Spain was, as expected, an unparalleled gastronomic experience. We spent our time in Barcelona and Seville in a blissful cycle of walk-eat-walk-eat-sleep. At almost every corner cured Iberico ham legs dangled in the shop windows, ready to be carved into scarlet strips creamy with fat. Crisp churros drowning in dark chocolate beckoned from street carts, the aroma impossibly seductive. It seemed that the prevailing culinary philosophy was that everything should be breaded and deep-fried. Surprisingly, in the midst of this glutton's paradise, the option I craved most on a daily basis was Spanish omelette (tortilla española), rustic and simple next to its decadent fellows.
The primary components of Spanish omelette are as straightforward as it gets: potatoes, occasionally onions, and eggs. The potatoes give the omelette a towering height, kind of like a frittata (although unlike a frittata, it's not finished in the oven). Once out of the pan, it's sliced like a pie and served around the clock. I devoured wedge after wedge at every opportunity, and was determined to make it at home.
I have to admit that as incredible as every meal we had in Spain was, I was aching for Asian seasoning and flavors toward the tail end of the trip. My family resorted to mediocre Chinese food for New Year's Eve, partially because we craved the familiar after too many croquettes, but also because Seville completely shut down for dinner that night. It seemed to me that everyone disappeared after the sun set! Some groups emerged to hurrah together and maybe eat grapes at midnight, then drank in the streets until dawn. Maybe I was missing something, but there was a solid six hour period where the streets were empty and all windows were dark. The consequence was a cliche: stranded family seeks out a dingy Chinese buffet and hopes for the best.
After a whole lot of sausage and cheese for seven days straight, the MSG-laden dishes we found at Wok Ciudad de Pekin were actually a welcome sight. It amuses me to report that the menu translated dumplings as "Chinese ravioli"... but all in all I can't say the Chinese-Spanish experience was actually satisfactory. Upon returning to my own kitchen, I felt that a reconciliation of the two was necessary.
So, here we are - a pairing of two favorites, Spanish omelette meeting jiu cai. It's a natural match; Chinese chives are most often stir fried with eggs, although their garlicky punch also goes well with pork and shrimp. I seasoned with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil as a nod to the traditional Chinese steamed egg dish, and sprinkled the top with toasted sesame seeds. Finally, I added a dusting of Korean chili flakes and served the omelette with gochujang. Okay, a bit of a departure from China in that department, but everything is better spicy, especially when eggs and potatoes are involved.
It was everything I wanted: a hearty, healthy meal that simultaneously welcomed me home and reminded me of my adventures abroad. Here's to hoping 2016 has more twists on the familiar ahead!
Jiu Cai Tortilla Española Recipe (serves 3-4)
- 2 potatoes (approx. 1 lb)
- 2 cups of jiu cai
- Olive oil
- 6 eggs, beaten with salt
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- To garnish and serve: sesame seeds, chili flakes, gochujang (optional)
Slice the potatoes thinly, around 1/8th inch. Saute in olive oil over medium heat about 10 minutes, or until they are just tender but not mushy. They should split in half easily when pressed with a fork or spoon. Set aside to cool.
Saute the jiu cai in olive oil over high heat for a few minutes, until just wilted. Set aside to cool
Mix in half the cooled potatoes and 3/4 of the cooled jiu cai into the beaten egg. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a 7-8 inch non-stick skillet. Layer the bottom with a flat layer of the remaining potatoes, then pour over the egg mixture. Stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce, and pull in cooked egg from the sides of the pan for a minute or two. After the sides begin to set, cover the pan. The omelette will take approximately 40 minutes to set fully; swirl once in a while.
When the omelette is 90% set, put a large plate over the top of the pan and invert. If you'd like it runny, then invert again onto another plate and let cool for 5 minutes, then serve in wedges garnished with remaining jiu cai, sesame seeds, chili flakes, and gochujang. If you'd like it more set, then continue cooking the other side for another 5 minutes or so, then serve as described.