1. Gazpacho: Drink your veggies – cold.
Andalusia may lay claim to the origins of this chilled vegetable soup, but now this refreshing liquid meal is on a permanent seasonal rotation throughout all of Spain, which means Barcelona is no exception. A healthy alternative to the myriad of breaded and fried tapas available in the city, this refreshing salad shake is a mixture of day-old-bread, cold water, olive oil, vinegar, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, onions and peppers.
While tradition demands making this dish by chopping the vegetables and then pounding them into liquid form with a mortar and pestle, an easier option is processing ingredients into soupy submission with a blender. For visitors to Barcelona who can’t be bothered to produce their own sustenance, gazpacho is sold in bars and restaurants by the cup or bowl (even at McDonalds) as well as in orange-juice-style cartons at supermarkets.
Gazpacho recipe (serves four as an appetizer)
Ingredients: 4 large ripe chopped tomatoes, 1 green bell pepper seeded and chopped, 1 red bell pepper seeded and chopped, 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped, 1 white onion, chopped, 1 clove of garlic, minced, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp lemon juice, salt to taste, 2 cups chilled water, ½ cup pieces of stale bread (optional, for a thicker soup).
- Blend all vegetables in a blender.
- Add in the red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and bread.
- Salt to taste.
- For best flavour, cover and leave overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Catalonia’s favourite barbecue sauce: Allioli
What’s summer without barbecue? In Barcelona, offerings tend to include grilled meats, seafood and seasonal vegetables served up with allioli, a strongly scented sauce made of garlic and olive oil. Thought to have been brought to Spain by the Romans who may have encountered the sauce in Egypt, allioli is a garlic-lover’s delight and is delicious smeared on just about anything: botifarra, Iberian pork chops, potatoes, zucchini or even just a slice of toast.
So pick up some of your favourite grilling foods at a local Barcelona market such as the Boqueria and cook them on a barbecue grill or stovetop. You can serve them up with home-style Catalan allioli prepared as described in the recipe below or feel free to limit your workload (it’s summer after all) and sample Catalonia’s secret sauce at a restaurant.
Allioli recipe (serves 4-8)
Ingredients: 4 cloves of garlic, ½ tsp salt, ½ litre of extra virgin olive oil, 3 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar.
- Peel garlic, and mash it in a mortar with the pestle and thick salt.
- Add in the vinegar or lemon. Leave for three minutes.
- Mash the mixture until it has an even paste-like consistency.
- Add in the oil a few drops at a time, thoroughly mixing it in with a circular motion before adding more. Keep adding in the oil until it’s gone.
A note for non-traditionalists: this recipe can also be prepared with a blender – except where you would mash and stir the allioli with the pestle and plenty of elbow grease, you would press a button and wince at the noise.
3. Empedrat: Catalonia’s stone-cold bean and cod salad
Literally translated, Empedrat means “stoned” or “paved” and has long been a classic summer dish in Catalonia. In this flavourful dish, white beans, sliced olives, chunks of tomatoes, minced green onions and pieces of codfish are thrown together and then tossed around some more in olive oil and white wine vinegar.
Empedrat recipe (serves four as an appetizer)
Ingredients: 400 grams cooked white beans, 300 grams desalted and reconstituted salt cod, 2 medium tomatoes, chunked, 1 green pepper, chopped, 1 red pepper chopped, 80 grams olives, sliced, 1 small green onion, minced, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tsp of white wine vinegar.
- Remove the skin from the cod before soaking it.
- Soak the cod in cold water in the refrigerator.
- Change the water every six hours for 24 hours.
- Break the cod into small pieces with your hands.
- Mix with the beans and vegetables.
- Dress with the olive and white wine vinegar.
- Chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to an hour before serving.
If the desalting process for the cod seems a little daunting, never fear. In many stores and markets around town you can buy the fish partially or completely desalted and reconstituted to use in your recipe.
4. Simple and fresh: roasted vegetables on toast
Escalivada means’ cooked in hot ashes’. The story goes that Catalonia’s mountain shepherds were the first to prepare this dish in the smouldering embers of a wood fire. Traditionally, the recipe includes aubergine, red peppers, red tomatoes, sweet onions and sometimes garlic. When it’s prepared in a fire, escalivada has a trademark, smoky taste.
Escalivada recipe (serves four as an appetizer)
Ingredients: 4 small aubergines, 4 spring onions, 4 red bell peppers, 2 tomatoes, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp salt.
- Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill, or preheat the oven to 250ºC.
- Lightly coat the aubergines, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes with olive oil.
- If using a grill, place the vegetables directly on the grill over the fire and turn them every 15 to 30 minutes until the skin is charred and the vegetables are tender.
- If using an oven, arrange the vegetables on a baking sheet or roasting pan and turn every 10 minutes for half an hour or until the skins blacken and the vegetables are soft.
- Wrap the vegetables up in baking paper and plastic wrap and let cool for at least an hour.
- Unwrap the vegetables, and remove the peel and the seeds.
- Cut the vegetables into strips, and put them in a bowl.
- Sprinkle them with salt, and pour the olive oil over them.
- Serve at room temperature with toasted bread.
Not up to slaving over the fire (or oven)? Escalivada is served in restaurants throughout Barcelona as an appetizer, usually on toast, and is also available for purchase in the prepared food areas of many supermarkets.
5. Lemon sorbet al cava: a no-bake summer dessert
Often served as a simple dessert, and sometimes as a palate cleanser between courses in formal restaurants, lemon sorbet ‘al cava’ is a zesty marriage of lemon sorbet and Catalonia’s bubbly white wine. It’s the ideal summer dessert, light and refreshing, a glorious union between ice-cream and alcohol, no oven required.
Lemon sorbet al cava recipe
Ingredients: ½ litre lemon sorbet, ¼ litre of chilled cava, fresh mint leaves, and ½ lemon sliced into wedges.
- Blend the chilled cava with the lemon sorbet until they make a uniform paste.
- Serve in champagne glasses garnished with mint leaves and lemon wedges.
While lemon sorbet al cava is certainly available for purchase in Barcelona eateries, chances are you will wait for it in a restaurant for more than the five minutes it would take you to prepare it yourself. Of course, in a restaurant you won’t be expected to wash up, either.