Ask anyone to name a traditional Spanish dish and we bet paella will top the list. It's a classic that originated in Valencia, with loads of different recipes thanks to its line-up of locally sourced ingredients. You can choose from chicken, seafood, and vegetable paella – or opt for a version that includes them all. Then there's the rice, which uses saffron to give it its distinctive yellow colour. But, no matter where you eat it, it ticks all the boxes of a tasty and filling meal.
Paella, pronounced pay-ey-yah, started as a dish created by farmers who could only afford to throw what little food they had into a giant pot. Now you can eat it across the world, with everyone from food stall owners to gourmet restaurants putting their own spin on it. Think squid ink in the rice, or paella soup, Heston Blumenthal-style. If you fancy have a go at the dish yourself, we recruited the help of food stylist and restaurant owner, Henrietta Clancy, to show us how to make it. You can watch the video at the top of this article, or scroll to the bottom to find the recipe.
Many people associate these sweet, doughy treats with Mexico, but they’re actually said to have been first made in Spain by a shepherd looking for something that was easy to cook in a pan over a fire. The name ‘churro’ is meant to come from a breed of sheep called the Navajo Churro, whose horns look a little like the tasty dessert. The fried choux pastry, which is sprinkled with sugar or dipped into melted chocolate, is often eaten at breakfast. It's also a staple in the summer months and can be found at festivals and fairgrounds all over Spain.
Jamón ibérico, or Iberian ham, is a cured ham from Spain. It comes from the Iberico pig, which is considered to be the original pig of Spain – dating all the way back to cavemen times. But what makes this ham so special is its unique taste. The pigs lead a free-range life and are left to forage for sweet acorns, which in turn gives the meat a rich and creamy taste. Then, the meat is cured in salt and left to age for up to three years – much longer than the ham found in your local supermarket aisle. And not only is the meat a real delicacy, it’s healthy too - rich in oleic acid which is said to lower cholesterol.
You might think feasting on a bowl of soup on a hot, sunny day isn't a wise idea. But in Spain, a portion of gazpacho soup is the perfect way to start a meal. The secret is that the tomato, cucumber, garlic, olive oil and vinegar concoction is served cold – sometimes with a few ice cubes thrown in, too. And, all of the ingredients blended together are completely raw, giving it a fresh taste and making it healthier, too.
Much like paella, there are loads of different recipes for sangria. Everyone has their own variation of the red-wine punch, and each one experiments with a combination of different spices and fruits. And, just like paella, while the drink may be synonymous with Spain, it's been enjoyed around the world for years. Even better, while it's probably not at the top of your healthy foods list, pack it full of your favourite fruits and you’re well on your way to getting your five a day.
It’s no secret that the Spanish consume a huge amount of meat, with dishes filled to the brim with ham, chicken, pork and fish. But don't worry – veggies won't go hungry. We’ve already mentioned the meat-free gazpacho and churros. Then there's croquetas, a fried ball filled with everything from spinach and pine nuts to wild mushrooms, or cheese and walnuts. Just make sure you avoid croquetas de jamon Serrano, which is filled with meat.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, you won’t have a problem eating here. Most Spanish food is naturally gluten-free, containing lots of meat and rice, and it’s really easy to avoid bread and pasta. Many restaurants offer dishes recommended by FACE – Federaction de Asociaciones de Celiacos de Espana, the Spanish coeliac association. Plus, you’ll also find aisles dedicated to gluten-free products in supermarkets. You can use the phrase "sin gluten", meaning 'without gluten' in Spanish, to keep an eye out for gluten-friendly food. We’d recommend avoiding gazpacho and meatballs, as bread is often added to these.
2 pinched saffron threads
1 litre chicken stock
A splash of olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
6 skinned, boned chicken thighs, cut into pieces
100g Spanish chorizo, sliced
100g pancetta, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp thyme
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
300g paella rice
3 tbsp white wine
250g tomatoes (approx 3), sliced into wedges
Couple of handfuls of frozen green peas, defrosted
6 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
6 skin-on raw king prawns
To serve: chopped parsley and lemon wedges
Heat the stock and saffron in a saucepan. Don't bring it to the boil, but keep it warm over a low heat.
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large paella pan over high heat. Add the salt and chicken and fry for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Now cook the chorizo and pancetta, add to the chicken, and set aside.
Reduce the heat and add another 1 tbsp of oil, then add the chopped onion, red pepper, garlic, thyme and paprika, and cook until soft. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the white wine, and as soon as it has evaporated add the stock and tomatoes. Return the meat to the pan, bring to the boil, and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the peas, prawns and mussels to the pan, add the lid, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the mussels have opened, discarding any that are still closed. Let them rest for five minutes.
Serve with chopped parsley and plenty of lemon wedges.
Fancy trying some Spanish treats for yourself?
You might not be able to travel to Spain right now, but follow our paella recipe and you can bring the country to your kitchen. And if you loved this, find out what the food's like in Iceland or what the food's like in Cuba.
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