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Mmmm Horchata! - Valencian Tiger nut milk
27 August 2015

On Monday, my family and I enjoyed a wonderful "merienda" in Alboraya, world capital of Horchata and it was just brilliant. If you ever happen to be passing through Valencia I highly recommend Horchateria Panach on the main road that runs through Alboraya, as good as it gets at an unbeatable price. If you ask around Valencia many will recommend the legendary "Horchateria Daniels" and a couple of years ago I would have been one of them but recently the quality has slipped and the prices have rocketed so watch out.

For those who are not so familiar with this summer refreshment I thought I would share some of its history and how it is grown in and around Alboraya, next to Valencia. It is made from chufa, which in English would be the tiger nut and as a drink it goes back thousands of years. Old civilizations such as the Egyptians left samples of this healthy product in their tombs and sarcophagi. Also, diverse Persian and Arab authors already mentioned in their writings the digestive benefits of the chufa. But it was in the 13th century when the Arabs introduced their crop in the Mediterranean area. 

Valencia was and continues to be the only area in Europe where chufa is grown. Currently it is farmed in 16 towns around the area known as L'Horta Nord (or the Northern fertile land), which surrounds Valencia.

The chufa is cultivated in sixteen Valencian towns in the L'Horta Nord area, where a few specific climatic requirements combine and make it the only area of Spain where such a unique tuber is cultivated. About 5.3 million kilograms of tiger nut are produced in this area, of which 90% are covered by the Denomination of Origin.

The tiger nut from Valencia (Cyperus esculentus) is a herbaceous plant of around 40 to 50 centimetres in height. It has a rhizome radicular system from which some little roots grow and in the tips of these roots the tiger nut is formed. 

The chufa is sown from March until May, date which is determined by the previous crop. Before the planting begins, a series of preparatory work is carried out, so that the soil remains spongy, loose and well levelled. The planting is carried out in a mechanical fashion, in ridges 20 cm high with 60 cm between them. The depth of the seed is from 4 to 5 cm. The depth of sowing is an important aspect, since the yield and the quality of the tuber depend greatly on these measurements. 

The harvest is carried out from November to January. Once the plant has completely withered and dried, it is burned and the ashes and remains are cleaned up. Then, it is sown again mechanically. 

From March through to May, I recommend a tour around the area of Alboraya and Tavernes Blanques to see the planting. At this time of year, the harvesting from the previous year has alreadyfinished and the tubers are drying in "cambras": special drying rooms. 

A few weeks after the new planting, the tuber germinates. You shouldn't miss the opportunity to see the legendary irrigation ditches of Roman origin, improved and expanded by the Arabs throughout the area, which still remain.



 You should also discover both the array of orchards and crops and the different constructions in this unique area. You will find villages, shrines, and the typical Valencian “barracas” which are traditional thatched farmers' houses. 

Legend says that a young villager from the fertile area of Valencia known as L'Horta offered King Jaume I a white and sweet drink. The King, very pleased, asked; "Qué es això?" (What is this?), and the young woman answered "Es llet de xufa" (Its tigernut milk). The King, having tasted the drink replied, "Això no es llet, això és OR, XATA" (This is not milk, this is gold (=OR), pretty girl (=XATA).

Legend or reality, the drink became famous throughout the country, adopting the name of Horchata de Chufa. This drink, made from the chufa is a refreshing and essential product in the Mediterranean diet thanks to its innumerable and healthy benefits.

The chufa nuts are ground in a mill. During the grinding water is introduced, approximately three litres per kilo of chufa. The mass of crushed chufa and water is macerated and the first extract is obtained by means of a press, which is later filtered or sieved if it is made at home. The residue from the filter and the press are mixed, and two litres of water are added per every Kg of grounded nut.

Later it is pressed again, it is filtered for a second extract and that is in turn added to the first extract thus creating  the final extract product.

The process of production of horchata is completed when the required amount of sugar has been dissolved, normally between 100 and 150 grams per litre of extract.

Known since antiquity as a source of vitamins and nutrients, the horchata is also considered a source of health and energy the world throughout. Along with its delicious and refreshing flavour, several medical studies have accredited its many beneficial properties for the body. Investigations have concluded that the horchata has great digestive properties thanks to its high level of amino acids and starch.

