peoples, with evidence of cacao beverages dating back to to 1900 BC.]  

Near the beginning of the 16th century, the Aztecs were believed to first make chocolate, although it goes back much farther. The Mayans wrote about cacao ( Ka-Kow) a Mayan word on their pottery as early as 500 A.D., but some believe chocolate dates back to a much older time during Olmec civilization, which preceded the Mayans.  The Mesoamerican civilization's chocolate a bitter drink made from a variety of local ingredients mixed with ground cacao beans.

An officer serving with Cortez observed Motecuhzoma, who was the ruler of the Aztecs.  They found that Motecuhzoma was drinking 50 flagons of chocolate every day.  This beverage, which was sometimes made with wine or water, could be seasoned with chili pepper, vanilla, and pimiento.  It was known to cure diarrhea and dysentery.  It also was believed to be an aphrodisiac.  Cortez is known to have tried the beverage, but he found it too bitter.  However he did write to King Carlos the first of Spain, calling "xocoatl" a "beverage that builds up resistance and fights fatigue." Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods."

For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to use as currency. One bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen, according to a 16th-century Aztec  document.

Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel's book The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.

Sweetened chocolate didn't appear until Europeans discovered the Americas and sampled the native cuisine. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate, having tragically mistaken him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader. Chocolate didn't suit the foreigners' tastebuds at first –one described it in his writings as "a bitter drink for pigs" – but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.

Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel's book The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.

Sweetened chocolate didn't appear until Europeans discovered the Americas and sampled the native cuisine. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate, having tragically mistaken him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader. Chocolate didn't suit the foreigners' tastebuds at first –one described it in his writings as "a bitter drink for pigs" – but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.


By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties (it's rumored that Casanova was especially fond of the stuff).  But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700s.

  •  "The True History of Chocolate", authors Sophie and Michael Coe  
  • "The Chocolate Connoisseur" Chloe Doutre- Roussel.
  •  "Traités nouveaux & curieux du café du thé et du chocolate", by Philippe Sylvestre Dufour, 1685.

 More about the History of Chocolate and Chocolate Recipes in Mexican Cuisine in next installment of Learning Spanish is Fun

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

History of Tapas: From King Alfonso to Modern Madrid

What are Tapas
Tapas are to Spain what Dim Sum is to China, Hors d'oerves to France, Meze to the Middle East., Chaat to Pakistan and India, Antojitos and Bar Food to the Americas, Izakaya to Japan. The word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover". In Spain, the main meals of the day is a late lunch around 2 pm and then a late dinner around 10pm, supplemented by smaller meals. In Spain, people go to bars afterwork to have a copa and typically small finger foods or " tapas" to tie them over until their late dinner.

History of Tapas
According to legend, the tapas tradition began when King Alfonso of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or "tapa." He issued a royal decree that insisted that everyone should take food with their drinks. A slight variation of this one is that the benevolent king simply insisted that food should be taken with any drink out of concerns for the health issues associated with drinking on an empty stomach

Tapas, like Flamenco dance has evolved through Spanish history by incorporating traditions influences from many different cultures and countries. The Iberian Penisula was invaded by the Romanswho introduced the of the irrigation methods. The invasion of the North African Moors in the 8th century brought almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices.The influence of their 700-year presence remains today, especially Andalusia.The discovery of the New World brought the introduction of tomatoes,  maize(corn),Chili Peppers, beans,and potatoes. These were readily accepted and easily grown in Spain's varying climates.

Classic Spanish-Style Tapas
As Spain is located on the Iberian peninsula and therefore very nearly surrounded by water, seafood and shellfish naturally play a huge part in Spanish gastronomy. A few delicacies of the sea to try are calamares frito(fried squid), cod fritters, Gambas al Ajillio (prawns in hot, garlic oil), and boquerones (anchovies). Moving away from seafood, other typical tapas include chorizo (sausage), Patatas Brava (" Brave" Potatoes), a variety of casserole stews, callos (tripe with chickpeas), jamón serrano (cured ham), albondigas (meatballs) and Tortilla Espanola (Spanish potato omelette).

Modern Spain-Tapas Hopping
Don't be shy about asking what order as most bars will suggest that you try their specialties, which usually happen to be the region's specialties as well. Tapas menus undeniably vary as you move through Spain; the best tapas in central Madrid, for example, are sure to be different from the choice tapas along the northern Galician shores. However, regardless of whether you're relaxing along the Mediterranean or channelling your inner Don Quixote de La Mancha , you are sure to find some common tapas "classics." Unfortunately the days of free tapas are over in much of Spain. Read more about where you can still get free tapas in Spain. If the tapas is given to you without you having asked for it, it will be free.

In conclusion, eating tapas is a sumptuous gastronomical experience that will be different from region to region in Spain. Tapas can be simple finger foods like olives or almonds, canapés or Spanish omelets, cut into squares and served on toothpicks, or deep-fried croquettes. They can also be more elaborate hot, saucy foods served in small earthenware casseroles. Whip up a pitcher of sangria and try a few of these tapas recipes at your next party.

Classic Tapas Recipes

Albondigas ( Meatballs)
Gambas al Ajillio ( Sizzing Garlic Shrimp)
Tortilla Espanola con Aioli ( Spanish Torta with Aioli)
Champiniones al Ajillio ( Mushrooms in Garlic)
Mejillioines Escabechado ( Marinated Mussels)

For Tapas Parties contact me, at

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