Buñuelos de bacalao: Spanish salt cod fritters

Buñuelos de bacalao: Spanish salt cod fritters

There was a fantastic article recently in the Financial Times about Barcelona’s famous markets. Having spent many hours exploring these mercats on my visits to that city I already knew of the incredible variety and quality of charcuterie and seafood available there. What I didn’t know was the scale of the system and it’s importance to the city’s economy and identity. Barcelona’s 40 markets, which attract 62 million visitors each year, have an annual turnover of almost a billion euros and are an intrinsic part of the communities–not to mention the many world famous restaurants in Catalunya–they serve. Today’s recipe for buñuelos de bacalao (bunyols de bacalla in Catalan) is thus quite fitting as my interest in Spanish cuisine began with a visit to La Boqueria, the best known of Barcelona’s markets, and the first thing I ate there–within a minute of entering the market!–were these incredible salt cod fritters.

Oi baetduri: Korean stir-fried cucumber with beef

Korean stir-fried cucumber with beef

Cucumber is highly underrated in my opinion. This refreshing member of the gourd family (to which squash and melon also belong) is generally relegated to a supporting role in salads. Occasionally it is pickled. But cooked? Almost never, and I suspect most people will not have eaten cooked cucumber. (Not that it is completely unheard of. The French do it, and it also features in some Asian cuisines.) Certainly I’d never cooked cucumber until I made today’s Korean recipe for stir-fried cucumber with beef (oi baetduri). The verdict? If you can get past the idea of cooked cucumber it is surprisingly delicious!

Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Having visited Barcelona a few times recently I’ve been struck by the similarities between Catalan, both the language and cuisine, and French. Indeed, friends from that region of Spain attest that they can understand French quite easily because of the close affinity between the two. Certainly, the culinary similarities are readily apparent. Cava is one example, being made by the same process as Champagne, although from different grapes. Or take crema Catalana, a custard very similar to crème brûlée, but made with milk rather than heavy cream. And then there’s today’s recipe for samfaina, a traditional Catalan stew that could easily be mistaken for it’s better known Provençal counterpart, ratatouille.

Gujarati-style chana dal with bottle gourd and curry leaves

Gujarati-style chana dal with bottle gourd and curry leaves

They say that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow. Much the same can be said about Gujaratis and legumes. Growing up I can’t remember a meal or occasion–from weeknight dinner to wedding banquet–where there wasn’t a pulse in one form or another on the table. And more often than not it was the star of the show as it still is in any Gujarati home. To be fair, pulses–or dals as they’re generically known in India–are revered everywhere in that country. But in my (biased) opinion Gujaratis cook them in more–and tastier–ways than any other group and today’s recipe is a perfect example of both a Gujarati-style dal and Indian comfort food. (The only reason dals haven’t featured more prominently on this blog is because they make for terrible food porn, and food styling is not my forte as you’ve probably noticed.)

Midia dolma: Istanbul-style mussels stuffed with rice and pine nuts

Midia dolma

Living in the melting pot that is New York I thought I knew a little bit about Turkish food. But a recent trip to Istanbul laid bare my almost utter ignorance. Sure, I’d eaten manti and knew my iskender from adana kebap. But these well known dishes merely scratch the surface of a cuisine that is ancient and deep, with strong Central Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and European influences as befits a country bordering Asia and Europe. I learned all this thanks to Uğur Ildiz, my highly knowledgeable and friendly guide on a culinary walking tour I participated in. From morning to late afternoon we walked around both the European and Asian sides, stopping every few minutes at a roadside stall, restaurant or shop to sample local delicacies. It was one of the most enjoyable and informative experiences I’ve ever had and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Istanbul. Be warned though that the pace is brisk and unrelenting. And go with an empty stomach because at the end you’ll be stuffed to the gills!