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Oct 31, 2011 11:25 AM

Which Spanish Cookbook?

There's a hole in my cookbook collection where Spain should be, and I'm wondering if some of you might advise me on which book will have some staying power in my collection.

I'm an avid cook, I cook internationally, and I have a reasonably sized cookbook collection which I use regularly.

I have a small child and work a demanding job, so my cooking is more Smitten Kitchen than Diana Kennedy these days. I make my own kimchi, chutneys and granola bars, but I don't have a lot of time or inclination towards long-cooked multi-step dinner entrees.

But that will change at some point, so I'm looking for a cookbook that can help me cook Spanish food now as a weeknight option, and that will remain interesting as I move back to more complex recipes as time goes on.

I've perused a couple books and would appreciate your thoughts on which might be the right investment now.

Delicioso, Penelope Casas: This collection of regional recipes seems like the best bet, reports indicate that there are plenty of recipes that come together without too much preparation, and it seems to receive far fewer complaints of underspiced food than her older Foods and Wines of Spain.

The New Spanish Table, Anya Von Brenzen: This looks like a gorgeous book with excellent recipes but I'm worried about the Amazon comments indicating that most recipes require signficant time and prep. Is this your experience?

My Kitchen in Spain, Janet Mendel: I haven't seen this cookbook yet, but folks posting here seem to like Janet Mendel and of her books, this seems like it might be accessible now. However, I'm not sure this one will have the "lasting power" of some of the others.

The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden: I love Ms. Roden but this seems as though if might be too encyclopedic for my current stage in life. Judging by how much I use The Book of Jewish Food these days, I think this cookbook might occupy the same lonely space. But perhaps your experience is different?

So, your thioughts on these, or any others I should be looking at? Thanks for your input, I appreciate it!

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  1. Since I look to recipes more for inspiration than details, the length of recipes in the New Spanish Table doesn't bother me; in fact I haven't noticed such a difference. Of the half dozen books that I have, it's one of the more used. I also like to use a Hermes House picturebook of Spanish cooking.

    I'm also impressed by The Cusines of Spain by Teresa Barrenechea, which I have out from the library.
    Several Casas books have been COTM
    a similar topic from 2008
    from 2007
    (do a search on Penelope for the past 5 years


    This paella thread discusses some books
    I just checked out the new Tapas book by Ortega, but haven't looked at it much.

    3 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      I recently purchased the Moro Cookbook at a friends recommendation of a serious cooking friend and I think I am going to love it. UK though so ingredient source recommendations are ot helpful. I perused the New Spanish Table and The Food of Spain (which I own) and am not all that impressed based on these reads with either.
      Do take a look at Moro.

      1. re: jen kalb


        I'm a great lover of Spanish food.
        Hence my user name.

        I have the Phaidon 1080 recipes and the Moro cookbook but I usually just use the Moro book.
        The stuffed squid recipe is wonderful.

        1. re: Paprikaboy

          I have both of these as well (actually both of the Moro cookbooks as well as the 1080) and use the Moro a lot more.

    2. 1080 Recipes, assuming Phaidon didn't screw up the translation might be worth a look.

      5 Replies
      1. re: rockfish42

        I have that (bought it on clearance). I don't regret buying, but I don't make heavy use of it. One problem is that it does not distinguish between typical or traditional Spanish cooking, and a more generic continental cooking. Using it for Spanish cooking is a bit like using Joy of Cooking for Southern American cooking.

        1. re: rockfish42

          After buying and finding no use for The Silver Spoon, I think Im going to give this one a pass.
          The idea of issuing a translation of the most popular home cook book is an attractive one, but there is no reason to think that it will have the best versions of dishes or very many insights into the cuisine. As a non-Spaniard, I am more interested in context, research, ingredient information,careful instructions and recipe quality. This type of book is unlikely to provide any of the above, which a good local cook will know in her bones.

          1. re: jen kalb

            Culinaria Spain is a nice book for regional ingredients and traditional recipes. As with the other Culinaria books it focuses on the production and local use of the ingredients. It's not primarily a recipe book.

            New Spanish Table is good for background information. There are side bars on various topics (some 2 pages long), and each recipes has a 1-2 paragraph preface.

