Following the suggestion from my parents to join them in Catalunya, Spain and spend some time out at their house in rural Pyrenees, I realised that I had the perfect opportunity to spend a week exploring the food of my birthplace, and use it to inspire me to experiment with traditional regional cuisine and develop recipes that reflect my upbringing. I dove head first into cooking and spent every day; either sourcing ingredients in the local markets, or in the old kitchen where I spent much of my childhood, recreating dishes that I knew so well, and experimenting with how I could develop them into my own recipes.
My first task was to narrow down the dishes that, for me, represented Catalunya the most (and of course that could be cooked vegan). Luckily, when I arrived it was the time of year of the Calçotada. Calçots, of the same family as the onion, are a far sweeter, more full flavoured version of leek and are served with romesco sauce as a traditional peasant meal that celebrates the coming of spring. The calçots are charred on an open fire, and to be eaten; the burnt outer layer has to be stripped off to reveal the tender sweet flesh underneath, which is then dipped in the romesco, a delicious red pepper and hazelnut sauce.
There hasn't been a year that I've missed the Calçotada, and this year was no exception. With the help of my father in tending the flames and cooking the vegetables, and my mother in peeling the charred peppers for the romesco, we set about with our annual family tradition.
The next on my list of dishes was so simple yet so delicious: Escalivada. Only 7 ingredients: flame grilled and peeled vegetables with oil and seasoning, it was traditionally the perfect way to preserve your vegetables. This is such a simple dish, and so effective, that I didn't want to alter it at all, so I decided to task myself with making the perfect accompaniment for it: homemade pasta. though not a traditional Catalan dish, it's simple rustic nature pairs perfectly with the escalivada, bringing a whole new level of taste to the dish.
For the third dish, spring time again brought with it my inspiration: Faves Tendres (tender beans). These are broad beans, picked before they have fully matured, and cooked with mint, garlic and oil. Another deceivingly simple dish, it relies on the freshness of the beans for flavour, which taste almost like honey when they are cooked this way. As this recipe leans so heavily on the seasonality of the vegetable, it remains one that should only be eaten in early spring when the broad beans are just right.
Finally, I went for a combination of tempura, a cooking method which is more recent to Spain, with a dish my mother would always serve us, to create: Tempura Carxofas amb Salsa de Llimona (tempura artichokes with lemon dressing). My mother's version of this dish was to boil the artichokes and serve them with a lemon butter dressing, so I decided to add a twist to it by using tempura, and recreating my mothers sauce as a vegan version. The tart dressing cuts through the hearty filling flavours of the tempura and artichoke to create a taste sensation.