July 6, 2010

6/29: Japan v Paraguay, Spain v Portugal

Our tapas tasting menu takes you across the world from Asia to Latin America, culminating in the flavors of Iberia.
A taste of Paraguay
Paraguayans are consummate snackers. Seldom settling down for a meal, they munch endlessly on chipa, a sort of indigenous spin on the croissant, which is hawked by chipa barreros that ride bikes touting fresh chip for sale throughout every neighborhood. While it comes in varying shapes and sizes, the medialuna, or crescent, is the most common, hence the comparison to a croissant. If chipa intrigues you, Anna Elise to Paraguay is a lovely little blog about an exchange student's experience in Paraguay and has much to say of the local culinary customs.
1 1/2 C yuca harina
1 2/3 C  corn flour (much finer than corn meal)
3 eggs
1 1/2 C grated strong cheese such as Cotija or Parmesan
4 T lard
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 425F. Mix the harina and cornmeal, cut in the lard with a fork and whisk in the eggs. Stir until fairly uniform then add the cheese and milk, kneading until smooth. Salt to taste. Shape. Bake ~15 min on a baking stone until golden and crisp. *Also known as tapioca starch/almidon de yuca/manioc starch, it’s widely available online or in Latin American markets.  It should not be confused with manioc flour used for farofa which is darker and has a grainier texture.

A taste of Japan, via Portugal
Unbeknownst to many, the popular Japanese tempura preparation is of Portuguese origin, brought to Japan in the 16th C by missionaries. The batter uses cold water, soft flour and some leveaning to keep it fluffy and light. Traditionally mixed with chopsticks for only a few seconds, the mixture is lumpy, allowing for crisp balls of batter to form on the food. Thin slices of vegetables or seafood are dipped in the batter, then deep-fried in hot oil, traditionally sesame oil. Traditional tempura includes seafood and vegetables, but we honor seafaring, grilled sardine obsessed Portugal.

Sardines Tempura
1/2 lb fresh sardine fillets
1 1/4 C AP flour + more for the initial coating
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 C ice cold sparkling water
sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper

Coat the sardines in flour, salt and pepper. Heat a sauce pan of sesame oil, or canola oil to 350F. Whisk together the 1 1/4 C flour with baking powder, water and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Keep the batter over ice as you coat the sardines, shaking off the excess, and fry ~5 min. until golden. Drain excess oil, sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve hot.

A taste of Iberia - bom apetite y buen procecho!
Gambas are a ubiquitous staple of taverna cuisine on both sides of the Iberian. In Spain they are prepared in a simple marinade of fresh garlic, lemon and oil, while in Portugal this preparation includes the introduction of a piri-piri pepper and Madeira rather than sherry. Both variations are cooked and served in earthenware cazuelas, but you can use any skillet. Our version includes the piri-piri, but the dish is divine even without it.
Gambas Al Ajillo/Camarões Piri-Piri
6 T Spanish Olive Oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 piri-piri pepper, sliced lengthwise in two
1lb medium shrimp
Juice of 1 lemon

In a cazuela or cast iron skillet, heat the oil, garlic, and pepper.  When the garlic just begins to turn golden, add the shrimp and cook on high ~3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and parsley.  Serve immediately, preferably in the same dish.

Many of my favorite tapas recipes are inspired by my favorite Spanish restaurant state-side, La boca in Santa Fe, NM. I had a crush on the chef there as a teenager just introduced to Spanish haute cuisine at El Farol and I followed him diligently when he finally opened up his own place a few years ago.  For a delightful tapas tasting experience in Houston without all the cooking, try Oporto. Their menu offers a unique blend of many of the Spanish and Portuguese traditional dishes that you see here.

Almendras con Pimentón de la Vera 

This simple preparation of marcona almonds makes for the ultimate bar snack. Pan fry in olive oil and season with fleur de sel and Spanish smoked paprika. I use an Applewood Smoked salt to enhance the smokey sweetness of the paprika.

The bruschetta with mushrooms, fried egg, truffle oil, reggianito 

One of my current favorites and easy to prepare. I sauté a selection of wild mushrooms, such as trumpet, shitake and hen of the woods, in Spanish olive oil over low heat until soft. Then I add a dash of whatever red wine I'm drinking. When nearly all the liquid is absorbed, I remove from heat, grate reggianito on top, then distribute across slices of baguette. My boyfriend, chief egg fryer of the household, takes care of that, unless we are poaching, which is my job. I then carefully place the egg atop arranged bruschetta, season with fleur de sel and  sprinkle with white truffle oil. If I'm feeling indulgent, I'll use black truffle powder instead.
As with true Spanish cooking, strict recipes are not at the heart and soul of these dishes - rather, be inspired, playful, and use the ingredients that speak to you to create your desired flavors.
Our recipe for Ajo Blanco, often refered to as "white gazpacho," is inspired by a recipe from José Andrés, who serves this dish at Jaleo in Washington DC with lump crap and garnished with green grapes.
Ajo Blanco
1 C blanched almonds
4 garlic cloves
2 C water
3 slices pan de campagne, crusts removed
4 T  freshly pressed white grape juice
Splash of dry sherry
1 C  Spanish olive oil
Combine almonds, garlic and water in saucepan. Bring to a boil; cool slightly. Purée until frothy, season to taste and and refrigerate. Serve cold and garnish with grapes.

HEY! We've seen that cuisine before! Cook the foods of today's competing countries using other recipes: Regardless of what happens during Japan v Paraguay, the game and cuisine are sure to take backstage to the Iberian feast we have planned for Spain v Portugal. You're likely to have noticed by now through my single inclusion of Japan in a dipping sauce that this is a cuisine that has never quite been able to interest me. Paraguay, on the other hand, with its hearty reflections of Argentina and indigenous cultures, I find enticing. Dishes such as Sopa Paragauay, with the slight deviation of adding my homegrown green chile, and the fried deliciousness of the Milanesa make this landlocked Latin American country the clear winner in this match. My bets are on them for the game as well.

Portugal, the land of my beloved porto; the country that gave birth to Feijoada and spiced up Mediterranean dishes with Piri Piri has much to be proud of, but will forever take backstage to its larger neighbor to the east. Spain, more beloved to me even than porto for its Rioja, brings Manchego and Chorizo as well as Peras al Vino to the table. While they may win on the basis of these dishes alone, traditional Paella clearly puts them on top, so much so that we devoted an entire post to discussing their cuisine.

Prefer to eat out instead? Our Dining Guide tells you where and why.

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