Hip, Hip Ole for the Fresh Flavors of Spain: Herbs in Spanish Cuisine

Spanish cuisine is all about flavor, but if you think that means "hot and spicy," take a closer look.

| February/March 2009

  • Jupiter Images

  • iStockphoto.com/Graham Heywood

  • Theresa O'Shea

  • Theresa O'Shea
  • Potatoes with Rosemary
    Stock Food
  • Spicy Sizzling Prawns
    Rick Wetherbee
  • Marinated Fish
    Rick Wetherbee
  • Sauteed Clams
    iStockphoto.com/Kelly Cline

Spanish Recipes:
• Potatoes with Rosemary (Patatas Al Romero)
• Marinated Fish (Cazón En Adobo)
• Spicy Sizzling Prawns (Gambas Pil-Pil)
• Sautéed Clams (Almejas Salteadas)
• Thyme Soup (Sopa De Tomillo) 

Web Exclusive Recipes:
• Vegetarian Lentils (Lentejas Vegetarianas)
• Pumpkin Mash (Calabaza Con Oregano) 

Once upon a time, I would look in the larder and wail, “We don’t have anything to eat.” Now I know better. After 20 years of living in Spain, I’ve learned the secrets of the Mediterranean diet and know that as long as I have plenty of olive oil, a head of garlic, and a handful of essential herbs and spices, I can conjure up dishes as delicious as they are healthful.

To understand how important herbs are in the Spanish kitchen, you need only see how they abound—in the countryside, in the shops, at market stalls. The butcher and greengrocer give away parsley as a matter of courtesy. Rosemary and thyme you easily can pick on the hillside, grow in your garden, or occasionally buy in bunches at the market. Bay leaves are sold on the branch. As for dried herbs and spices, every canny shopper knows that the best place for these is at an old-fashioned supply store, where, like rice, beans and other staples, they are still scooped up from tubs and giant cookie jars.

In Spanish cooking, almost all dishes require a generous pinch of chopped herbs or a dash of spice, but the resulting flavors are subtle and delicate, and only rarely blow-your-taste-buds-off hot.    

Parsley / Perejil

Perejil is the most widely and abundantly used of all the hierbas aromáticas. This is always the flat (also known as Italian), not the curly, variety. It adds zip to grilled fish and meat, salads, and vegetable dishes with its bright color and taste.

Chopped parsley can be added at the last minute, as with mushrooms sizzled in garlic and white wine. For other dishes, the herb is pounded with other ingredients using a mortar and pestle to form a majado (a paste) or aderezo (dressing) to be added after cooking. One aderezo typically drizzled onto grilled fish and seafood, is made by blending chopped garlic and parsley in extra virgin olive oil. It’s fine to leave this sauce chunky; blend it for a smoother texture. Either way, the deep green mixture is buenísimo—very good indeed. It also is super-healthy, as parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C and other antioxidants.

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