A Taste of Spain – Food & Culture

March 26, 2024

Spanish Coast
Photo Alev Takil on Unsplash

Spain is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world. It is the fourth-largest European country and the second-most mountainous country after Switzerland. It has numerous offshore islands, each with its unique and memorable personality. It is positioned on the Iberian Peninsula with an extensive coastline, the Atlantic Ocean to the north, west, and southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south and east. 

The topography varies from sea level to some of the highest elevations in Europe. Because of the country’s unique terrain and vast coastline, it is full of diverse growing areas, food types, and traditions and boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Spanish Mountains
Photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash

Mirroring its geographical diversity, Spain emerges as the most climatically diverse country in Europe. Generally characterised by a temperate climate, Spain experiences hot summers and cold winters inland and milder, cloudier summers and cooler winters along the coast. However, Spain’s climate can be categorised into five distinct zones: a hot-summer Mediterranean climate, a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, an oceanic climate, a semi-arid climate, and a warm-summer continental climate.

-Working Abroad Website

Spain has a full and colourful cultural history that has shaped the people, customs and heritage of the area. From the indigenous Iberian people to the addition of the Celts drifting in from modern-day France, mixing in Northern Spain, and the influence of the Phonecians and Greek traders in the south and Mediterranean through the invading Romans and the aqueducts they built. The Moors replaced the Romans at the fall of their Empire and influenced the area for over 700 years. They left a rich heritage of North African-influenced architecture and cultural and agricultural techniques that have had a lasting impact on the country. The Moors built some of the most beautiful architecture in Spain, and many of those examples are still present today.

Beyond the coastlines and mountains, this part of the world has been shaped over time by the cultures that originated and conquered influence over centuries. This created a wonderful, rich culture to explore and enjoy. Join us for a little tour through some of the food and culture highlights of this stunning region of Europe.

Here is a recipe for a tasty sangria for you to mix up and sip while we enjoy the ride!
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White Wine Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1 750ml bottle White wine of your choice Try Albarino or Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2 Cups Sparking water
  • 2/3 Cups Super fine sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Orange juice fresh is best
  • 1/2 Cup Lemon juice fresh is best
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Brandy* You can substitute triple sec or Grand Marnier
  • 1 Cup Grapes, halved
  • 1 Cup Strawberries, sliced
  • 1 Cup Raspberries
  • 1 Lemon, sliced
  • 1 Lime, sliced
  • Ice for serving

Instructions

  • Combine wine, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice and brandy in a large pitcher.
  • Add grapes, strawberries, raspberries, and lemon to the pitcher and stir vigorously to break up the fruit a little.
  • Refrigerate at least an hour and up to 5 hours before serving. Serve with ice and extra fruit for garnish.

Notes

*Try Pere Magiloire Fine V.S. Calvados from our shop.
Stillhead Distillery and Merridale Cider & Distillery in the Cowichan Valley both have wonderful local apple brandies to enjoy.
Pitcher of White Sangria
White Sangria Photo by Spend with Pennies

Spanish food is full of flavour and character. With Spain’s rich depth of history comes some fabulous food. Many dishes are eaten throughout the country, while others are regional specialities. The Moorish influence on food is evident in the herbs and spices used in many dishes. Spanish food reflects the ingredients of the Mediterranean diet with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, olives oil, nuts, meat, seafood and, of course, wine.

The best way to describe Spanish food is a typical Mediterranean diet. Huge salads, fish, fresh fruit, bread, olive oil, lentils and simple meats and vegetables. It seems simple and it is. But somehow the Spanish have turned simplicity into some of the most delicious food in the world.

-Hiketheway.com

A popular dish originating in Spain is Tapas, a small plate of appetizers selected alone or combined to make a complete meal. Bars and restaurants display pre-made tapas in counter-top fridges to tempt their patrons, and you simply point to the tapas you want to try. The communal dining experience allows guests to nibble on various items without filling up on any particular dish. A tapas of Spanish olives are often served in bars and lounges when you order a drink. They would be tasty with this twist on a classic Spanish cocktail, the Butano. The Navarrico is an updated version from Alf del Portillo via Punch and is on the top of our list of cocktails to make this spring and summer.

Tapas and cocktails
Tapas and Cocktails. Unknown Photo Credit

In contrast to North America, meals in Spain are often taken five times a day. They are a mix of lighter and heavier meals punctuated by the afternoon meal known as La Comida (lunch), which is typically eaten between 1:30 and 3:30. La Comida consists of several courses, salad, soup, main course and dessert. Our menu today consists of some of our friend Lauren’s favourite dishes she ate while in Spain

This wonderful fresh green salad is a joy to have on any table. Spain produces more than 40 % of the world’s olive oil, so it is no surprise that this salad is dressed with a simple oil and vinegar dressing.

