Sunday, February 27, 2011

El Desayuno de Campeones (Breakfast of Champions)

I studied abroad in the south of Spain during college, and I still remember my experiences of food in that country quite vividly. Certain flavors will always transport me instantly back to that time, and this is especially true of the following dish.

As with many Mediterranean-style recipes, this one is simple, but you'd be surprised how satisfying it is. I ate this for breakfast just about every morning when I was in Spain, and I still crave it every so often now.

Pan con tomate
  • At least one fresh red tomato (more if you're hungry or serving several people)
  • Vegan margarine/Earth Balance (or, for the traditionalists, extra virgin olive oil - preferably Spanish)
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh soft rolls (try those from a Spanish or Portuguese bakery; the kind coated in flour with a soft tender center are the best for this by FAR, but you can substitute the par-baked frozen dinner roll of your choice if you can't find the fresh ones. Bake according to package directions first if you go that route)
To prepare, take a fresh, ripe tomato (of course, these are best in summer, but you make due), wash it, chop it roughly, put it into a food processor or blender, and pulse until no large chunks remain. It will still have some texture or substance to it, so it's not quite a true puree, but it's still somewhat smooth. I actually over-pureed the ones above. The consistency is supposed to be more like a smashed tomato than a blended one. If you like, try smashing the tomatoes without the blender. You may get even more satisfactory results.

In the meantime, cut your roll in half, and broil or toast until it has reached a nice golden tan color. It is best if the outside of the roll has a slight just-baked crackly-ness to it, and the white inside of the bread is still soft and hot, with just a slight layer of toasted-ness on the surface (p.s. oh my God am I hungry writing this...).
¡This is the Tulipán!

Spread a little margarine/Earth Balance on the inside of the roll if you are using it. Truthfully, olive oil is way more traditional, but I got used to using the little tub of Tulipán spread that was always out on the table in the dining room in the morning. If you are using olive oil, please follow the next instruction before applying it.

Spoon some of your tomato mixture onto your toasted roll, and then grind some fresh sea salt coarsely over the top. Now, if you are using olive oil, drizzle some over the roll in a back and forth motion to taste.

Now, devour this like you've never seen food before in your life. I always did.

In fact, I kind of got a reputation amongst the Spanish teenagers living in the residence I stayed in for "eating like a man" in the morning. I would put away maybe 3 or 4 of the split rolls every day, while the more demure Spanish girls (who, honestly, all seemed to wake up looking like Penélope Cruz in the morning, much to my haggard AM chagrin) only ate one or two apiece. I think I out-ate the young men of the house on a regular basis too actually...But then again, I also walked maybe 2 hours every day back and forth from school and to extracurriculars....

Anyhoo, sad to say, when I first had this tomato mixture put in front of me, I was kind of hesitant. I have never been an "eats-tomatoes-right-off-the-vine" kind of girl, and I don't always love a raw tomato.

But I LOVE this.

I actually used to think there was some sort of secret ingredient to the mixture, like onions or garlic, or some secret spice, but there are really just layers of flavor to the pureed tomato. I think it has something to do with the jelly part mixing with the flesh of the tomato, and just the blending in of the air, but I also really have no idea why it tastes so good for real. Maybe the Spanish sunshine?

But the food itself was really just part of a delightful group of memories. I still remember the house cook, a very memorable raspy-voiced older woman, who I will forever picture in slippers, a nightgown, and pink curlers in her gray hair. She used to wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for us. She would purchase those delightful rolls for us by the bagful from the panedería (bread bakery) down the street, fresh ones every morning. And I remember the tiny rotating toaster oven, which always had a big cluster of us around it, jostling for space to fit in our rolls, and to catch them without burning ourselves - only with some degree of success. I remember the law students living in the house who used to forgo the tomato mixture for some extremely strong-smelling paté they brought from home. Truthfully, even if I wasn't vegetarian then, I think I would have stuck with the tomatoes...
And though it may not be wholly traditional, instant coffee and Tulipán will always remain a memorable part of my daily Spanish experience.

But when you bite into the delectable food above, and you hear the subtle crackle of the toasted bread, and taste the buttery sweetness of the crust, followed by the rich, savory tomatoes, and the subtle tang of sea salt, I think you may suddenly be transported to Spain too...sitting in a central courtyard garden, close to a babbling fountain, hearing birds chirping happily, and eating like a king.

¡Buen provecho everyone! And happy culinary travels!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vegan Ninja Society

Are you like me?

Do you like to:

1) Make really delicious vegan or vegetarian meals

2) Share them lovingly with family and friends

3) Wait till the end of the meal and then oh-so-smugly spring on everyone that the meal they so enjoyed was vegan or vegetarian?

If you answered yes to all 3 of these questions, then you may be part of the Vegan Ninja Society, a clan so secretive (and mildly irritating) that I didn't even realize I was a part of it until years after I joined.

Yes, your non-vegetarian friends and family may recoil in horror when you offer them a tempeh sandwich, but not when you suggest, "Hey, try this tasty cookie I just made. It has chocolate chips and coconut!" But such is the basis of your ninja-like skills. By the time they know that this was indeed a vegan cookie with vegan chocolate chips, it is already too late.

They have already revealed that they enjoyed it, and they can never again say that they didn't with any degree of sincerity.

So yes, while your victorious na-na-na-na-nah happy dance after you reveal the truth may begin to annoy your loved ones, this just means that you may have to resort to even stealthier ninja strategies the next time you plan a surprise attack.

You may just have to say nothing at all as your vegan penne pink vodka sauce is happily devoured before you, and then throw down a little ball of smoke and be suddenly, and mysteriously...