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GazpachoUsing fruit as an ingredient in Spanish cooking and tapas recipes is a popular way of adding flavour to Spanish dishes and adding that perfect accompaniment to cheeses, wines, cured ham and cooked meats to name but a few. Spain is famous for its orange and lemon production but there is a much wider variety of fruits available that are regularly used in Spanish cooking. Walk through any Andalucian garden and you are likely to find fig trees, peach trees and cherry, the Spanish garden also need not be a large affair to grow your own fruits and even window boxes and terracotta plant pots which can be purchased very cheaply in Spain will happily help you grow the likes of chili peppers and even courgettes. Probably the most widely used fruit in Spanish cooking the humble tomato but this was not always the case, it was in fact the Spaniards that introduced tomatoes to Europe in the 16th century where they were simply grown for decoration. Spain is also famous for its tomato fight or ‘La Tomatina’ which is held in the town of Buñol in Valencia every year. The tomatina continues to grow annually with more than 45,000 people throwing over 100 tonnes of tomatoes at each other which are kindly provided by the local town council!

TomatoesTomatoes in Spain come in many different varieties as you would expect from the sweet cherry tomatoes on the vine to the extra large beef tomatoes which are great for all types of salads. In rural areas of Spain most villages will boast a green grocer who will in all likely hood will have a patch of land and a large greenhouse in which they will grow their own fruit and vegetables, tomatoes are a favourite and there are no rules regulating size or shape, the result is probably some of the ugliest tomatoes you are likely to see but this makes them no less delicious, it could be even be said that the less aesthetically pleasing they are the sweeter and tastier they are! Some of the more popular ways of enjoying tomatoes in Spain is to flame grill them along with onions and peppers to make what is know as ‘escalivada’ the tomatoes are then peeled and served cold with olive oil as a side dish, a kind of chunky salsa. Alternatively you have the classic flavour combination of tomatoes with serrano ham which also usually involves a good cheese to complete the trio. Another popular Spanish recipe is Spanish gazpacho in which tomatoes are the main ingredient (at least in the modern day recipe)

Is cucumber a fruit or a vegetable? Cucumber is commonly regarded as a vegetable although it is a fact a fruit. Cucumber is regularly used as a garnish and as a main ingredient in Spanish salads, it is also another ingredient in Spanish gazpacho and adds a delicious freshness to cucumber and melon soup, a local cold soup usually served with slices of serrano ham. For the same reason a cucumber is a fruit so is the courgette, many gardens have rows of courgettes as they are a fairly hardy plant and do well in the Spanish heat providing they have ample irrigation. Courgettes are grown from seed and the Spanish gardener will usually leave one courgette to grow and grow…and grow where it will eventually explode in the Spanish sun producing hundreds of seeds for next years crop. Courgette goes into all types of Spanish cooking, always hot dishes such as stews and casseroles. An Andalucian favourite is courgettes sliced and sautéed in garlic and olive oil, simple tapas or an easy starter.

Simple chili salsaChili peppers do feature in Spanish cooking but not as frequently as one might think. Spanish cuisine does not tend to be hot and spicy compared to other world cuisines and the Spanish people tend to only to use chili in such dishes such as chili garlic prawns where shelled prawns are cooked over the barbeque in a terracotta cazuela in olive oil, garlic and chili, the oil becomes infused with chili and once the prawns are finished the oil is then mopped up with fresh crusty bread. Chili garlic prawns or ‘gambas al pil pil’ as it is known in Spain is a very popular starter or tapas between three of four people where the dish can served all at once center of the table. Red bell peppers are used as an ingredient to make ‘escalivada’ as mentioned above, the peppers are grilled over hot coals until they turn completely black before being wrapped in newspaper which makes peeling easier once they have cooled. The peppers are then peeled by hand by removing the charred skin to reveal the bright red cooked flesh of the fruit below, the beauty of this Spanish recipe is that it is rustic, cooked outdoors and the inevitable ‘black bits’ left over all add to the flavour of the peppers which are again served drizzled with good extra virgin olive oil.

For a more unusual fruit there is the prickly pear which is not a pear at all but the fruit from the paddle cactus (abundant in Spain and Mexico). The prickly pear as the name suggests requires some very careful peeling but once prepared has a delicious soft flesh. In Spain, the prickly pear is often used to make jelly or can be served with shrimp and other seafood. The prickly pear can also be used to make vodka and occasionally as an ingredient in sweets and candy products. Another fruit that is used to make jelly is quince, a relative of the apple and pear the fruit is hard and yellow with a strong flavour. Andalucian recipes sometimes use quince to add a hint of flavour to apple pies or fruit puddings. Another popular Spanish product is ‘membrillo’ or quince paste which is similar to a jam although with a heavier texture. Quinces can also be used to make sweet dessert wines for which Spain is famous.

Think of Spanish fruit and you immediately envisage oranges and lemons, oranges from Seville or perhaps the book ‘Driving over lemons’ by ex Genesis drummer Chris Stewart. The use of oranges and lemons in Spanish cooking is much the same as any other cuisine producing jams, tarts, garnish or a squeeze of juice or scrape of zest for that added flavour to cooking. One of the simplest ways of enjoying sweet oranges is to drizzle them in a peppery extra virgin olive oil, ultimate simplicity but very refreshing tapas on a hot Spanish day. Staying with simple but unusual flavour combinations the strawberry is worth a mention (one of the only fruits with its seeds on the outside), try splashing a few drops of aged sherry vinegar over this fruit and wait for the flavours to get to work on the palate – delicious.