Several prestigious specialists from the University of Valencia have also determined that it is rich in minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and iron as well as unsaturated fats and proteins. It is also recommended for all types of people, from the youngest to the oldest. The natural horchata can also be drunk by patients with a declared lack of tolerance to lactose and it is recommended for pregnant women as it includes more iron and potassium than a glass of milk.

It is an energizing and nutritious drink that thanks to its characteristics has become part of the Mediterranean diet. Its cardiovascular properties are similar to those present in olive oil and it helps in reducing cholesterol and triglycerides as it has over 77% of oleic acid. All these characteristics make the Horchata of Chufa of Valencia a very complete and nutritious drink thanks to its macro and micronutrients.

Lastly, the horchata has the capacity to nourish and refresh simultaneously. Whether you have it with or without ice, in summer or winter, this drink gives you vitality while taking care of your body. According to studies undertaken by the Regulating Council of the Chufa of Valencia as well as the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the University of Valencia:
These are the health properties of the horchata made from Valencian Chufa:

•    It has no cholesterol.
•    It helps to reduce the cholesterol and the triglycerides due to its composition in greasy acids similar to the  olive oil.
•    It provides essential amino acids (such as arginine).
•    It possesses a big energy value (ideal for children and sportsmen).
•    It presents excellent digestive properties for its content in soluble fibre, amino acids and starch.
•    It contains iron, zinc, copper and the same quantity of magnesium as the milk of a cow or goat.
•    It is diuretic for its high content in water.
•    It does not contain gluten, lactose or fructose.
•    Horchata without sugar can be drunk by diabetic people.
•    It is ideal for people with hypertension due to its low content in sodium and absence of caffeine.
•    It is advisable for the prevention of the arteriosclerosis and renal insufficiencies.



So if you haven’t tried it before you now have quite a few reasons to go out and  try it!

Like 0        Published at 19:32   Comments (3)

Paradise on your doorstep
19 August 2015


Many of you who are not familiar with Spain will probably know Spain's balearic Islands: Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca all popular destinations for British tourists. But it wasn't until my wife took me to Formentera that I knew I had discovered heaven right on my doorstep. Before stepping on the island I thought one would have to travel to the Caribbean or the South Pacific to get this experience. But no, here it was a stones throw away. I was totally taken away by it and fell in love immediately.

The smallest of the Balearic islands, Formentera gave me the most relaxing summer I could ever dream of. Sheer bliss, I with I could have returned this summer but we had different plans this year, but not  asummer goes by without me longing for those white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

Known as the last Mediterranean paradise, Formentera has been able to combine tourism with environmental protection, which is it's secret.

There are no large hotel complexes there, in fact accommodation is very scarce and most properties are booked from one year to the next by the regular tourists who frequent the island every summer. Funnily enough these tend to be Italians and Germans, it would seem the British haven't caught onto this paradise yet. I will say, in general it is not cheap. It is a small island and freshwater is a rare commodity on the island and pretty expensive so you can imagine how that effects the prices in restaurants and hotels without taking into consideration the logistical costs of delivering goods to the island. Many properties just offer salt water and you have to bring in your own freshwater for drinking and cooking from the supermarket.

If one is looking for an unspoiled land, seeking sun, sand and sea, relaxing moments away from the hustle and bustle of normal life, I couldn't think of a better place than Formentera. It is the ultimate antidote for stress. Never have I felt so relaxed or calm in my entire life. The island breathes calmness and peace, there are no nightclubs, very few bars, and you spend nearly all your time sunbathing, swimming, eating and sleeping. A part from the sheer breathtaking beauty of the island, fact that there is pretty much nothing to do on the Island unless you're into water sports, makes it really easy to focus your days! You just find a divine spot and go into vegetable mode until you need feeding, and I can sure you, you are not missing out on anything! No sightseeing, No "oh we should've done that" or "What are we going to do tomorrow? As we are here we ought to do this…." . No none of that, there is no thinking to be done at all, this isn't like going to Greek island where you should be visiting ruins now that you've made the trip, this is the only place I have found where your entire body relaxes, including your brain. Total switch off! Mental hibernation. Which is great from time to time.

