Monday, June 22, 2015

A Rare Taste of Rabbit

I ate a rabbit and liked it. Actually, I LOVED it. I think rabbit is my new favorite food, and I can thank Malta for showing that to me. Like most Americans, I had my reservations about trying rabbit. I was a little terrified. (As was my roommate when I had to cut the head off of it.) Most of Western Europe eats rabbit, so it can't be too radical or nasty. At least that was what I tried telling myself. Then I bit into the deliciousness that is Maltese Rabbit Stew. I forever am a convert. I am going to miss having the opportunity to buy rabbit when I go back to the US. I'm glad I got to try it while I'm here in Spain.

Only 50 miles south of Italy, the small island country of Malta is one of the most densely populated. Its 450,000 inhabitants live in 122 square miles. Its capital city, Valletta, is actually the smallest in area out of all the capitals in the European Union. As you can expect from having such a central location to Europe, Asia, and Africa, Malta has been controlled by several other nations during its history. Finally Malta gained its independence from Britain in September of 1964, a little over 50 years ago. Even though Malta might be a young nation, it has a long and rich history beginning in 2400BC. Apparently Malta had some sort of dwarf elephants and hippos that early arrivers from Sicily killed off. The Bible mentions Malta as the place where Paul got shipwrecked. Malta has been in Greek, Phoenician, and Roman hands as well as Moorish, Spanish, and French. You can just imagine how amazing the architecture is as a result of all these distinct influences. The Maltese language is the only Semitic language in the European Union. The Maltese are also the most generous people in the world. Over 83% of them donate to charities.


Maltese cuisine is very Mediterranean. Although they have had influences from so many different cultures, they have continued to maintain their own unique cuisine. Rabbit stew is their national dish, and the Maltese have the highest rabbit consumption rate per person in the world. (Each person eats about 8.89 kilograms of rabbit.) Pasta, bread, and rice are common carbs and accompany practically every meal.


One thing I could not find at any of the five bakeries on my street is sourdough bread. Everyone gave me blank stares when I asked for it. Panicking because I had not thought ahead to make my own bread, I had to randomly choose a loaf that looked similar to the Maltese sourdough bread pictures I googled. Hobz Malti is the name given to the particular bread loaf that is a mandatory ingredient for every meal. It is eaten as a complete meal in itself topped with tomato paste and seafood, olives, and/or cheese called Ħobż biż-żejt. Here in Spain they eat something like this called pa amb tomaquete in Valenciano. I wish I had devoted a little more effort to the meal and made my own Hobz, but the bread from the bakery was also delicious. Too bad we don't have a ton of little bakeries on every corner in the US.

Stuffed artichokes Maltese-style? Yes please! These delicious and tender beauties are super fun to make since you get to smash them against the counter to open up the tops. I advise that you use a small pot that you can cram them into, but I had to use a larger one with a jar wedged in-between the artichokes and it worked fine.


Qaqocc Mimli
2 artichokes
2 black olives, chopped
1 tbsp red wine
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 anchovies, chopped
1 large slice of Maltese or sourdough bread, toasted and crumbled
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, to drizzle

Wash the artichokes and cut the stems off of them so that they can stand up by themselves. To make the filling, mix the olives, parsley, red wine, garlic, anchovies, bread, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Bang the tops of the artichokes on the counter to open them up. Shove all the stuffing inside. (It all fits. Just keep shoving.) Place the artichokes upright in a pot. I used a jar wedged between them to keep them upright. Pour water into the pot to cover the bottom third of the artichokes. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.


 Here's how I cooked the artichokes. I also filled the jar with water to make sure it wouldn't move around.

Malta's national dish of rabbit stew is a must-have. Rabbit hunting was severely restricted when Malta was under the rule of the Knights of Saint John. I see their elevation of rabbit stew during this time as a form of rebellion and cultural pride. I am so glad that this dish was able to withstand the test of time so that I could enjoy it.