Fried chorizo apple ciderApples need not be left just for the pie or apple sauce, in fact this popular fruit in all its guises goes very well with chorizo, there is something about the sweetness and texture of the apple that works so well with the Spanish chorizo that there are quite a few Andalucian recipes. Two such recipes are a very simple chorizo and apple kebab cooked over the barbeque and which can also be served as tapas. Another is to braise chorizo in apple and cider where the sweet juices become infused with the spice and paprika from the sausage, again ideal as tapas or a simple Spanish starter. One other meat and fruit pairing is Serrano ham and melon, a cantaloupe melon is best for this cold tapa/starter where the arrangement is purely up to ones imagination, serve wrapped, use melon balls or stuff melon slices with thin slivers of ham, the sweetness of the melon brings out the mild saltiness of the ham and is a dish often served during the summer months or even for breakfast – just don’t forget a drizzle of extra virgin or if you are feeling adventurous a light sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper, nectarines and peaches also perform well the same as melon although a ripe nectarine will also long for a few slices of the king of all hams the ‘Iberico’. Not forgetting the humble fig this fruit is well worth pairing up with serrano ham, figs can be baked or served fresh and produce a great flavour, accompany this pairing with a milder goats cheese or a good quality honey.

When enjoying wine . . . there is nothing quite like a combination of a good red, cheese and grapes. Grapes are enjoyed all over Spain and they are not just reserved for wine making, white grapes or indeed red go well with most cheeses, hard or soft and add that fruity balanced sweetness to make a famous trio of flavours. Spanish tapas being a simple affair can consist of an arrangement of cheeses, fruits and crackers or indeed ‘banderillas’ which are a selection of small tapas ‘bites’ served on cocktail sticks. The classic Spanish platter of course is the cheese board with grapes, biscuits and cured ham, served with wine the flavours are divine with grapes adding a juicy freshness and mild acidity to the entire board.

Arguably the king of all Spanish fruits can be found predominantly in southern Spain, it is served on salads, as simple tapas and is regularly used in many a Spanish dish, it comes in a variety of types and is one of the only fruits that can be marinated, we are course talking about the Spanish olive. The region of Jaen is regarded as the olive oil capital of Europe (if not the world) and produces some of the finest olive oils available. Suprisingly the availability of whole olives by the jar in southern Spain is not as common as you may think, this is because most of the olives go direct into oil production, there are however different types of olive available from dedicated producers who cultivate their fruit and tend their groves to produce some of the finest olives available. It is said that there is an olive for everyone and although it make some time to discover it any Spaniard will tell you that it is out there waiting for you! Olives are used in Spain to garnish salads and also, play an important part in old recipes passed down through the generations before olive oil production became commercial. The olive really is the fruit of Spain and the next time you drizzle some Spanish extra virgin over your salad remember that those fruity flavours come from a tree somewhere in Spain.


Spanish olivesPickling olives is something that has been done for generations, after all many of our own neighbours have olive groves and enjoy a healthy harvest every year. There are many tips and tricks to pickling your own olives, indeed all of our Spanish neighbours have a different technique and each one is the best! Here we have the simplest way to pickle olives, for this recipe we have used black olives which require less time.


Black olives
Coarse salt
Cider vinegar
Lemon, herbs, pepper (optional)


  • Wash olives thoroughly.

  • Pierce each olive twice using a small sharp knife.

  • Place the olives into glass jars and fill with mineral water to the top.

  • After 24 hours, drain the water and refill – repeat this process three times for black olives.

  • Now for the brine, pour off the water into a measuring jug thus ensuring an accurate measure of brine to pour back into each jar. To make the brine heat up the given amount of warm until warm then the salt (100g of salt to 1 litre of water) bring pan to boil then leave to cool.

  • Once the brine has cooled pour over the olives and seal the jar. Your olives will be ready.


Sun dried chili peppersDrying peppers in Spain is something that has been done for generations. In rural white washed village you cannot escape the explosive deep red colour of strings of peppers hanging from windows and balconies. In the village of Orce drying peppers is a popular practice; the peppers are hung in kitchens after drying and used as an ingredient in many traditional Andalucian recipes. Here we have two different methods of drying peppers.


Red chili peppers (large)

Oven Method

  • To dry peppers in the oven firstly they need to be cut in half from top to bottom, the seeds then need to be removed.
  • Once the seeds have been discarded place the each half of the pepper open side down onto a baking tray or shallow oven tray.
  • Preheat the oven to its lowest setting and dry the peppers for at least 8 hours (either all day or overnight).

Traditional Method

This is the technique used in Andalucia and requires the peppers to hang. You can replicate this method if you have a dry environment with plenty of air flow.

These peppers are dried whole therefore do not need the seeds removed.

  • You will need a large needle and some heavy thread to tie the peppers together. This is done by tying a cork onto the end of the thread so the first pepper cannot fall off.
  • Thread each pepper directly through the middle about 1 cm below the green stalk, pull each pepper down the length of the thread so that they stack and bunch all the way to the top. With heavy thread you can achieve in excess of three dozen peppers on each string.
  • Once this is done hang the peppers in a dry, well ventilated area for at least 4 weeks or until the peppers no longer hold any moisture.
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