            1. re: paulj

              I was really annoyed by Von Bremzen's purist approach to salt cod. She basically took the view that what was obtainable outside of Spain would not be acceptable (for example pollock vs. cod) and framed the recipes for fresh cod, which is not at all the same thing rather than giving alternatives or letting us make these dishes.Some of us do have access to good salt cod or would like to give a try to the recipes with pollock but she doesnt offer that choice..

              I also found the layout and design unattractive and distracting, sort of neo-hippie boxes all over the place

              1. re: jen kalb

                If you know about salt pollock, then you can try it in Spanish recipes regardless of whether she gives you permission or not. :)

                Your post is only the second place where I've seen salt pollock mentioned. The first was on the product itself, which I once bought at a Korean store (HMart), and used with some success in a couple of Spanish style recipes. Usually I skip the salt cod recipes, in this book and others, because i don't have good access to it.

                For many Americans the only salt cod they are likely to find in the grocery store comes frozen, and partially hydrated, in a pretty wood box (at Christmas time). If you live in NYC and travel to Italy (or frequent local Italian groceries), you probably have much better access (and knowledge) of this type of product than most owners of this book.

        2. My latest 'Spanish' cookbook - from the library: The Family Meal, Home cooking with Ferran Adria (Phaidon).

          It is home cooking in the same sense the Keller's Ad Hoc At Home is - recipes inspired by meals served to the restaurant staff. Adria's book has lots of Spanish dishes, also ones from elsewhere in Europe (Carbonara), even Japan and Mexico.

          Illustrative of my way with recipes, the book has one for Salmon stewed with lentils. It calls for salmon fillet, sofrito, canned lentils, picada, parsley, etc. Sofrito and picada are typical Spanish (Catalan) seasonings.

          My take was de puy lentils cooked with ham hock pieces, seasoned with onion, garlic, and a bit of spaghetti sauce (my substitute for the sofrito). And instead of the salmon I used a half pound tuna steak, cut into bite size pieces. If anything I think the tuna worked better than salmon, since it's a firmer fish, and saucy lentils balanced it's tendency to be dry.

          It also reminded me of another Spanish tuna stew, marimitako (with potatoes and tomatoes)

          4 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            Did you notice if Adria had his own recipe for Sofrito in the book?
            (Hope, hope, hope)

            1. re: shallots

              All recipes come in various sizes, for 2 to 70 people. And in the case of something like sofrito, it can frozen for later use. For roughly 2 cups
              8 cloves garlic (minced or pureed), browned in 1/2c olive oil. 4c onion, also pureed, herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay leaf), saute onion till browned, 8oz tomato puree, cooked another 30 minutes, s&p. The result looks like a dryish dark red tomato paste.

              1. re: paulj

                Thank you, paul, I really like Moros y Cristos, and the bought Sofrito is bland to my taste.

                1. re: shallots

                  If you like Moros y Cristianos, I suggest that you look at the 3 Guys from Miami website. They have an incredible recipe for them which always gets rave reviews.

          2. I am partial to Penelope Casas's book The Foods and Wines of Spain. I think it is a good overview of some of the classic cuisine of Spain. I have not heard of complaints of underspicing. What spices, I wonder? I don't see Spanish cuisine as heavily reliant on spices. That being said, I don't think you could go wrong with Penelope's other book., Delicioso. Casas does a nice job with the recipes and the background of the food and/or regions.

            Janet Mendel also does a nice job, again with her emphasis on classic cuisine. I think the classics do have lasting power.

            I have the other books mentioned, but haven't cooked from them yet.

            Buen provecho!

            3 Replies
            1. re: BigSal

              I wonder if people who complain about Spanish food and recipes being under spiced, have the naive notion that it will be just like Mexican cooking.

              1. re: paulj

                I was wondering the same thing.

                1. re: BigSal

                  Yes, that's what usually happens. It bears remembering that Spain is in Europe, not in Latin America. It's like comparing Cajun/Creole food to French food. Saying that, I think that Penelope Casas' books are great as a starting point for authentic food from Spain. She has a keen understanding and great love for Spain's regional foods. And since quite a few recipes come from restaurants she has visited, you can put together an eating tour of Spain from her books. We used to eat at Teresa Barrenechea's restaurant in Bronxville, NY--it was amazing.

            2. When I was in Barcelona I fell in love with Gazpacho. I went looking for a cookbook and found English! The Spanishwoman's Kitchen by Pepita Aris.