Galicia :: Bridge to Spain

Archive for Galicia

Some are hot, and some are not.

 

Some are hot and some are not.

Ahem. We’re talking peppers here. Padrón peppers to be specific. As the Galician saying goes: pimentos de Padrón, unos pican e outros non. (Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not).

So what are Padrón peppers? They’re a smallish green pepper from Spain’s Galicia region, and yes, some are hot and some are not. Usually not kill-taste-buds hot. But sometimes eye-watering hot.

But let’s backtrack a bit.

First of all, Padrón is a bit of a misnomer. Technically speaking, these peppers are from the Herbón area south of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia region, northwest Spain). Padrón is a town in the area, but important for the peppers: San Antonio Franciscan convent (14th c) is in the Padrón parish, and it was the Franciscan monks who brought these peppers from the Americas, probably in the 16th century.

The peppers are so unique in Spain that they have their own Certified Origin, registered as Pimientos de Herbón, not Padrón, an important technicality if you’re at the market and want to be sure you get the right thing. But in a bar or if talking with friends, for now they’re Padrón peppers, just like they’ve always been – perhaps the alliteration makes the name sound better.   And scientifically, they’re Capsicum annuum.

Padrón peppers are best shared with a group of friends. Hot from the frying pan, liberally sprinkled with coarse salt and heaped on a plate, they’re an inviting sight. But beware: some are hot, and some are not. Sort of culinary Russian Roulette.

The traditional way to eat these peppers: pick up by the stem and pop the whole thing in your mouth (more cautious people will nibble the end first). Your friends are watching, either openly or out of the corner of their eye, evaluating the temperature of your pepper by the expression on your face. The theory is that odds change as more or fewer hot peppers show up on the plate – and while technically about 10% of Padrón peppers are hot, that doesn’t necessarily mean 10% on your shared plate. They could all be mild, or half hot: the 10% rule is over the entire production of peppers.

What makes the peppers hot is capsaicin, just like Padrón pepper “cousins” serrano or jalapeño peppers. But in Padrón peppers, the amount of capsaicin varies a lot depending on how much sun and water the plant got when growing. Traditionally Padrón pepper pickers have been women, and they mix the peppers they think will be hot with ones that will be milder. Thus the variation in pepper temperature when they reach your shared plate.

There is lots of lore about identifying which Padrón peppers are hot. Pepper experts say that the hottest peppers are longer in shape, or have longer stems, or are bigger and a bit reddish, or even that the coarse salt sticks less to hot peppers than to mild peppers. And a restaurant owner (as much of an expert as anyone on this topic) says that late in the season in a dry year, there tend to be more hot peppers, and hotter hot peppers.

Got a hot one? Don’t panic – and don’t try to cool down with water, beer or the local Ribiero wine (a great companion to any Galician tapa experience). The best solution is to eat bread. If at all possible, the hearty, coarse-grain Galician bread.

Still not ready to do it? Alas, the Padrón Pepper app promising to take the guesswork out of pepper tasting has disappeared from Google Play store. It had a hundred-percent accuracy guarantee: scanning the pepper with the phone’s camera it could evaluate pepper temperature. And if the pepper-eater disagreed with the analysis, the problem was with that person’s palate, not with the app.

So until the app or something similar appears, you’ll just have to take your chances with Padrón peppers: some are hot, and some are not.

Padrón pepper talk:

Padrón or Herbón? The Certified Origin regulation council is trying to change the name officially to Herbón peppers, to differentiate their peppers from similar peppers grown elsewhere.

Pepper season: the true Padrón pepper season is May to late October, though now peppers are grown in hothouses in other parts of Spain and Morocco and available most of the year. Hothouse peppers might have a slightly different taste and different proportion of hot and not.

Padrón Pepper festival: usually the first Saturday in August in Padrón town.

More about the peppers from the Herbón regulation council: http://www.pementodeherbon.com/en/home.htm

Kale Tale

Spain. Galicia. Kake

Wheelbarrow of kale

Kale is a super-food, or so they tell us. It’s on that list with blueberries, salmon, quinoa and now (yes!!) dark chocolate.

Now I’m not a real cook, but I do like playing in the kitchen, and my first experience with kale chips was a real revelation (thank you, Betsy).  The problem is finding kale in Madrid.

Sometimes I can get it at the Vallehermoso market.  Then there’s a small fruit-and-veg place in the trendy and health-conscious Chueca neighborhood. There’s even a place not too far from my apartment. But none of these is really reliable, and all require a special and sometimes unsuccessful trip.

It’s different in the north, where kale is food for some kinds of livestock as well as an important ingredient in regional dishes. That includes Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain, where gardens with kale abound along the last kilometers of the Road of St. James (el Camino).

When I say gardens, that can be anything from a two rows to a big field.  It’s not unusual to see knee-high kale next to a stalky kale almost two meters high, so tall you’d think it was another plant altogether.  I’ve always been curious about that tall kale (Camino pilgrims walking with me also ask), but never had the chance to talk to an expert to get the scoop.

Last month I got my chance during first part of Way-Back Camino, walking the Camino away from Santiago instead of towards Santiago.  In a village at the top of a hill on that dang rollercoaster into Portomarin (pilgrims will remember, it’s harder going east!) right on the Camino there was a wheelbarrow piled high with kale and a woman harvesting in her garden. I took a photo of the wheelbarrow as she was coming out with another armful, looking at me with a puzzled expression, um, you like my wheelbarrow?

 So we talked about kale , and I got the scoop.