Stuffat Tal-Fenek
1 rabbit, skinned, gutted, and decapitated
1 bottle red wine
4 cloves peeled garlic
3 bay leaves
1 clove chopped garlic
2 onions, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups diced tomatoes
2 carrots, sliced
4 waxy potatoes, cubed
½ cup green peas
salt and pepper, to taste
pasta, to serve

Cut your rabbit into 10 serving pieces, cutting off the legs and cutting the body into fourths. Put it in a large bowl with the peeled whole garlic and two of the bay leaves and cover it with the red wine. Refrigerate overnight. Pat the rabbit dry and heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the rabbit and brown on all sides. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat and cook the onions and chopped garlic until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute. Add the rabbit to the pot along with 2 cups of the marinating wine, a bay leaf and the diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another 45 minutes. Finally stir in the peas, cook for 5 minutes, season to taste, and enjoy on top of bed of pasta doused in the sauce from the stew.


Wow. What can I say? I would have never thought that rabbit would taste so good. Why don't we have this in the States??? Why? Slowly simmering the rabbit for almost two hours yielded super tender and juicy meat. The sauce was thankfully not taken over by a wine taste. It was the perfect topping to my pasta. The artichokes were great and didn't taste fishy at all even with the addition of anchovies. I think they served more as a subtle salty addition than anything else. My only disappointment was not being able to make/find an adequate substitute for Maltese sourdough bread. Oh well. The bread I bought from the bakery was probably equally delicious if not completely authentic. Yep, Malta is definitely a place where I would not mind grabbing a bite to eat.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Grits and Eggs with a Twist

Spain has been keeping me very busy with sights to see, classes to take, and countless other things to do. I have sadly fallen a bit behind on my posting, but I have so many wonderful things to share! The food here is amazing, the people are friendly, and the weather is great. I don't ever want to leave! I do miss some things about home like AC, paper towels, and my family who is currently vacationing at Disneyland without me. I created this snack one afternoon after classes to tie in my new temporary home with my old. It's a twist off the classic southern breakfast of grits, eggs, and bacon. This time the grits are dressed up with Iberian ham and Spanish cheese. It's delicious!


Grits and Eggs Spanish Style
serves 1
¼ cup quick cooking grits
½ cup water
6 tbsp milk
2 eggs
2 tsp olive oil
2 ounces Serrano ham, diced
1 ounce shredded hard Spanish cheese such as manchego
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring the milk and water to a simmer and cook the grits until your desired consistency has been reached, about 3 minutes. Remove the grits from the heat and stir in the cheese, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and ham. Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil over medium heat. Whisk the eggs togeteher in a bowl and pour into the pan. Wait for the eggs to set before scrambling them up. Tops the grits with the eggs and season to taste.


Alicante is currently in the midst of their huge fiesta held every year at the end of June. It's called Las Hogueras (bonfires) and is a big deal. There are fireworks and crackers let off constantly, huge statues are being built, the road has been turned into a big dining hall, and people are everywhere. It's like a week-long party. On Wednesday all the beautiful statue/figures will be set on fire and firemen will douse everyone in water. This all happens at midnight just like the firework shows and parties. The Spaniards never sleep!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pinchos and Paella!

I know it has been a long time since I last blogged, but I have not been sitting around doing nothing. I am currently in Alicante, Spain studying at the university here. I am absolutely in love with it. Everything from the beautiful ocean to the delicious and inexpensive food to the fact I am constantly immersed in Spanish is just amazing. I could definitely see myself staying here for a while, but unfortunately the summer is only two months long. To celebrate my time in Spain and take advantage of the unique and fresh produce, seafood, and meat right outside my apartment, I decided that it would be fun to make Spain the next country I cooked.

