Culinary Inspirations: Seville and Andalucía, Spain (Recette Magazine – Suvie)

One of Europe’s most dynamic cities, Seville is flush with style and brío.  The stories of Figaro and Carmen, Don Juan and Fidelio set the stage, while gypsies, flamenco dancers and bullfights provide the action, along with much of the city’s soul.  In many ways, Seville is Spain — or, at least, it’s the Spain we dream of home, as many of the flourishes we identify with the country originated here, or in the Andalucía region.

As one of Andalucía’s historic capitals, Seville’s influences meld Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions, but it’s the Moorish elements that dominate architecture of the historic center that surrounds the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a medieval neighborhood stocked with restaurants and bars.  The labyrinth of narrow, windy streets was the city’s Jewish quarter until the end of the 15th century and today thrives as an irresistible lure for visitors, replete with ceramic-tiled benches and the scent of orange trees.

They come to ogle a trio of UNESCO World Heritage-listed buildings.  The Alcázar of Seville, the royal palace, offers a chorus of Moorish notes, though 500 years of expansion and renovation has left it flush with an array of architectural styles.  Nearby is the Seville Cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic building, and home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus, carried by four enormous stone knights.  The eye-popping cathedral began as a mosque, dedicated in 1182, but following the city’s conquest by Ferdinand III in 1248, it was Christianized.  The adjoining bell tower, La Giralda, was originally built as a minaret for the mosque — Renaissance-style flourishes were added by the Catholics.

But Seville’s visitors also come for the city’s unhurried pace, roaming pedestrianized streets in search of gold-domed palaces and the click and swoosh of flamenco dancers, and the best evenings involve a tapeo, the delicious bar crawl that leads along narrow alleys from gazpacho to jamón (ham) to pescado frito (fried fish).

Seville is closer to Africa than it is to Spain’s capital, Madrid — it’s barely 110 miles, as the crow flies, from Seville to Tangiers, Morocco.  So it should come as no surprise that North African imports accent the Andalucían menu.

Chef Julio Fernández, co-owner of the Michelin-starred Seville restaurant Abantal, says five ingredients can be credited to Africa.

“Citrus, like orange, lemon and grapefruit, is used in our desserts,” explains Fernández, who adds that honeydew melon, which originated in Algeria, is another fruit common to Andalucía.  “Aubergine, or eggplant, has a lot of importance, and many of our recipes, like pisto, use it.”  Cane sugar and long-grain rice also came from Africa, both of which are prominent in many Andalucían recipes.

In towns throughout the region, markets brim with these fresh ingredients, and seafood — especially tuna, prawns and clams — also weaves through the menu, even in Seville, which lies 40 miles inland from the Atlantic.

One of Andalucía’s most heralded offerings is jamón.  This is not just cured ham — it’s a delicacy, and ubiquitous.  In Seville markets, glistening slivers of the marbled meat are served to go in paper cones or on crusty bread.  Most prized is jamón Ibérico, the black Ibérian pig that is raised on a diet of acorns, berries and herbs — perfect when served with a glass of elegant, very old rare sherry, another export of Andalucía.

Coursing through the Andalucían kitchen is olive oil.  Spain produces about half of the world’s supply of olive oil, and Andalucía is the country’s largest producer.

“It’s our essential ingredient,” says Fernández.  Butter is never used in cooking, the chef explains.  “There are almost no cows in Andalucía, so although we have cheese, we are not known for it.”

One of the most famous dishes associated with Andalucía is gazpacho, the cold tomato soup finished with olive oil.  Gazpacho is a perfect antidote to the long, hot summers of Seville, and usually incorporates cucumbers, stale bread, onions, garlic and vinegar in a vibrant, refreshing blend, often served in a glass. Another robust vegetarian recipe from Seville is espinacas con garbanzos — spinach with chickpeas.  Commonly served during Lent, the dish features a healthy dose of pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika).  The spice was brought from Mexico to Spain in the 16th century, eventually making its way to central and eastern Europe.

Paprika is the one spice used in pringá, a mouth-watering staple Fernández calls “one of the most civilian tapas in Seville,” traditionally eaten with family around a shared table.  The recipe is simple — chicken, pork and chorizo sausage stewed slowly, then pan-fried.  “Usually a broth is served first, with chickpeas, and then the pringá is eaten with a little bread, to make something like a sandwich,” adds Fernández.

While variations of lamb stew can be found all over Spain especially in neighboring Extremadura, look for caldereta de cordero in the mountain villages of Andalucía.  It’s a slow-braised casserole plumped with potatoes, spiced (again) with pimentón.

Although Seville and Andalucía bake during the summer months, a hearty lamb stew is perfect on the cooler winter nights in the snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada near Granada.

David Swanson’s writing and photography has been featured in the pages of National Geographic Traveler, American Way, and the Los Angeles Times for more than 20 years.  He served as President of the Society of American Travel Writers in 2018-19.

