By the Book: The Food of Spain

By: Kirsten Vala

Years ago, I spent a few months in Madrid working as a culinary intern in an upscale restaurant. I intended to learn as much as I could about Spanish food and cooking, but of course spent most of my time chopping and peeling, observing and eating. I didn’t end up coming home with a single recorded recipe.

Flipping through The Food of Spain, I was transported back to that hectic Madrid kitchen — chopping garlic, roasting and peeling peppers, blanching and peeling tomatoes, cleaning shrimp. And now, finally, in this cookbook I found the key to re-creating all the familiar dishes I encountered there, from potato omelets and paella to more obscure finds I can’t wait to try, all delivered with invaluable context.

The Food of Spain is for food lovers who appreciate a cookbook that’s equally as valuable on the nightstand for curling up with a good read, as it is in the kitchen when you’re ready to get cooking. James Beard Award-winning author Claudia Roden, best known for the classic A Book of Middle Eastern Food, is a master at putting food into cultural and historical context. The first 121 pages of The Food of Spain delve into the country’s food history, focusing on ingredients, dishes and regions. Recipe subheads and headnotes contribute a wealth of information about the region of Spain the dishes are from as well as Claudia’s personal experiences discovering and cooking them.

Start cooking from with these favorites from the book:

If you love paella, try making Pimientos Rellenos de Arroz con Salsa de Tomates (Bell Peppers Stuffed with Rice in Tomato Sauce), a veggie dish that also hails from Valencia. Bell peppers are stuffed with saffron-scented rice and baked in a homemade tomato sauce. Claudia mentions that this dish is commonly made with ground pork and rice, but this version is meatless.

Add a little meat to your meal with these tasty Albondigas en Salsa con Picada de Almendras (Meatballs in Almond Sauce). They're fried up and finished in a sauce of white wine, saffron and a paste made of fried almonds, bread and garlic. The flavors are classic Catalan.

More on Spain: Travel through Spain with Annie Sibonney in Cooking Channel's new show, From Spain With Love , Saturdays at 9:30pm ET.

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