Alicante is the name of both the province and city located in the Valencian Community that I am living in. It is located off the coast of the Mediterranean which gives it a great diversity in both culture and cuisine. Although Spain is a relatively small country, its geography ranges from beaches to mountains and from forests to areas that see little water. I literally can see the mountains from the beach. It’s absolutely beautiful here. I am a Spanish major and have loved Spanish all my life. Spain has always been at the top of my travel list, and I have been saving up to study abroad here for years. In preparation, I have taken countess Spanish classes over Spanish literature, language, history, and culture. There are 17 autonomous communities in Spain with two autonomous cities. The four official languages are Spanish, Occitan, Basque, Catalan, and Galician, although many other off-shoots of these languages are spoken in the different communities. Here in Alicante they speak Valencian which some people consider a dialect of Catalan and others assert that it is its own unique language. It is so similar to Spanish that I can understand it as well as I can understand an English speaker from England. From 711 until 1492 the Moors had control of Spain until the Christian monarchs banded together to create a unified Spain. Spanish architecture reflects their Moorish tradition and so does the cuisine.


Similar to all the different languages spoken in the different communities of Spain, there is also a variety of cuisine and cooking. Spain is famous for its olive oil from the central region, its oranges from the coast, and its wine from communities like Rioja. I have had the opportunity to visit and watch a wine tasting class (I watched because I don’t drink) and I also saw wild oranges growing yesterday when I visited La Lonja in Valencia. Since Spain has coasts on the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans as well as a large inner continental portion, the food can be categorized into three sections that later can be divided up into the different communities that make up each region. Since I am in Alicante, I decided to focus on the cooking styles of the Valencian Community. I took full advantage of the cheap seafood and delicious meats, breads, and cheeses located right outside of my door. The food here is way cheaper than in the US, but the quality is so much better! You can easily get a delicious lunch for under 2 euros, and wine is literally cheaper than water. Tapas and montaditos are a great way to fill up on a budget and they are fun to share with friends. You can try a variety of different tastes and flavors without breaking the bank. For my meal, I decided to make a variety of tapas so I could try out the famous Iberian ham and yummy cheeses as well as paella because paella is one of the most famous Spanish dishes and it happens to be from Valencia.


Here in Spain it seems like everyone is always eating. They have desayuno in the morning which includes bread, fruits, tea, and coffee; almuerzo around 10 which is generally a sandwich called a bocadillo with cheese or Iberian ham, comida between 2 and 4 which is their biggest meal of the day and is served with salads, appetizers, a main dish, dessert, and the ever-present bread; tapas in the evening; and then cena at 10 which can be a tortilla (potato omelet), paella, or some other dish served with more bread and plenty of wine. Wine is not considered alcohol here, and meals can last for hours. To fully represent a real Spanish meal, I had to incorporate some sort of tapas/montaditos/pinchos. Tapas are a great way to start off a meal and encourage conversation while you snack. They were originally served free along with your drink, and can still be found like this in certain places. Pinchos are a Basque creation of bread topped with olives, cheese, meat, or a variety of other foods and held together with a toothpick. Montaditos are like little sandwiches filled with all sorts of things. Here in Alicante, tapas, wine, and montaditos are about $1 each. That makes for an inexpensive meal.
queso de cabra
Cheese is my favorite, so I had to include it in my tapa mix. Cheese here is so much cheaper in the US. At home this would have cost upwards of $10. I got it for $2.
Jamon Iberico and Jamon Serrano are a big deal in Spain. There are different levels of quality, and any store that sells food will have big pig legs hanging in the back for customers to take their pick of hams. It can get pricy, but the quality is amazing. Strict Jamon Iberico must be made by black Iberian pigs that are fed a diet of olives and acorns. Maybe that's why you can't really find it in the US.


The Spaniards really like their fish. I have tried deep fried fish with its head on it, anchovies, and all sorts of things that would make my American self cringe. These anchovies weren't too bad after I got past the fishy taste.
For my first plate of tapas, I decided to serve bread, soft cheese topped with spices, and olives.