Regional Spanish Delights at Abantal, Seville (Forbes)

When my son got married three years ago, I received an email from a friend of mine saying “Congratulations, you have now joined the club of the most hated women in the world, – mothers in law.”  I have often thought about that, and have realized that I am very, very, fortunate to not be a member of that club, and indeed I count my daughter-in-law Margaret as one of my best friends.

This past week she and I (without our husbands) took a short two-day holiday to Seville, where neither of us had ever been.  We had done our homework and stayed in a small boutique hotel right next to the famous Cathedral called the EME Catedral Hotel, which was very welcoming and lovely.

We did the usual tourist things, like going to see the Plaza de Toros where the famous bull fights take place, the Plaza de Espana with its fabulous gardens, and, of course, spent a long time viewing the world’s third largest cathedral with its myriad of splendor displayed throughout its huge space.

The highpoint of our trip, however, was our dinner on Saturday night at Abantal, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Seville.  It is located in a small, out-of-the-way street, about 10 minutes from our hotel, and you would never know when you approach it what gastronomic delights await inside.

The décor is simple and sleek, and the seven tables are far enough apart so that you could have a very private conversation, which is such a rarity these days.  In addition, we noted with some glee the absence of blaring music, which so often detracts from good conversation and fabulous food.


Lady Barbara Judge CBE

Restaurant Abantal in Seville (Eat Speak Write)

The Michelin Guide is somewhat of a notorious annual publication within the food community, and can make or break a chef’s career. Each year, Michelin has its anonymous “inspectors” visit restaurants within a particular region for the purpose of rating and critiquing it. Michelin may then award up to three stars for outstanding dining (or remove existing stars if it feels the restaurant has dropped its standards). Restaurants with three Michelin stars are quite scarce, however are said to offer some of the best dining experiences in the world (often at exorbitant prices). Restaurant Abantal, located in the eastern parts of Seville, was my first time dining at a Michelin starred restaurant.

Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a waiter who spoke English quite well. He took our jackets and showed us to the table. The interior decor was very simplistic, yet elegant, and very well illuminated. We were given a menu (including á la carte options), however we had already decided to order the nine-course tasting menu.

The first course was a beetroot soup with a piece of salt cured tuna. This dish was an amazing start to the night, and probably the most memorable dish overall. There was absolutely no doubting that the soup was made from beetroots (besides the brilliant pink colour, it had an intense flavour of beetroot) and the tuna paired so well with it. It was very much like beef jerky, but with fish instead of beef. The slight fishiness and the saltiness took the dish from being an ordinary beetroot soup to something on a whole new level.

The next dish was a little more unusual. On top of a seaweed purée sat a prawn, some sherry jelly and tomato paste. The jelly was not too strong in flavour, but the taste of sherry was clear. Under the jelly were little pieces of lemon flesh, tomato paste and raw tuna, giving the dish little bursts of unexpected flavour and texture. This dish was a little weird, but still pleasant to eat.

Following was a dish that scared me a little bit at first. It looked almost like a dessert, until the waitress told us that it was a foie cream with peach compote and honeycomb. I have had foie (liver) enough times to know that it is rich and very strong. I was hoping deep down that the foie cream didn’t have too much punch, or else it was going to be a difficult dish to finish in its entirety. Thankfully, it turned out to be a very nice dish, and the foie cream was not overpowering at all. With the sweet peach compote and chewy honeycomb pieces it was actually very much like eating one of the yoghurt mixers that I ate as a child in school, with yoghurt in one compartment, fruit compote in another and maybe some muesli or nuts in a third–a little more sophisticated, though.

The next few dishes were very good, although not really anything I hadn’t eaten before. The marinated pork was extremely tender, and had a great texture and flavour. The pork belly dish was quite spectacular, with perfectly cooked pork and mushrooms exactly as I like them: soft but still with some bite.

Now that the main courses were over, the desserts started coming out. The waitress informed us that there would be a pre-dessert followed by a dessert, although, judging by the size of each, I’m not sure why they called it a pre-dessert instead of just two dessert courses. The first, the “pre-dessert”, was a spiced soup (it tasted like cinnamon, maybe with a few other spices mixed in) with a scoop of ice cream and a pestiño (a deep-fried pastry often eaten in the southern parts of Spain). I had eaten probably too many pestiños while walking around the streets of Madrid and Seville, so I was very familiar with them by that stage, however I was all too happy to eat another. This pestiño was the best that I’d so far had, with a great melt-in-the-mouth and crumbly texture.

The final course was an orange and carrot sponge served with a chocolate cream and a thin chocolate biscuit. The sponge had a pretty much perfect texture, and the flavours were nice, but I couldn’t help but think about how uninteresting it was. I could go to just about any bakery in the city and find cake like this, so I was a little disappointed. The first dessert was by far my favourite of the two.