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What we ate in Spain… on the Way of St. James

18 Nov

Last July my friend Walter and I embarked on a great journey… to follow the steps of many pilgrims that came before us to reach on foot where the remains of the apostle St. James lie in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Our interest in completing the Camino de Santiago, as it is called in Spanish, started back during our last trip to the north of Spain in 2007. We saw in almost every city the markers for the pilgrims, the pilgrims themselves carrying their belongings… and we were enthralled. We knew some day we would do it.

But as working professionals, we can’t take off a whole month for just walking across Spain from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. So we decided to just do what was critically asked of us, walk 114Kms from Sarria to Santiago in 5 days. We walked on average 20kms per day the equivalent of a ½ marathon 5 days back to back. We trained for the trek ahead, walking about 14kms from my house to El Morro and back, carrying backpacks, water bottles, snacks, etc. under the Puerto Rican Summer sun. If we could manage that, we would certainly manage the sun and potential heat in the north of Spain.

España Trip Collage 2

The experience was wonderful… there are certainly spiritual, religious and physical aspects to this pilgrimage. And it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to put into words. You are amongst company and by yourself all at the same time. You start alone yet by the time you arrive in Santiago you have developed so many wonderful friendships. We’re all in this experience together and the love and support you feel is incredibly special. We are so fascinated with the experience, we vouched to do it all over again, but try to start as close to Roncesvalles as we can… and if we can manage it, heck start at the beginning of the trail in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, the reason why this most traveled route is called the French Way or Camino Francés.

Amigos Collage

My love for Spain is no secret to you who read me frequently… and I could not pass up the opportunity to document all the great things we ate in Galicia and experienced on the Camino.

This was my first time in Galicia… so I had to try some of the local delicacies to see if they’re as good as they say or as good as I remember. I remember my dad eating Caldo Gallego from El Ebro when I was growing up. Caldo Gallego is a hearty soup/stew made with beans, chorizo, vegetables. Growing up was never too find of it, and as an adult vegetarian I have not had it for the obvious reasons described just now. When we arrived in Melide for lunch we were told we needed to go to a Pulpería which are the most typical restaurants/taverns in Melide. Yes… Pulpería as in Octopus. We decided on Pulpería Ezequiel… where we later learned was visited just the day before by renowned Spanish chef Jose Andrés. He was walking the Camino just one day ahead of us!!!!! Of course I wasn’t going to eat octopus, I was pleasantly surprised to know the Caldo Gallego in Ezequiel is vegetarian – potatoes, cabbage, beans in a vegetable broth. It may have been simple… but it was perfect for the rainy day we were having.

Ezequiel Collage

Another Galician favorite are Pimientos de Padrón… Some of my foodie friends swear by these so I had to stop and try them to see if I loved them just the same. These are peppers grown in the town of Padrón in Galicia. They’re served fried and their peculiarity is that they’re mostly sweet, but there are several that are spicy and to eat them is like playing Pepper Russian Roulette… you never know when the spicy one will appear. Well, for me… it was the 4th pepper. It was sooooo spicy that it was enough for me not to want to eat anything else that night.

Pimientos de Padron

To cool off the spicy pepper sensation in my mouth… the Galician thing to do is to have a Clara de Limón, which is a combination of beer and lemon lime soda. It is refreshing and delicious… and when you make it with a non-alcoholic beer, perfect for someone that does not drink much and is planning to walk for 4 more days 4 half marathons. This is not the time to get a hangover.

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The Camino is a trustworthy place to be… we are all walking, with our own obstacles and tribulations towards the same goal, reaching Santiago de Compostela. People are very accommodating to pilgrims. They know we’re walking under the sun sometimes, so they offer water, and sometimes food. Along the way on our 4th day of walking I believe in between Arzúa and Amenal we found this cute fruit stand. No one tended it… there was just a money box where you would deposit the money of whatever you took. Everything was 1 Euro. We decided to eat raspberries and to leave our message of appreciation. I love a place where people are decent, where people are trusting and believe the same of others. We should instill some of those feelings in our own daily lives I think…

Camino Collage

I have told you about Empanadas Gallegas or Galician Empanadas… I have made a vegetarian version using tuno. We ran across a Galician Empanada and we had to try it… Walter ate most of it, but I had to take one for the team and give it a bite to compare with my own version. And for all of you who may have doubted if my tuno version was authentic… My tuno version tastes JUST like the originals made in Galicia. The dough is different, but the filling is just as delicious. The predominant flavor is the caramelized onions which gives it a creamy unctuous flavor. Feel free to make my vegetarian version… you will not be disappointed.

Empanada Gallega Collage

And to finish off our great pilgrimage… we enjoyed some of Spain’s most delicious contributions to the culinary world – CROQUETAS. We ate the most wonderful Spinach and Goat Cheese croquetas. It gave me the inspiration to tweak my spinach croquetas recipe and add some goat cheese to them to make an updated version.

Croquetas de Espinaca y Queso de Cabra

Completing the pilgrimage from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela was an experience we will never forget. Arriving in Santiago under the rain, attending the Pilgrim’s Mass, joining all the other pilgrims who had completed the same journey as us… was an emotional experience. One that I am sure has changed us in more ways than we can express. I encourage you to embark on your own personal journey… the journey to physically and mentally getting to know yourself more. The journey where we find our true essence and where we can live every day those qualities we love most about ourselves.

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Be it on the Camino de Santiago or in your own neighborhood… go out and inside all at the same time and find what you have always wanted that is right there inside your heart.