The struggle of various generations of Islanders has made it possible to conserve an island whose beaches, transparent waters and climate make it a little jewel in the Mediterranean. It is virtually impossible to build a property there, you can only build on less than 10% of your property now, so you need a large plot of land to even build a small place and that is an even rarer commodity than water. The island's entire circumference is only 69 km's , but that 69km's of stunning beaches, coves and cliffs. There are only about 100 inhabitants for every km2, so it's just idilic.

Formentera can only be reached by boat from Ibiza, but this inaccessibility makes it a peaceful place where you can flee from stress and overcrowding; enjoying the island on a cycle ride, moped or swimming from its more than 20km of beaches of white sand and infinitely transparent turquoise water. The secret behind it's crystalline sea and long beaches, is the Posidonea Prairie that surrounds the island, a natural "treatment plant" that cleans and filters the water and makes it possible for sand to be deposited on the coast. It is a real underwater jungle, declared a World Heritage Site in 1999.

The tourist success of the island, loved as much by residents as by visitors, is rooted in the fact that people still find something very different in Formentera. The difference is marked by it's respect for nature, the survival of its own culture and the vision of achieving exclusivity through protecting the environment.

If there is something that makes Formentera different from other Mediterranean destinations, it is its beauty and the absence of buildings from most of its coast. The commitment of several decades to sustainable development has made it possible to enjoy heavenly beaches today, but with all the services and safety of a western destination. No funny flues or vaccines.

A strange, captivating geography, a gentle climate and Mediterranean vegetation combining dune areas with woods of pine and juniper-conifers that give the island it's character.

Fortunately for me, my wife has family who are authentic Islanders, living and working on the island for over 60 years. I went there for the first time 16 years ago, and I will never forget my first visit to the island. I was instantly enchanted by it's magic and the locals. My wife's Aunt has a typical "chringuito" on the beach front. It is totally the opposite to the classy restaurants you can find on the beach of Illetas, such as "Juan and Andrea". It is a make-shift hut out in the sticks and virtually on the sea front. An absolutely fantastic place that defines wild island living, where only the bare necessities are needed. A lazy relaxing restaurant-bar where you can calmly pass the day, eating, drinking, sleeping in a hammock under the pines, sunbathing and swimming. What more do you need?

Now I don't for one second want you to think I am plugging a family business here, as I am not. They are lucky enough not to need publicity. Not once in 60 years have they ever made a publicity pamphlet, done an advert, set up a web site or even a promotion. To give you an idea, they haven't even bothered to put up a sign post to direct you to it and I can assure you unless someone told you about it you would never find it. It's way off on the beaten track, cross country, through woods and eventually it just appears through the pines, a simple place with an idillic background. There are regulars who year in year out spend their entire summer there socialising and drinking and chatting the afternoons away. It was simply one of the most stressless moments I have ever lived. I was fortunate enough to discover "Rambo" there, as I affectionally call him, my wife's cousin! Who spends most of his time running around like a madman preparing giant paellas and dealing with the customers, if you look at the photos you'll see what I mean. Fantastic guy who is a spitting image of Stallone without an M-16 but with a killer spatula. However his true ammunition is his home made Hierbas Ibizencas, a local herbal liquor, which he makes and gives away every year to the season's customers. Mind blowing stuff, and extremely addictive. It is quite effortless to spend the evening in good company drinking away to the early hours of the morning under the stars and listening to the moonlit waves break on the beach. Heaven.

Now if you read my post on paellas you'll know my opinion on mixed paellas, but this is the Balearic Islands and here the "Mixta" is king. Never in my entire life have I ever seen anyone put so much meat and seafood into a paella. It was outrageous, kilos and kilos and kilos. His Mum is constantly trying to stop him using so many ingredients but even after twenty years of nagging no one can tell him otherwise when it comes to paellas and it seems to work, as the customers keep coming back, take a look at the photos and see how it's done in Formentera.

Anyway for those of you who still don't know Formentera, I will not hesitate for one minute in saying it is a place you must visit at some point in your life. A truly unique experience.