Enjoy this course with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Reuda region or Spain’s go-to white Verdejo. Probably four out of ten bottles of white wine sold in Spain are Verdejo, which features peach and peach notes on the nose and is light and crisp on the tongue with hints of passion fruit, citrus, and minerality. Pair with a bottle of Petite Bon Homme from our shop.

Ensalade Verde

Course: Salad
Cuisine: Spanish

Materials

  • 1/4 Cup Red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Head Romaine lettuce
  • 4 Medium, ripe tomatoes
  • 1 Medium re onion
  • 1/2 Cup Black olives Preferably spanish
  • 3 Hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Capers

Instructions

  • Dressing:
    Place red wine vinegar in a blender or a liquid measuring cup. Add the oil slowly blending or whisking continuously until completely emulsified.
  • Rinse lettuce, tear it into pieces and arrange them on a medium-sized platter.
    Cut tomatoes into eighths.
    Cut eggs into quarters.
    Cur 1/4 of the red onion into very thin slices.
    Arrange tomatoes, eggs, onion, capers and olives on top of the lettuce
  • Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss.
    If you are serving on a hot day; you can sprinkle a bit of cold water on the salad to dilute the dressing and keep it cooler. In some warmer regions of Spain ice cubes are added to the salad to keep it fresh during a meal.
Enslada verde
Photo by Spruce Eats

On Spain’s southern coast, on the sun-kissed shore of the Medittearean, is the province of Alicante. The area is known for producing wine, vegetables, and fruits like lemons and limes and for its fish. In the capital city of Alicante, there is a bustling seaport that is a hub for cruise passengers and historic architecture. The coastal region is known as the Costa Blanco and is a popular tourist destination which is important to the local economy. This Alicante shrimp appetizer is a dish often served with crackers and bread. It has a signature freshness that is typical of Spanish cuisine. Cumin and cilantro are some favourite spices used in Spanish dishes. For best results, purchase fresh, locally sourced shrimp or prawns if possible. This dish would pair beautifully with a crisp cava like Monistrol Seleccion Especial Cava or, if you prefer, beer, Estrella Damm, a Spanish lager.

Alicante Shrimp Appetizer

Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Spanish

Materials

  • 300 grams Fresh shrimp
  • 1 Cup Diced fresh tomato If using canned, drain well
  • 1/2 Jar (12oz) Roasted red pepper Or roast 2 small or 1 large pepper*
  • 2 Cloves garlic
  • 2 Limes, juiced
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 TBSP Hot chili relish (Sambal Olek**) You can use Siracha in a pinch
  • 1 Tbsp Cumin
  • 1 Cup Cilantro leaves
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  • Place all but the shrimp into a food processor or blender and blend until slightly chunky.
  • Pour into as container and add shrimp. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.
  • Serve with with crackers or a sliced baguette.

Notes

*Roasting your own peppers is simple and can be used in many ways; Check it out here!
**Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian-style chilli sauce that can be purchased in grocery stores OR here is a sambal olek recipe you can make yourself 
  • Play with the amount of cumin or chilli sauce to find your perfect bite.
Alicante Shrimp Appetizer
Photo by Taste Atlas
Seafood Feast Spain
Photo by Max Mota on Unsplash

As the majority of Spain’s borders are coastline, it is not a stretch to understand that seafood is a large part of the Spanish diet. Octopus is readily fished for and enjoyed here in a variety of dishes. Lauren remembers being curious when she saw a large number of colourful pots on the docks in Southern Spain. She was fascinated to learn the pots had ropes attached, allowing them to be lowered into the sea. The octopus will climb into the pot to hide, and the fisherman hoists them into their boats just in time to make Paella for dinner.

Paella, which originates in Valencia, is considered Spain’s national dish. It is a rice casserole with meats, seafood and vegetables. Saffron and paprika are some of the most essential spices in the traditional paella recipe, rounded out with turmeric to enhance the dish’s vibrant colour. Traditionally, one cooked paella over an open fire, where the smoke was said to enhance the sweet, smokey flavour of the dish. Perfect for a dinner party, the dish allows the cook to prepare much of the dish in advance and pull the final details together quickly for serving. Leaving the cook free the visit with their guests instead of being stuck in the kitchen. Lauren has experimented with her recipe over the years, tweaking the spices used, experimenting with different ingredients, making it her own and encouraging everyone to do the same. This beautiful dish pairs well with a chilled Albarino from Rias Baixes or an aged cava.

