After my first year of living in Spain, one of my biggest regrets was not learning how to cook any of my favorite Spanish dishes. After all that time in España, I went home for the summer and spent months dying to have some tortilla de patatas.
Now, after round two of the expat life in this fabulous place, I’ve decided that (fortunately? unfortunately?) it’s time to move back home. Since I may or may not be back in Spain for a while, I refuse to leave without having mastered at least a few things in the wonderful world of Spanish cuisine.
Thanks to a traditional Spanish cooking class I took with Taller Andaluz de Cocina, a cooking school here in Seville, I’m on the right path to actually accomplishing that mission.
The class took place in the Mercado de Triana, an indoor marketplace right on the bridge that leads to Triana, one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Seville. Although the Mercado has been rebuilt and modernized with air conditioning and wifi in only the last 15 years or so, people have been coming to this same spot for more than 185 years to buy their fresh meat, fish and produce.
A more fitting setting for a cooking class in Seville does not exist and so once introductions were made between my classmates and I, we began our culinary experience with a tour of the market.
Our friendly and bubbly guide Maria led us through the different hallways of the Mercado explaining the history of the place along with some interesting facts about the food sold there. Each hallway was like a new assault on the senses. One hallway smelled strongly of seafood while the next was saturated with oh-so-familiar smell of cured ham. It was a Tuesday, and although Maria told us that weekdays were less busy, there was still a consistent buzz in the market as people moved around stocking up on food or eating at one of the few restaurants that are also found inside.
After our little adventure through the marketplace, we headed towards the back of the building where three adjacent food stands had been transformed into one big kitchen/classroom for the Taller Andaluz de Cocina cooking school. Inside, our chef/teacher Victor was ready to go. We hesitantly spread ourselves out around the long countertop where fully equipped work stations with aprons, cutting boards and knives were waiting for us. Once we slipped on our aprons and were in full chef mode, Victor did not waste any time before teaching us our first important lesson:
“Spanish cooking is simple. It’s not about fancy techniques,” he told us. “It’s about using the right products; fresh products.”
And there certainly was no shortage of fresh products for the four-course meal we were about to prepare. Garlic, tomatoes, lemons, spinach, garbanzo beans and other products all bought from merchants at the Mercado would be our ingredients for the day. All signs pointed to an incredibly delicious meal up ahead.
Victor was kind enough to ease us into the world of Spanish cooking with an easy first dish: salmorejo. Think of salmorejo as a cold, thick tomato soup or puree. The idea may sound a little strange, but it’s a tasty classic here in Spain.
The blenders were busted out, and Victor put us straight to work chopping up tomatoes and peeling garlic for the salmorejo. Everyone took turns participating in the process, blending the ingredients and slowly adding bread, olive oil, vinegar and garlic to the mix. Before setting the salmorejo aside to chill in the refrigerator, we were able to dip spoons in the puree and taste our almost-ready creation to make sure it was just right.
And it definitely was.
With a little more confidence injected into the hearts of me and my classmates, Victor guided us through the second and third courses: a plate of spinach and garbanzo beans cooked to perfection with garlic and cumin along with paella. A traditional Spanish meal would of course be incomplete without paella. Like with the salmorejo, Victor got everyone involved in the making of the next two dishes. He even entrusted me to help mix the paella. Talk about a high-pressure situation.
Handing the spoon back to Victor, I looked up at the clock and realized that almost three hours had already gone by. I was so absorbed in the class that I almost didn’t notice, but I also wasn’t surprised. Another lesson that Victor had taught us at the beginning of class was that Spanish recipes take time and TLC to come out just right.
At that point, it was lunchtime. Our stomachs were growling. The smell of the food was irresistibly amazing, and the wait to dig in our delicious meal was about to become unbearable. We were ready to eat, and so as we waited for the paella to finish cooking, we began to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
It was well worth the wait.
First, we finished licking our bowls clean of the salmorejo then Maria served up steaming hot spinach and garbanzo beans in small clay dishes. Before we could even devour the second course, the paella finished cooking and Victor proudly presented us with the end product.
As suspected, the perfectly seasoned paella was the undisputed champion of the meal. The optional touch of fresh lemon juice squeezed over the rice just made the dish burst with even more slightly tangy flavor. I’ve had a lot of paella in the last two years, and it is honestly no exaggeration when I say that this paella will go down in the books as one of the best.
While I gobbled down my second and possibly third helping of paella (don’t judge me), Victor prepared the perfect dessert to wash down a big meal: lemon sorbet blended with mint and champagne. It was light and refreshing. Just what I needed for a sweet ending that wouldn’t make my already full stomach explode.
After what was an incredibly fun first half of my day, I walked out of the Mercado de Triana with a full tummy and a happy heart. I may have a long way to go before I can call myself an expert in cooking Spanish food (the eating part I’ve got down perfect), but thanks to Victor’s easy to follow class and the recipes that Maria later emailed to us, I at least stand a fighting chance. No cravings for Spanish food will catch me unprepared this time!
So now there is only one thing left to do… Spanish-themed dinner party at my house, anyone?
Have you ever taken a cooking class while traveling? Tell me about it! What did you learn to prepare?
Disclaimer: Taller Andaluz de Cocina sponsored me to take this class in exchange for writing about my experience. The opinions written here, however, are 100% my own. Duh!