Every once in a while I’ll get an email from a student who is concerned about whether there are any vegan dishes they can learn to cook from my class. (FYI: Many of the dishes we cook together at our Spanish cooking course are plant-based so following a vegan or vegetarian diet is not a problem at all.)
It seems to be a common misconception that Spanish food doesn’t have a lot of plant-based options. But in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth – As I’ve been known to say, there’s a big world of possibilities beyond Iberian ham!
Let’s talk geography and diet
You’ve likely heard about something called the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is not a diet plan, but a way of describing the common eating habits of people living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
Given Spain’s geographic location, it makes sense that our way of eating would follow the Mediterranean diet – which is largely plant-based and includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and lots of EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil).
Because we’ve grown up happily eating stewed vegetables and fresh fruits at home (and we cook at home a lot), when we go out to restaurants, we want something more elaborate than the simple salads! On our tapas tour we want the deep fried croquettes, the fatty ham, the heavy sauces, and the dense gravies.
Cooking from the pantry
In a Spanish home pantry you will always find different dried white beans, lentils, and chickpeas. I adore all legumes and beans because of their high protein, versatility, and the fact that you can eat them year-round, warm or cold!
Today, I am sharing with you a bean-based recipe that is both simple and satisfying: ensalada de alubias, or white bean salad. Full of protein-packed white beans, fresh greens, and a silky vinaigrette with a citrusy fragrance, this dish will make all your senses happy.
Personally, when I cook this dish, the combination of beans, beets, orange, honey, and EVOO remind me of the Arab and Sephardic heritages in the south of Spain. I hope you, my dearest reader, will also travel through the flavors, textures and aromas created in your kitchen.
Ingredients (4 servings)
• ½ cup of dried white beans, boiled and drained (or one 15 oz can of beans, drained).
• Your favorite greens: I like arugula (rocket lettuce) and lamb’s lettuce (also known as corn salad), both have that slightly bitter taste that pairs amazingly with the sweetness of the beets and orange. Spinach and kale are good choices too.
• 1 or 2 oranges, peeled and cut into wedges.
• 2 or 3 boiled beets, sliced or diced.
• Diced goat or feta cheese (optional).
• ½ red onion, sliced thin Julienne style: once sliced, toss in a bowl with 2 or 3 pinches of sea salt. Cover the bowl and wait about 1 hour before use. This process makes the onion more tender, and gives it a more mild taste.
• Vinaigrette: good EVOO (better if it is Spanish!) + Dijon granulated mustard + honey. I will typically eyeball measurements, but if you’re not comfortable with eyeballing, start with 3 parts olive oil and one part mustard with a touch of honey, then whisk and taste as you go. Depending on the sweetness of the oranges and beets, you may want to adjust the amount of honey.
- Cutting board and knife.
- Mixing bowl and a hand beater to emulsify the vinaigrette.
- A bowl to set the sliced onion.
- A nice big tray to plate up or individual plates for plating.
Preparation is simple: just toss everything on a nice tray or individually onto different plates paying attention to the combination of colors to get a pretty-looking result!