This week we present the recipe for tortilla de patatas, lovingly handed down by Rachel’s Maman, who hailed from Larache, which was part of Spanish Morocco.
This past week, Neil and I had the great pleasure of visiting our daughter Rebekah in Madrid, where she is doing her semester abroad. Since arriving here in January, she has become enamored with this vibrant and lively city. She loves that the charming streets are filled with people enjoying life, day and night. That she and the 13 other American girls that she lives with can walk home from a nightclub at 3am without a care. That the metro is so safe and efficient. That the streets are clean and safe enough for children to play alone.
In Madrid, there are only a few kosher restaurants and the butcher at the kosher market doesn’t always stock the items Rebekah wants, so keeping strictly kosher is tough in this city. However vegetarian tortilla espanola is the unofficial national dish of Spain and it is so popular that there are restaurants that only serve tortilla. Rebekah grew up eating my mother’s more rustic tortilla de patatas recipe, so finding tortilla in Madrid felt very familiar for her. Needless to say, it became a staple of her diet.
Now let me explain, tortilla espanola is a fluffy fried omelette made with diced or sliced potatoes and fried onions. Tortilla means little cake and it is thought that this dish got this name because the layers of potato resemble a cake. Tortilla in Spain has nothing in common with the Mexican tortilla we know and love, except that both are round and they share the same name.
On our first day, Rebekah took us for lunch at her favorite tortilla cafe. Spain has been experiencing a heat wave, so on our arrival we were ready to cool down with ice cold cerveza. We ordered a whole tortilla and a side order of pimientos verdes, fried and salted little green peppers. In the United States, I generally don’t eat green peppers as they are hard to digest. But trust me, you need to order the pimientos verdes. They’re nothing like the peppers we are accustomed to. They’re heavenly.
The tortilla arrived and it was huge and golden and beautiful. It is cooked in a pan, then flipped and cooked again until the outside is a beautiful honey color. Rebekah cut into it and served us each a piece, as if it were a cake. The inside is soft and a little runny and the pieces of potatoes are fried until tender but not golden and the fried onion adds a sweet, savory note.
Neil and I noticed that the cost of living is very high in Spain, but that eating well costs next to nothing. A whole tortilla costs 10 euro and a beer is only 2 or 3 euro. The typical salad is simple and delicious — sliced tomatoes with red onion, garnished with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and coarse salt —and only sets you back 3 or 4 euro. I was pleasantly surprised that Spaniards are incredibly friendly and nice and helpful. They are so happy to meet you and always inquire where you are from and what you think of their food and their beautiful country.
Needless to say that tortilla and beer was the best lunch we had in Madrid. A few days later, we traveled to Seville and I ordered tortilla for lunch again, twice. The ingredients are so humble but the flavor is incredibly delectable. Honestly, I would eat it every day if I could.
Food historians think that tortilla espanola, like the French omelette and Italian frittata, is inspired by the herb-and-vegetable-filled Persian egg dish “kookoo sabzi”. In the 1500s, the Spaniards discovered the Incas in South America. They brought back lots of produce, including potatoes, which soon made their way into Spanish cuisine.
This week we present the recipe for tortilla de patatas, lovingly handed down by Rachel’s Maman, who hailed from Larache, which was part of Spanish Morocco. It’s equally good served warm or at room temperature. It’s truly simple to make and it’s the perfect make-ahead dish to serve for any brunch, lunch or dinner.
Maman’s Tortilla de Patatas
8 medium russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 large onion, finely diced
10-12 large eggs
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chicken consommé powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup avocado or vegetable oil, for frying
1 lemon quartered, for serving
Fill a large pot halfway with cold water, then add the potatoes and the turmeric. Boil the potatoes over medium low heat, about 15 to 20 minutes.
When the potatoes are fork tender, drain all the water. Mash the potatoes coarsely, leaving some small chunks.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a deep, heavy frying pan, warm a small amount of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until golden, then set aside.
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the parsley, the consommé powder and salt and pepper.
Add the warm mashed potatoes. Heat the remaining oil in the pan over medium high heat, then pour the egg and potato mixture into the pan.
When the tortilla is sizzling, lower the flame. Cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes.
Wrap the pan handle in foil and bake in the oven until the top of the tortilla is golden brown.
Cool for 20 minutes, then flip onto a serving dish.
Squeeze a dash of lemon over the tortilla and garnish with remaining lemon.
Serves 10 to 12 people.
Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.