The knee-high kale was planted about three months ago – March or thereabouts – and the tall kale about a year and a half ago; kale can easily live two years and get taller than hers, so tall that you have to pull it way down to harvest the leaves. No, the frost doesn’t kill it, she says it tastes even better after a freeze, something I’ve seen in kale recipes that require frost-nipped kale. (climate note: it does freeze in Galicia, but temps are rarely below freezing for the entire day, and certainly not below 25ºF for any length of time at all).

She told me that caldo gallego is usually made with kale from late spring to fall, and with turnip greens in the winter.  (A Galician woman in Madrid told me this can be a family thing, as her family always uses turnip greens).

My expert got the kale scoop too  – she was surprised to hear that kale is considered a super-food, and liked the idea of kale chips.  She was shocked that kale is hard to find in Madrid, and that one of my sources told me it’s not the season – she indignantly insisted that it is high season for kale, but we concluded that the clueless Madrid vege vendor was thinking hearty soups, not a summer favorite in Madrid where temperatures are often over 90ºF.

We parted after a nice conversation and some good giggles, sort-of friends. This is just the kind of local encounter that I love and seek out whenever possible – next time I walk through her village I’ll be looking for her to say hi and ask if she tried the kale chips.

 Spanish language tips:

Kale = berza.  Turnip greens =  grelos

Caldo gallego: literally Galician broth, though this hearty soup is anything but “broth”.

Spanish slang: coger una berza (catch a kale) = get drunk

 

Spain. Galicia. Triacastela

Kale garden Triacastela

Caldo gallego recipes

Caldo gallego is one of those traditional recipes with some basic ingredients and lots of options.  Every Galician cook has a recipe, and most cook by eye instead of by a book; if you want to make caldo gallego here are the basic guidelines:

Must have:  greens (usually kale or turnip greens, also works with spinach or cabbage or a mixture of greens), potatoes, white beans (some kind about ½ inch long)

Optional:  ham, chorizo type sausage, beef, meat stock (meat is not at all necessary to make a fabulous soup).  Some people add onion, garlic or chestnuts.

Lovely thing about caldo gallego? There’s no way to make it wrong.  Well, it’s not wrong as long as you use the three basic ingredients, that watery potato soup with three beans in Triacastela on my last trip was not caldo gallego. What a disappointment!

If you are a by-eye cook, here’s my unscientific, super-simple method. It’s not 100% authentic but pretty close, easy to do and pretty darn good (I like one-pot meals that don’t need watching!).  True cooks who cringe at this method: see real recipes at the end.

Proportion idea per serving (do your own thing if this doesn’t look right):  1 medium white potato, handful uncooked of white beans, about 3 or 4 times volume of potato in uncooked kale.    Make extra, this keeps for several days and heats up well.

Remove the big central vein from the kale leaves and tear into pieces, size not real important but thinking of eating ease perhaps double the size of soup spoon is largest reasonable size.

Cut the potatoes into thick slices (chunks are ok too).

In a deep, heavy pot, get the potatoes started in some olive oil. When they’re a little soft add a bit of garlic or onion if you are using. This is a good time to add the chorizo, so the potatoes get the flavor.

Add the soaked white beans and about double water to cover (or a bit more depending on beans, less if beans are pre-cooked canned type).

Add a bit of salt and a sprinkle of pepper (not really in Spanish recipe but tastes good). Another possible addition: sprinkle of Spanish smoked paprika.

Let that mixture do its thing on medium-low heat for a while, add the greens and let it finish cooking.   How long? Ummm.  Greens need to be totally wilted into the soup, beans done but potatoes not completely mushy. Correct seasoning and serve.

Possible addition:  Chestnuts! Peeled and maybe roasted prior to soup (I can get them prepped like this in Madrid).  I’ve never had caldo with chestnuts in any restaurants, but saw this in a recipe (now vanished) tried it and it’s great; Galician chestnuts are as famous as Galician potatoes.

A recipe in Spanish

www.recetasderechupete.com/caldo-gallego-receta-tradicional-gallega/4365/

 Two recipes in English, they look ok, first more than second

www.tienda.com/recipes/caldogallego.html

http://spanishfood.about.com/od/hotspanishsoups/r/CaldoGallego.htm

 

Road of St. James – Back in Madrid

Santiago de Compostela: Officially pilgrims!

Santiago de Compostela: Officially pilgrims!

 

 

Past pilgrims know the meaning of the photo above – it’s official, we’re all pilgrims! They’ve changed the system a bit – no more waiting on the stairs, the checkin desks are at the back of the courtyard. That’s good as long as it isn’t raining, if wet it would be soggy. And…. new layout makes it easier for people to cut in line. Someone tried it on us but between Julie and I we cut her off at the pass.

Now back in Madrid and going through withdrawal – want to walk! This always happens – need to get out for a stroll before bed.

Also have empty nest syndrome – where are my pilgrims, 1 to 9? This is also usual. Hard to cold-turkey on walking and being mom-for-a-week.

Yesterday wandered Santiago’s lovely old quarter, visited the Cathedral museum, visited too many jewelry stores (browsing mostly, well…….). Lunch was a last yummy caldo gallego soup and octopus on the less touristy side of Azebacheria street, fewer shops but nicer walking if shops are not the main objective.

Night train back to Madrid shared a compartment with three about-my-age English sisters who had walked from Leon in two weeks, in remembrance of their walking mother. They loved Cebreiro and Foncebadon passes. We had a good chat and I gave them some pointers for their day in Madrid.

Blogging summary…. this is fun, but it’s definitely a challenge when out of Madrid. Internet connection is not great at most of the Road hotels, don’t have a lot of extra time and this year I’m still on a learning curve with my new tablet. Definitely need more practice.

Buen Camino!

(originally posted early June 2014, just after return from weeklong trip on the Road)