Like 0        Published at 17:40   Comments (9)

The Best Gazpacho Recipe Ever!
14 August 2015


With all my  recipes I attempt to share the raw essence of Spanish cuisine, the simple basic recipes that have become the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. They are not necessarily flamboyant dishes and certainly don’t need expert hands to make them, but they have all passed the test of time and are still classics to this very day. 
Almond Cream Gazpacho is similar to a normal Gazpacho but much more filling and creamier in texture more like a Salmorejo, personally I prefer it and depending on how you prepare it can be a meal in its own right. Where as with the original Gazpacho you would need a second course to accompany it. This recipe is basically a combination of the two, through trial an error, I finally found a consistency and flavour that was ideal for me. What I am going to share with you is not strictly a Gazpacho or a Salmorejo but a variation of the both and it is absolutely fantastic! My mouth is watering as I write! It’s an all time favourite with all my family.
It is cheap, easy and quick to make and as it’s main ingredients are tomato and olive oil, so you can’t go wrong! Anyone who loves a salad will adore this recipe. All you need is a blender, a fine sieve and a pestle and mortar.
These are the ingredients you will need for 8 servings, as it keeps in the fridge for a couple of days I always tend to make more than I will need for one sitting.
For 8 servings
1 kilo of mature tomatoes, pealed and with the seeds removed
30 g of pealed almonds 
2 cloves of garlic (removing the inner root so you don’t have that taste of garlic repeating all day!)
3 slices of stale country loaf bread approx 300g from the day before (with out the crust, not baguette)
100 ml of white wine vinegar 
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 large spring onion (just the onion not the Green sprouts but the size of a normal onion)
1 cucumber ( about 20 cm)
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
10g Salt – or to taste
8 slices of Serrano Ham
8 boiled Eggs
Baguette Croutons fried in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
 The first step is to scald the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute and then place them in cold water straight away and remove the skin. Then we dice up the bread and add the vinegar to the stale bread. Grind the almonds and the garlic cloves in the mortar. Once you have a paste add the bread and vinegar and keep grinding until they have all blended together nicely.
 We remove the skin from the cucumber using a potato peeler and chop it up along with the tomatoes, spring onion and peppers. Now place all the ingredients in the blender all together along with the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I use Arbequina variety olive oil for this recipe but really you can use any good extra virgin olive oil: Picual; Hojiblanca; Royal. Just make sure it isn’t too pungent. Blend them all together until you have an even mixture. Variations may occur depending on the type of bread you have used, so if it is not thick enough just add more bread to the recipe. If it has turned out too thick, you can correct the mixture with a little water. Salt to taste and then pass the entire mixture through the sieve to remove all the seeds from the tomatoes and the cucumbers.
At this point the Almond Cream Gazpacho is finished. The mixture is certainly not written in stone, so some may prefer it with less vinegar or more vinegar, or more almond or less almonds. It is a question of finding your balance. All you need to do is adjust the proportions until you find your ideal flavour. The texture should be a like a thick creamy soup.
Next we need to prepare the toppings. I place the Serrano ham in the microwave for 1 minute until it is nice and crispy, once out of the microwave place the ham on a piece of kitchen paper so it cools down and soaks up the fat that has been released. We don’t want that fat in the gazpacho.
This is not traditionally Spanish, but I’m not so keen on chewing cured ham in my soup, I prefer that on it’s own with a bit of cheese and wine. So now we chop up the crispy ham and the boiled eggs and put them to one side.
Finally the croutons, you cut up a baguette into small pieces including the crust. Get a frying pan and pour in a healthy amount of extra virgin olive oil. Heat up the olive oil and make sure it is hot before putting the bread in that way the bread won’t soak up the oil but toast it almost instantly. It is very fast so be prepared to take them out quickly before they get too toasted. Let them cool down and dry on a piece of kitchen paper.
When it comes to serving, serve the Almond Cream Gazpacho in a bowl and sprinkle a chopped egg over the top, one chopped slice of crispy ham and a handful of croutons. Listo! Ready to eat.

Other popular articles by Ian Mackay ©

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Introduction-Part 1

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil- Olive Oil Categories-Part 2

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - How to recognise an authentic extra virgin olive oil - Part 3

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Olive Oil Tasting - Part 4

Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - True Virginity - Part 5

Go to article: Can I fry with Oilve Oil?






Like 0        Published at 17:15   Comments (1)

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