It’s a well-known fact that people following a Mediterranean diet have better overall health. And, that’s certainly true for people living in Spain.
In preparation for our retreat in Spain this May I prepared a menu to reflect Spanish and Mediterranean influences, while still keeping to our nutritional requirements to suit the daily retreat activities. So far so good, however creating a menu behind a laptop in Windsor soon became unstuck on day one in Spain.
Landing in Malaga the day before the retreat started and our number one priority was the food shopping so off we went one of the largest supermarket chains in the region. I was prepared that there would need to be some element of substitution to ingredients but I was in for quite an awakening!!
The list of foods not available grew longer and longer, yellow peppers, spring onions, green lentils, wild rice even fresh spinach to name but a few!!! So the menu for the first few days of the retreat was adapted right there in the supermarket aisles.
What I learnt there and then is that the cookery books I had slaved over at home were designed to reflect UK market and abundance of ingredients we have, however the reality is that most of the Spanish menu is down-to-earth, uncomplicated food, based on the ingredients available locally or the crops grown regionally. Many dishes are prepared today using the same cooking methods and ingredients as they were two or three hundred years ago.
A recent study of food shopping habits in Spain showed that weekly produce is not only purchased in shops and supermarkets; but the traditions of obtaining directly from garden allotments, farms or other business; or received as a payment in kind is still very strong. Indeed while on retreat this May one of the nicest dishes we had was a simple green tomato salad made from produce bought from the back of the local farmers van as he went door to door.
Overall, food markets remain the most popular shopping choice in rural Andalusia and are the best place to buy the freshest produce, particularly what is in season. Most towns and villages will have a local market, and our local town was no exception.
One thing is for sure, food in Spain is fresh, abundant and full of taste and the Spanish love their food dearly. I can’t wait to go back to Andalucía in October to see for myself what the local producers have to offer and our autumnal retreat menu will reflect the local markets and produce and there won’t be a cookery book in sight.