I've never quite understood Spanish cooking.
I've eaten it in Paris and as a child in Madrid, and of course in Vancouver at La Bodega, which is now closed.
I remember trying gazpacho in a touristy restaurant in Madrid and my entire mouth flamed with garlic and it was ice cold, which made it strange. That's because for me, tomato soup was always hot and warm.
These contradictions of taste are a common aspect of Spanish cuisine.
I love Spain and its culture: Spanish guitar, the pastoral landscapes, Spanish cinema, and the heart. By nature, Spanish people are usually very inclusive and helpful.
So the other day, I picked up a 2013 cookbook titled Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucia, by Jeff Koehler.
The book is a window into the history of Spain and its complex culinary traditions.
There are Moorish influences as well as Gaelic slants to their cooking. It features 200 recipes that include grilled lamb with honey, Pyrenees-style penne pasta with ground meat and pâté, chicken croquettes, and shellfish paella.
As anyone knows, you cannot not have paella. It's the pride of Spanish culture. And really what it is is a saffron-scented rice dish cooked on a wide metal pan and meant to be eaten communally.
Koehler lives in Barcelona and is married to a Spanish woman. Therefore, his opinions are definitely authentic and experienced. There's a page on how to cook paella, which I found fascinating. I noticed a lot of the recipes serve four to six people and while I doubt we would get all the ingredients in Vancouver, if you're a creative cook, you can always find substitutes.
The pictures by Koehler and Kevin J. Miyazaki throughout the book were fabulous. They showed the everyday life of the people, like their market scenes. I also loved the images of fresh produce. (Spain is the second largest exporter of strawberries. Who knew that?)
It made me long for Spain and for a bowl filled with hot paella.
I missed a Spanish friend of mine who used to hold her heart and say, "There's nothing like our cooking."
After savouring this book, I couldn't help but agree.