November 28, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Spanish Cookbooks

If you, your friend, or your family don't already have a good Spanish cuisine cookbook, then why not add that to the Christmas shopping list this year? My wife and I like to cook, and when we were in the States we found a few cookbooks that met her high standards for "authentic," but also addressed the fact that you can't always find the exact same ingredients in the U.S. that authentic recipes call for in Spain.

In my opinion _the_ best Spanish cookbook in English is Penelope Casas's The Food and Wines of Spain (1982). Casas, married to a madrileño and a regular visitor to Spain, has been writing cookbooks for more than three decades. The Foods and Wines of Spain continues to be my favorite book by her, though she has other good ones. Great insights and cultural commentary accompany her recipes, which are pretty close to authentic if not spot on, but which also make good suggestions on sometimes necessary substitutions.




All the books in the Culinaria series will
make for nice additions to your kitchen
Another great cookbook to own is Culinaria Spain, by Marion Trutter. This is simply a beautiful book to own. It is great not just for the recipes and tips on cooking, but you will also want to put it on display and eat up the large colorful photos with your eyes. (This book actually makes a nice accompaniment to Penelope Casas's, which has no photos at all.) Culinaria is organized by region and has really nice spreads on the typical foods, ingredients, and dishes one can find in each region of Spain.

I also recommend you consider the various books by my fellow expat blogger Janet Mendel. On her blog she gives a nice overview of local ingredients and the kinds of cooking techniques and styles that people here use to prepare them. Given that she has been living in Spain for decades, the depth of her knowledge and appreciation for Spanish cuisine give her books an edge over the dozens of hack Tapas and Mediterranean cookbooks that are now flooding U.S. bookshelves. Perusing the online descriptions and profiles for each of her books, I would say that Cooking in Spain (1987, 2006) is your best bet for a standard recipe book. Cooking from the Heart of Spain (2006) and Traditional Spanish Cooking (2006) are better for those foodies who like to journey through the cultures and histories of their dishes and recipes. And Tapas—A Bite of Spain (2008), her latest book, caters to those of you wishing to tap into the recent culinary craze of tapas in the UK and U.S.

Check out Mendel's own description of her books at her blog here.

In general Mendel's recipes sound delicious, but be warned, they are often slightly different than traditional or conventional recipes. My litmus test for Americans who cook Spanish food is their paella recipe. (I can't help it, what with living in Valencia, the paella heartland.) Mendel's approach to this dish on her blog is actually quite ingenious. Recognizing the difficulty of reproducing authentic paella, she offers her readers "Paella a la Americana," a twist on the recipe chock-full of seafood goodies that Americans will enjoy and which simulates the idea of Spanish paella. I commend her efforts at exporting the paella principle abroad, though with my wife's proviso: this is not Spanish, and certainly not Valencian paella. (Penelope Casas, for example, is correct to observe that it is a common misconception in the US "that paella is loaded with ingredients." It is actually usually served in Valencia with fixed ensembles or combinations of a few select ingredients.) Since Mendel makes no pretense of her recipes being "traditional," I'm inclined to forgive these divergences from the "real thing." The most important thing is that the dishes taste good, right?

One feature that I like about Mendel's blog is that, since she is blogging her recipes throughout the year, she more or less follows the seasonal eating that Spaniards follow. In other words, she uses the ingredients as they become available and are in season. So the blog indirectly gives you some sense of when to look for figs or "higos" (answer: late summer) or cook traditional dishes with pomegranate, a.k.a. "granadas" (when they appear in Spanish markets in the fall).

For more cookbook or Spanish cuisine ideas, you can also check out these links:

http://spanish.about.com/cs/spanishcookbooks/

http://www.foodsfromspain.com/

8 comments:

leftbanker said...

I left behind an entire shelf of cookbooks when I moved to Spain and now I rely on YouTube (The Spanish grandmother I never had?) for recipes, sic transit gloria mundi. I miss cookbooks and this post reminds me that I should buy a few. My favorites are those that read like good literature. Waverly Root is my all time favorite cookbook writer and I highly recommend his book on the food of Italy.

My first goal is to reproduce Spanish dishes with impeccable authenticity before I improvise. It's funny but Italians and French people don't guard their recipes as jealousy as the Spanish. I made a video of "fabada asturiana" and practically received death threats until I changed the name to "fabada valenciana."

JANET MENDEL said...

Great suggestion--Spanish cookbook for Christmas gifts. One you may not have seen, quite wonderful, is Claudia Roden's THE FOOD OF SPAIN, published this year. Also, you missed one of my books, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, which has a recipe for authentic Valencia paella! Snails and all!

US taxes abroad said...

I find that I learn better from videos..great selection though!

An Expat in Spain said...

Leftbanker, my wife and I had long conversations about my huge library of books and what could go on UPackItWeShipIt. I brought _a lot_ of books over, but some did get left behind. Waverly Root is great. I own Eating in America, and have just added The Food of Italy to my Amazon wishlist. Thanks!

Janet Mendel, thank you so much for the recommendation on Roden's book... I didn't know about it. Exactly the kind of comments I was hoping this entry would solicit. It is also now on my wishlist. And I apologize for leaving out your book My Kitchen in Spain, doubly so given it has an authentic paella recipe!

Mr Grumpy said...

" Moro " is deffinately worth a read aswell.

An Expat in Spain said...

Thanks, Mr. Grumpy! That one was way off my radar. And just to clarify, you mean THE MORO COOKBOOK, by Samuel and Samatha Clark.

When I first glanced at your comment I thought you were making some cheeky comment in Spanish... ¡Tienes mucho morro! ["tener morro" / "qué morro" = to be / you are so cheeky]

Mr Grumpy said...

Yep, that´s the one (although they have done two books), I can recommend their restaurant in `Lahrndan´ aswell.

And I wasn´t be cheeky, my understanding of Spanish is nowhere near as sophisticated as that.

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