Ensaladilla (vegetarian options)
Returning to a much-loved place is a joy. Eating the food you first ate there takes you back. I’ve said in this blog before how much I learned from eating in the Canary Islands. “Gourmet” is not the first thing you think about the Canaries, but these days it should be near the top of the list, along with sun, sand and holiday fun.
We all adore sharing a table of tapas with friends or family. Everyone chooses a favourite, but you also get the chance to try new things. In Spain, when you sit down with a drink, the bar will also often serve you a little portion of their chosen “tapas de dias” without extra charge. It’s good marketing, encourages you to sit and drink another round, and lets you try home made small portions of local food. Just what I like to do best.
You find “Ensaladilla” on the menu at most tapas bars in the Canaries. The proper name is Ensaladilla Russa, or Russian Salad, but who cares? And is it anyway? A Russian chef, Lucien Olivier, is said to have made the first salad of this type in Moscow in the 1860s, but the same recipe exists all over Europe in various forms and they can be quite different, so I don’t see how anyone can lay claim to the “best”, or the “original” or the “genuine” recipe. I’ve eaten a similar dish in the Balkans with chopped ham in it, they sell pots of it in German supermarkets with sausage pieces, I’ve had a very eggy version somewhere on my travels. The main variation in Spain has tuna, so that’s what I’ve gone with here.
The basic recipe is cooked potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, bound together with a mayonnaise dressing, and some herbs. For protein you can add chopped ham or other softish processed meat, or eggs or fish. You can add or leave out: chopped pickled cucumber/gherkins, capers, anchovies, red peppers. Some like chopped dill, others prefer parsley. You can layer it attractively or just mix it up and serve it as a scoop.
The dressing is usually freshly home-made mayonnaise, but you can use mayo from a jar and you can lighten it a bit with sour cream or plain yoghurt if full-on mayo isn’t for you.
Two big no-no rules: no garlic in the mayo and no tomatoes in the mixture.
I tried to re-create our favourite versions from Tenerife, but please let me know if you have any favourite family recipes, or other versions you love and I’ll try those too.
8-10 starter portions 30 minutes preparation
Boil the potatoes with their skins on, leave to cool and then peel and dice quite small. This avoids you cooking small peeled cubes of potato which tend to dissolve into mush. However, best to cook the carrots when already diced up, as they don’t peel well once cooked.
Grill the peppers until blackened on all sides, then put them in a glass bowl with a plate on top to steam while they are hot, wait until they are slightly cooled and the skin will come off easily. Remove the seeds, stalks and membranes. Cut the flesh into long thin strips with scissors.
Cook the peas. If frozen just pour boiling water over them, leave 2 minutes and drain, which keeps them nice and crunchy. If fresh, boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain under cold water.
When all the vegetables are cool, add the potato cubes, carrots, peas and chopped gherkins to a bowl. Chop the fresh parsley and add in, and chop half the red pepper and add in. Break up the tuna, add it to the bowl along with the mayonnaise.
Mix well, taste and adjust the seasoning. You might need a little salt, maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper.
Chill the mixture in the fridge before serving. You can make a nice shape by spooning the ensaladilla into a ramekin and turning out onto a plate; decorate with a couple of the reserved strips of red pepper and a leaf of parsley.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.