I travel a lot in Spain, it’s one of my favourite places to get lost, eat well, experience sunshine and culture.
As a vegan wanderer, the institution of the tapas bar can be a chastening experience. Olives, bread, maybe the occasional mushroom is thrown your way. Not much else. While everyone feasts, I nibble. I don’t mind really. I never go hungry but I rarely get to sample the culinary adventure that’s happening all over Spain. That is the way of things, but what it does stir up, is the desire to make tapas vegan. In fact, make all of my favourite dishes purely plants! I love the challenge. At home, or at work, I get stuck into creating new recipes.
Many fail, some are decent, this one I like very much and make regularly. I’ve been through hundreds of tortillas to make it here. Trying out a variety of methods and ideas, making it with ingredients that are easy to source. The tofu adds essential texture, both blended into the mix and roughly crumbled, the lemon elevates the flavours and the well cooked onion and garlic offer important depth.
Secret vegan weapon….
In fact, onions are an ingredient that is often overlooked in plant-based cooking. They are the bedrock to so many dishes and how we cook them will make all the difference. Vegan food can easily be bland, which is strange when you look at the list of ingredients in many dishes. Seasoning and well cooked onion will go a long way to making our plant-based dishes sing with flavour.
One thing I talk about at my cooking workshops is tasting food. Taste, taste, taste. Keep tasting, it’s the only way to develop a palate and with that palate, make your food taste awesome! Just the way you like it, cook plenty and develop some skills that suit you. Help you to prepare the food you want to eat. It’s not important what the present Instagram craze is; blue smoothies, charcoal in stuff, at least it’s not to me. It doesn’t have to be deep fried, covered in cheese, with a bucket of BBQ sauce to have flavour, to be exciting. I aspire to live a simple foodie life, eating the food that is good for my soul. It’s different for everyone, but surely, a tortilla is on the list right?!
When I was a vegetarian, a few moons ago, I used to visit a little tapas bar in the village where my parents own a property. The woman in the kitchen was eccentric, around 80, with sparkling eyes and constant beaming smile. Daily, a giant pea tortilla appeared from the kitchen. A foot thick. Only the eccentric can be this brilliant! I’m exaggerating size wise but it wasn’t far off.
The pan she used was like something from an old-school foundry in Sheffield. Some serious iron in that piece. I was amazed she could lift the final pea studded behemoth which strained resplendent every mid-morning on the bar. A slice would do four. I was invited to the kitchen one day to witness the preparation, it was a exhibition of skill, grace and brute strength. The son helped with the last bit. Potato tortilla is good, but a pea tortilla just looks cooler, especially at that scale. The food we make expresses who we are, that tortilla smiled from the bar every morning at me.
Not many ‘Guiris’ ventured into that place, the decor was a little past it, the TV barked like a rabid megaphone, the furniture was uniformly battered plastic, but, the food was hot! Hot in a good and simple and humble and just damn tasty way. Using local produce and time honoured recipes, the tapas was a treat.
Being a local ‘Guiri’
I did get ripped off for a simple salad one day, 10 euros for a plate of lettuce and tomatoes. I seldom returned. I am a Guiri after all. We’re not used to paying 10 euros for a plate of slices tomatoes and iceberg! I also wear shorts 12 months a year and sometimes I like to eat dinner before 10 pm. But otherwise, I think I’m chilling out and getting into the Spanish vibe pretty well. I’ve also perfected a few Spanish phrases, in the gruff local Murcian dialect. This means a certain level of (very minor) acceptance.
So, a medium-length story, slightly shorter, that’s why I’m posting this recipe. I hope you enjoy it and cook it lots. Please post below and say hello and let’s talk vegan cooking and Spain. Two of my favourite subjects. I love coming up with recipes and your feedback is really important in so many ways.
Little green shoots
There are green shoots of veganity all over Spain now. There are even a few vegan restaurants in Murica, a local vegan festival in our port town, plus a growing awareness in the media and populace about this vegan thing. It’s wonderful to see. Down at the local supermarkets, and we live in the sticks, plenty of vegan options and plenty of organic options.
For me to sit in a vegan restaurant in Spain and order a nicely cooked meal is a privilege. In fact, it’s a privilege anywhere in the world. Having ate many lifetimes worth of side dishes; chips, bread, uninspiring salads, olives, to be catered for in restaurants is something I’ll never take for granted. Having worked in restaurants my whole life, I always appreciate what’s going on, how hard it is, how it takes over your life, how it’s driven by passion and hard work and also how easy it is to be overly critical. Something I see regularly on social media, trip advisor etc. I always try to be supportive of restaurants, it’s tough to run a good place and I have huge respect for people who do it well. Especially if they’re making efforts to get vegan. Anyway, tortilla, here it is……
I decided that baking a tortilla is best here, giving a nice crisp, crust and it keeps things soft in the middle. Every oven is different, check the middle of your tortilla is cooked using a skewer, like a cake. Too long, it will be dry, too short and it will be uncooked in the middle. Press the tortilla, in the middle, it should be springy and also the edges will leave the side of the baking dish. It’s a fine-ish line. The tortilla will firm up once it leaves the oven and cools, it’s worth remembering that.
No mint and dill. Try other herb combinations, like thyme and rosemary.
I’ve added some raising agents. On occasion, some gram flour, vegan tortillas can be quite heavy. This helps lighten things.
Baked Pea, Lemon & Mint Tortilla – Vegan and Gluten-free
The Bits – For One Large Tortilla, 8-10 large slices
100g gram flour
175ml soya milk
75g firm tofu
1 teas salt
½ teas turmeric
½ teas bicarb of soda
½ teas baking powder
1 large onion (sliced)
2 large cloves garlic (sliced)
½ teas salt
125g firm tofu (broken into pieces with fingers)
2 tbs lemon juice (1 small lemon)
½ tbs lemon zest (½ small lemon)
2 tbs olive oil
150g frozen peas
1 teas dried mint
1 teas dried dill
¼ teas black pepper
Oil a 22cm/ 8.5 inch cake tin (a big one). Line with baking parchment if it is not non-stick.
Press tofu between kitchen paper, remove excess moisture.
Preheat a fan oven to 180oC.
Add 1 tbs oil to a large frying pan, on medium heat, cook the garlic and onions for 7-9 minutes, adding 1/2 teas salt, until soft and golden. Set aside to cool.
In a blender, add the tortilla batter ingredients and blitz until smooth. Add you dried herbs, black pepper, peas, 1 tbs olive oil and lemon juice to the frying pan. Break the tofu into the pan using your fingers, large pieces are fine, this is to give the look and texture of egg white. Mix together, then stir in the batter until all is nicely combined. Pour this batter into your oiled cake tin and sprinkle with a little more sea salt.
Place in the oven for 25 minutes, drizzle over a little more oil at 20 minutes. When it’s ready, the top will be nicely golden and the centre will be springy when pressed with your fingers.
Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before slicing and serving with a crisp salad, olives and all your other favourite Spanish tapas. It’s great with vegan aioli, also nice with a scattering of freshly chopped herbs, mint and parsley especially.