It’s a myth the Spanish don’t eat vegetables. With a fruit stand, vegetable market or supermarket on nearly every block in a Spanish city it’s hard to miss the green stuff. Yet, if you visit a travel website or an expat forum you’re likely to see complaints that there’s nothing to eat in Spain except jamón and tortilla. While it’s true that a restaurant kitchen isn’t open 24 hours a day, it’s not true you won’t be served anything green, especially if you tell the waiter what you’re looking for.
A lot of times the problem stems from the fact that your stomach is still on US time. The Spanish are pretty set in their eating schedules and don’t care that you’re starving. In the morning it’s coffee and a sweet or toast. Around noon they might switch to wine or beer and a tapa. The midday meal is served between 2 and 4pm and if you’re late you’re going to be served whatever is left.
If you order from the Menú del Día, the first course will include vegetables. The second course will usually have potatoes. Until 8pm or so, the Spanish will have a merienda or snack, which might be a sandwich or another pastry. The evening meal is served very late, after 9pm. Outside of the regular meals it will be difficult to purchase prepared green vegetables, unless it’s in a tapa or you happen to be in a specialty restaurant. Eso es como es. If you can’t wait, there are fast food places where you can not only purchase a salad, but a beer as well. Or, in many cities you can visit the supermercado in the Corte Inglés and marvel at the prices while you pick out the makings of a meal. Of course, you’re out of luck if it’s Sunday or after regular store hours. OK, rant over.
In Valladolid, the bars serve vegetable based stews and tapas made with something other than potatoes or eggplant. We were pleasantly surprised recently when our favorite seafood place, Pedro Olivar, set a small bowl of peas with jamón (guisantes con jamón) in front of us along with our glasses of tinto.
Oh my goodness I could have eaten a whole plate! It reminded me of a dish from my childhood called Peas and Dumplings which is an Eastern Shore tradition. The peas were combined with sauteed onions and jamón and cooked in broth which is thickened with flour or cornstarch and seasoned with smoky pimentón and bay leaf.
- About a pound of frozen peas (fresh is fine, it will take longer to cook)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- olive oil for sauteeing
- pinch of red pepper flake
- 3 ounces chopped jamón or baked ham
- 2 - 3 bay leaves
- 1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons smoky paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 - 3 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
- Saute the onions and the red pepper flake in a little olive oil
- Add the jamón and stir to render the fat
- Stir in the broth and add the peas. Add more broth (or water) if necessary to cover the peas.
- Season with salt, pepper and smoky paprika, add the bay leaves.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are softened.
- Make a slurry with the flour and a small amount of water and stir into the broth. Use more flour if you want a thicker sauce. (I used a product called Maizena which is a type of corn flour)
You could serve these peas as a side dish or go totalmente castellano and throw a fried egg on top. Enjoy!