When we first arrived in Spain we were very eager to explore the town and ate out at nearly every meal. Jet lag worked in our favor, as typical Spanish dining habits begin and end late.
Breakfast was typically at home, with yogurt and eggs being the predominant choice. This tended to be smaller as we woke up late and the heat was already beyond what we were accustomed to, thus dulling appetites.
Our lunches have often been out and the major meal of the day. For the first week, nearly all dinners were outside the house as well. However, I was finding it a challenge to get enough veg unless I ordered a salad, which left me without substantial protein. In the states, I’d have no problem asking for a double portion but I admit my shyness about my mastery of Spanish coupled with general disorientation perpetually left me staring at the scant bits of protein on a salad in utter disbelief, as was the case with this “Tomato Salad with Tuna”.
It became apparent very quickly that returning to home meals was going to be crucial if we were to keep our energy and vitality up.
Catalan food seems to be focused on bread and potato with small portions of meat and about 1/2 cup of vegetables. Getting the amount I need to feel my best is difficult without ordering an entree salad as well as one of the only protein-heavy dishes available, an entrecot, which is a steak anywhere in size from 4 to 10 ounces. Fortunately, the weight of the cut is often listed on the menu.
A thorough inventory of our mini-kitchen revealed a stovetop, microwave, bread knife, salad bowl, tea kettle and non-working toaster. We have no tupperware for storage so I began washing and reusing non-compostable take away containers.
I also toured several grocery stores to see what produce was available. Variety is very limited compared to urban US markets, but nearly everything I found was familiar and easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes. With inventory in mind, I set out with the following goals to get my nutrition back on track:
- Aim for a large salad a day, whether at home or dining out.
- Buy extra protein to have as emergency back up. In Catalonia, that means lean pork slices (caña de lomo) and deli sliced ham and turkey, as well as ready-to-drink protein drinks to be used sparingly.
- Consume this convenient protein before going out to eat, and save the meal for a salad with lots of variety and less protein.
- Aim to have dinner at home most nights.
While this should have been simple, jet lag and cultural shifts left me at a loss for what dinner could look like here. I have been preparing very simple meals of pan-fried meat and a salad or steamed veggies which is getting boring fast. Prepared sauces are harder to find, more limited and I’m hesitant to invest in many spices until we find more permanent housing.
Here are the more flavorful dinners I’ve been able to prepare at home:
- Creamed chicken, spinach and artichoke hearts
- Pork kabobs (found marinated at a local butcher) with rice and salad
- Ground meat sautéed in a jarred sauce of pureed tomatoes and onions (tomate frito casero) with pasta (gluten-free pasta is actually quite easy to come by; zoodles not so much)
- Random Catalan Sausage and Peppers
- Fajitas with guacamole, quark, and white beans
I’m eager for a blender to make my own sauces, smoothies, and dressings. I am admittedly longing for my overstuffed American kitchen with a full cabinet of spices and my drawers stocked with enough variety that I can make most anything on a whim, but this took years to create and resources that won’t be as easy to come by here.
As we get settled in I suspect my drive for variety will enable me to find more sources for what I am missing, and also firm up the list of essentials to bring back from the states when we go back to visit!