Paella

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Spanish

Materials

  • 1/4 Cup Olive oil
  • 1 Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Bell pepper, diced
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 Medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 Tsp Paprika (sweet or smoked)
  • 1 Pinch Saffron strands 20 to 30 strands*
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Dry white wine or sherry Fino or Manzanilla sherry would be great
  • 4 Boneless chicken thighs, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped parsley
  • 2 Cups Medium grain rice Long grain can be easily substituted
  • 5 Cups Chicken broth
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen peas
  • 1/2 Lb Shrimp or prawns
  • 1/2 Lb Mussels, cleaned
  • 8 oz Calamari rings (about 225 g)
  • 2 Lemons, chopped into quarters

Instructions

  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep frying pan
  • Add onion, peppers and garlic to the pan and saute for 5 minutes.
  • Add tomato, bay leaf, paprika, thyme and saffron to thev pan and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often.
  • Add the white wine or sherry and cook for an additional 10 minutes; keep stirring occasionally.
  • Add chicken, parsley and rice to the pot. Cook for 1 minute.
  • Add chicken broth to the pan, increase the heat until the pan boils, reduce the heat to low to simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp, mussels, calamari and peas to the pot and cook for an additional 5 minutes. You want most of the liquid to be absorbed and the rice at the top to be nearly tender.
  • Remove the panfrom the heat and cover with a lid for 10 minutes.
  • Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges and serve from the pan.

Notes

  • Watch you don’t overuse the saffron, it can overpower a dish.
Seafood Paella
Photo by Tastes Better from Scratch
Paella
Photo by Tastes Better from Scratch

For dessert, Tarte de Santiago is a traditional cake eaten for centuries in Spain and named after Santiago De Compostela, a pilgrimage city in northern Spain. This centuries-old city was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The city is a destination for pilgrims who travel on the El Camino de Santiago trail. The trail originated in medieval times and has become increasingly popular with North American travellers who want to experience a profound journey.

Camino De Santiago
El Camino de Santiago Photo by Des Argonautes

This cake is a gluten-free delight with a dense texture with flavours of almond and lemon and is commonly decorated with a stencilled image of the St James cross. It is a traditional cake eaten in honour of the Feast of St James, celebrated every year on July 25th. The festival celebration lasts two weeks, with the 25th at the centre of the holiday. The festival celebrates food, art, music and culture and is an important celebration for pilgrims and tourists alike. If you want something to pair with this cake, we suggest a Pedro Ximenez sherry.

If you want to decorate your cake with the traditional cross, you can download a copy of the St James cross stencil here.

Tarte de Santiago

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Spanish

Materials

  • 2 Cups Blanched, toasted almonds OR use 2 cups almond flour
  • 1-3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 5 Large eggs
  • 1 Tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp Amaretto, Cointreau or almond extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Powdered sugar to dust top

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9″ or 10″ springform pan.
  • Grind almonds in a food processor into a fine powder with the consistency of flour; do not overgrind as the powder will become butter. OR use 2 cups almond flour.
  • Beat egg and sugar until creamy. Stir in the cinnamon, liquor or extract, and the lemon zest, then add the almond flour and stir to combine well.
  • Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the cake is brown and a toothpick comes out clean. If the top of the cake is brown but not cooked through, cover it with aluminium foil for the rest of the baking time.
  • Let cool for at least 30 minutes, then remove from pan and place on a serving platter. Dust with powdered sugar and share!
Tarte De Santiago
Photo by Bake From Scratch

Any reasonable, sentient person who looks at Spain, comes to Spain, eats in Spain, drinks in Spain, they’re going to fall in love. Otherwise, there’s something deeply wrong with you. This is the dream of all the world.

Anthony Bourdain

Spain is the birthplace of flamenco dancing and some of the world’s greatest artists, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eduardo Arroyo, and the great architect Antoine Gaudi, who designed many buildings in Barcelona including the much-admired Sagrada Familia. It is a melting pot of cultures, history and natural beauty. Spain captivates all those who come to visit.

Spain is a fascinating melding of people, climate, and natural beauty. Its culture, created over time, is rich and vibrant, and any journey here will surprise and delight everyone.

Like every other culture, food and the sharing of food is a vital link between people. Sharing food is sharing love. So take an opportunity to try your hand at making a little Spanish love and share it with those who make you smile.

This is a small part of the vast and varied Spanish cuisine, and there are many ways to explore this glorious and diverse country. We hope we have whetted your appetite here. Take a look at our companion post, which provides a basic look at some of Spain’s wine regions. A deeper dive into the wonderful world of Sherry is coming soon.

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