FOR many expats, Janet Mendel’s Cooking in Spain became a bible for everything from paella to pimientos fritos. 

Now more than ever, with restaurants closing at 6pm due to the current lockdown restrictions, the ability to home cook is essential. 

With their knives sharpened and a bottle of Rioja uncorked, Olive Press journalists Lydia and Kirsty take on two of Spain’s more traditional tapas. 

Gambas Pil Pil 

Garlic, chilly, prawns, oil and hunks of bread to sop up sauce with— Gambas Pil Pil is a guaranteed people pleaser.  

Not to bash Mendel’s methods but, for two blondes, Cooking in Spain could use some clearer instructions. It reads, “put the pan on the heat until the oil is quite hot”. Now, ‘quite’ is a fairly nondescript measurement. 

Dinner Peeled Prawns
PRAWNS: Peeled and ready to go

We had seen the gambas pil pil ramekins emerge from restaurant kitchens sizzling and scalding hot. So, naturally, we whacked the hob up to its max to create the same effect. Within seconds, of course, garlic was blackened and dried chilli chunks were nothing but soot in the bottom of the pan. 

On our second attempt (hob heat turned to low) things went more to plan and, while our prawns aren’t quite San Sebastian standard yet, there’s promise here. 

Patatas Bravas 

Cubes of delight, Patatas Bravas are essentially fried potato chunks covered in spicy sauce and sometimes, for the fainter-tongued among us, mayo. 

Reader, I regret to inform you this is where true disaster occurred. We took our eyes off the par-boiling pan and before we knew it our potatoes were softer than cream cheese and frying became a near impossibility. 

Still, we lobbed the spicy sauce on top with abandon and, when it came to tasting time, they weren’t half bad. 

This definitely wasn’t Patatas Bravas. Instead, it was an entirely new creation and something more akin to a spicy bubble and squeak. Trust two expats to Anglicise a Spanish classic. 

The verdict 

Dinner Finished
SUPPER: The final product

Our dinner wasn’t inedible and we managed to not poison our guests. But the kitchen looks like a bomb site and everyone involved is exhausted. It could take months or even years of lockdown to force us to truly channel our inner Nigella. In the meantime, it’s pesto pasta or substandard tapas for us. 

Thank goodness for us that the restaurants are back open at dinner time. 


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