My second plate of tapas included Jamón Serrano, roasted red peppers, queso de cabra (goat cheese), olives, anchovies, and chorizo.
Serrano Ham and Cheese Pincho
Pincho de Jamon y Queso
To make the ham and cheese pinchos, take a piece of bread and top it with ham, cheese, and an olive. Prick it with a skewer and you have a two-bite treat!

 Anchovy and Roasted Pepper Pincho

Pincho de Anchoas y Pimiento
The other pincho I made had bread, anchovies, cheese, roasted red pepper, and an olive. It sounds gross but tastes delicious!

Paella de Mariscos: Spanish Seafood Paella
When the ancient Roman irrigation systems were improved by Moorish farmers, this led to rice becoming a staple of the Valencian table. Paella first started out as a rice and meat dish eaten by peasants and later evolved into the delicacy that it is today as more expensive meats and vegetables were added into the mix. Today it is said that there are as many variations of paella as Spanish households. There are traditionally three types of paella: Valenciano which includes chicken and rabbit meat, marisco which is seafood, and mixto which is a mixture of land and sea animals. I went with a seafood paella because although they do sell rabbit at the grocery store here, seafood is cheaper and I plan on cooking rabbit for Andorra. This way I get to sample a little bit of everything that the Mercadona grocery has to offer. I also scored a paella pan for $3 at a Chino shop. These little stores owned by Chinese immigrants are all over Alicante and offer pretty much all you could ever need super inexpensive. They put Dollar General to shame.


Paella de Mariscos
2 ounces chorizo
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Spanish paprika
pinch of saffron
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup rice (preferably bomba or calasparra)
¼ cup olive oil
1 ¾ cups chicken broth
1 red bell pepper, pitted and sliced
¾ cup diced tomatoes
2 ounces prawns
6 ounces crayfish or shrimp
2 ounces squid
2 ounces mussels
4 ounces clams
½ cup peas

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sautéing for about 10 minutes. Stir in the spices, remaining oil, and rice. Turn the heat up to medium high and toast the rice for about 5 minutes until golden. Pour in the broth, bell pepper, and tomatoes. Mash everything together and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes. Add the squid, clams, and mussels. Cook until the rice is done and all the moisture has been absorbed. Add the prawns, crayfish, and peas. Cook for another 5 minutes until the seafood is cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and serve.



My Spanish meal turned out better than I could have hoped. The paella was absolutely beautiful and all my group members were shocked that I had made it myself. I have an allergy to tomatoes which is one of the ingredients in paella, so I have had to look on longingly as my group members ate their paellas and I had to eat plain chicken. I finally got to try paella for myself by substituting red bell peppers for the tomatoes. It was absolutely delicious. I am not a fan of seafood or rice, but everything except for the crayfish was amazing. I would definitely eat paella again! The tapas were all good too. I wasn’t a fan of the chorizo, but the cheese definitely made up for it. And like everywhere else in Europe, the bread here is amazing! I have like 6 bakeries just on my block. I know why the Spaniards are always eating. Their food is so good!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Ramen Noodle Power

I have almost graduated college and can honestly say that I have never made a pouch of ramen noodles for dinner. Why waste a perfectly good opportunity to cook dinner on an almost instant premade meal? Ramen noodles do have one redeeming value. They are absolutely delicious served atop an Asian-flavored broccoli slaw. This recipe has been taste tested and approved by both my family and roommates. Finally there is a good excuse for non-college age students to buy ramen!

Crunchy Asian Broccoli Slaw
Crunchy Asian Broccoli Slaw
12 ounce package of broccoli slaw
5 green onions, sliced with the tops and bottoms removed
½ cup roasted peanuts
1 package of ramen noodles
3 tbsp canola oil

¼ cup vinegar
1 package of chicken flavored ramen noodle seasoning
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup canola oil
dash of sesame oil

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Crumble up the ramen noodles and sauté them until browned. Set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients. Mix all the slaw ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dressing, toss to coat, and refrigerate for one hour before serving.