Our Catalan Feast

Our Catalan Feast

We all love a vacation, especially one to a place that educates and inspires us. But let’s be honest. It’s all about the food.

It has always been on my bucket list to experience Spain. I had been hearing about my Father’s life-changing experiences in Madrid and Barcelona for years, and have a long-standing appreciation for Gaudi, Miro, Picasso, and the other brilliant artists who gathered inspiration from this beautiful city on the sea.

I’d also heard that Barcelona was not a great city for vegetarians and vegans. The fact is, though, I know that there are rising veg movements in every big city on the planet. You just have to know where to look.

So, when I asked the man who was renting us the apartment if he could find me a vegetarian Catalan cooking class, or someone to talk to about it, I was cautiously optimistic. Luckily for me, Alex knew a cookbook author, who referred him to Isabel Celma.

It turns out, Isabel is a vegan cooking teacher in Barcelona, and she was eager to give me a Catalan experience. She even speaks English. It’s always so much better to know someone who lives in a city, to really get the lay of the land, and to get the real deal when it comes to food.

Isabel has a website and blog dedicated to her Vegan classes, recipes and articles. If you are interested in meeting her in Barcelona for a culinary adventure, please contact me and I will forward your info.

The day of our class, Isabel came to the apartment, checked out the kitchen, and took us to the Boqueria Market. It’s a famous market, filled with food vendors of all sorts, founded in the year 1200.

The Famed Boqueria

The Famed Boqueria

Shopping at the Market

Isabel Shopping at the Market

Locally Grown Veggies

Locally Grown Veggies

Isabel knew where to get the best of everything, and shook her head at how touristy the market had become. She navigated us to the courtyard outside, where the local farmers only sold locally grown vegetables and fruits. I was amazed that bing cherries, morel mushrooms, asparagus, fresh favas and tomatoes were all in season at the same time. We bought loquats, the orange fruit seen in the photo, and tried their tart, juicy flesh for the first time.

Back at the apartment, I helped Isabel with our multi-course meal, chopping and stirring. She roasted and sauteed and blended, and we spoke our shared language of food. In a few short hours, Isabel and I made an assortment of traditional Catalan dishes:

Potato Tortilla (some people say it is only authentic if it is only potatoes and eggs, some argue for adding onions.)

Escalavida, roasted eggplant, and peppers in a vinaigrette

Romesco Sauce, which she used to dress a mixed green salad,

Fried Padron Peppers, a variety of pepper that is hard to find in the US

Fresh Baby Fava Beans with Mint,

Tomato Bread

Catalan Gazpacho.

She sliced some smoked Manchego Cheese and Membrillo for dessert for Stan, who loves cheese.

Overall, I was struck yet again with the simplicity of the real food of Catalonia. Unlike our American interpretations of tapas and Spanish food, the traditional dishes that Isabel grew up with rely on good ingredients, straightforwardly presented. Stellar produce, good olive oil, and the wisdom of the ages need to towering presentations or fancy garnishes.

Isabel is a gem, and she gave us great leads on veg restaurants to try, as well as teaching me some lessons on Spanish food. Check out my version of her gazpacho, below. Many Thanks, Isabel!

In our lovely apartment, cooking with Isabel Celma

In our lovely apartment, cooking with Isabel Celma

Isabel’s Catalan Gazpacho

I tried to write down roughly what we did, and then came home and made it. I’d never had gazpacho that was completely pureed, and with no bread or nuts, just the veggies. Again, the best ingredients prepared simply, rocked my world.

Makes 4 cups or so.

4 medium tomatoes, peeled
1 small cucumber, peeled
1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded
1 large anaheim chili pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel the tomatoes with a paring knife, put in the blender and add cucumber,
pepper, chile, garlic and onion, and puree. When smooth, gradually pour in olive oil to taste, then salt and pepper to taste. Serve cery cold.