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Top Recipes of 2010

1 Jan

I am always surprised with the amount of visitors we get from all over the world… and the acceptance my recipes have on you, our readers.

I want to share with all the newcomers to KarmaFree Cooking, which have been the recipes published in 2010 that you’ve made most popular. This will give you an idea of what others are most interested in the KarmaFree Cooking world.

Bon Appetit!!!

Spinach Croquetas

Red Bell Pepper Sauce

Better-than-Maggiano’s Stuffed Mushrooms

Tomato Basil Bruschetta Mix

Very Berry Sorbet

Avocado and Tomato Sandwich

White Truffle Mac and Cheese

Eggplant Milanese

Coquito 2

Hash Brown Spinach Casserole

If one of your favorites is not listed here, please let us know about it in the COMMENTS section. We love to hear from you!!

Membrillo Update

7 Sep

For all of you that wanted to know more where you could find Membrillo Paste, here is an update…

I saw Membrillo Paste at the Cheese Section of Whole Foods.  You could find it near the manchego cheeses.  This picture was taken recently at the Whole Foods in Boca Raton FL.

There were several varieties to choose from.  Enjoy!!

Caffeine-free Hot Carob

13 Jul

For every Encierro in San Fermín, the Encierro is not the beginning of the day but more really the culmination of a night of partying.  Well, the almost culmination because before going to bed after the Encierro you must have breakfast.

Some people consider breakfast a spiked “zumo de naranja” or orange juice… as we can see with our Pamplona friends here.  But for most Spaniards a sandwich or “bocadillo” or Churros con Chocolate are more fitting breakfast choices.

But a word of caution…  if you order a Hot Chocolate or “Chocolate Caliente” in Spain you will get something closer to a  hot chocolate pudding in a glass.  If you want to drink something closer to what a hot chocolate is in America, you need to ask for a ColaCao with hot milk.  ColaCao is the Spanish/European equivalent to Quik.   But it’s important for you to know the difference so your expectations are met.

I am self-procalimed chocoholic, but I‘ve had to steer away from chocolate because of its caffeine content.  That’s basically the reason why the vegetarianism I practice avoids chocolate.  So when we had our churros the other day, my taste buds were craving something “chocolaty” to dunk the churros in… and the vegetarian alternative is Hot Carob.     

Carob, available in both bar and powder form, makes a very delicious caffeine-free alternative to hot chocolate.  And because carob is a bit bitter it resembles the bitter bar chocolate used to make hot chocolate from scratch.  Here’s how…

 

HOT CAROB

¾ cup of evaporated milk – about ½ a container
¾ cup of water
1 tbs carob powder
2 tbs agave nectar

 

  1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, add the evaporated milk, water and agave nectar.  Whisk in the carob powder to avoid any lumps from forming.
  2. Heat up the mixture enough without bringing it to a boil.  I like to keep whisking for a little while to prevent the carob powder to scorch at the bottom of the pan.
  3. Take away from heat and cover to maintain hot for a while.

 

Serve hot with a side of churros…

The evaporated milk gives it a creamier consistency as if you used regular milk, but you can certainly substitute the evaporated milk and water for equal parts of just milk.

Spelt Churros

12 Jul

My friend Angie’s mom, Doña Tina, is from Asturias.  They were just visiting Asturias this past Easter.  Angie came back with plenty ideas for us to make together.  Among them, a CHURRERA…  or a little machine contraption to make churros.  We just had to try it for our Spanish-inspired dinner menu recently.

Mariana and Natalia were super excited to make churros… they were asking for them the whole night.  Churros are sweet, crunchy and delicious.  What’s not to like??

The recipe is super simple… just 3 ingredients – flour, water and butter.  That’s it; Nothing to it.  All you need is a little bit of muscle to work the Churrera.  Or a second pair of hands is also very useful.  If you do not have a churrera, don’t worry – a simple pastry bag with a star tip will also do the job.

We used spelt flour for the job… and it worked out extremely well. 

 

SPELT CHURROS

1 cup  spelt flour
1 cup  water
2 tbs butter
a pinch of kosher salt
Canola oil for frying
Organic sugar for sprinkling on top

 

  1. In a medium saucepan bring the water and butter to a boil.  Dump the flour into the water in one swoop and start mixing it all together very briskly using a wooden spoon.
  2. After mixing the dough around the pan for a little while, about 1-2 minutes, take the dough out of the pan to cool off.
  3. After the dough has cooled, insert it into a churrera or pastry bag with a star tip.
  4. In a large skillet, place about ½ inch of oil for frying the churros… traditionally olive oil is used, but I do not like to use olive oil for frying.  Check the oil is at the right frying temperature by inserting a wooden spoon into the oil.
  5. Press the churros dough through the currera and into the hot oil.  Try to use a circular motion going from the center of the pan and spiral outward.  When you run out of space in the pan, cut the dough using kitchen shears.  That’s the traditional way the Spanish do churros.  If this is too complex, just draw some lines into the frying pan and cut the dough again using kitchen shears.
  6. Fry churros for about 10-15 minutes, until the dough is golden brown on all sides.  Spelt flour is a little bit darker than traditional white flour, so it’ll take a few minutes of frying before you start seeing the change in color and doneness.
  7. Take the finished churros out of the oil and place in a paper towel to drain.  Sprinkle with organic sugar on top.

 

These churros are spectacular and even more so with a cup of Hot Carob on the side.

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