“Spanish Made Simple: Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Everyday.” By Omar Allibhoy. Quadrille. 208 pages. $24.99

When we hosted an exchange student from Kyrgyzstan for a few months this past year I never thought to try and make any meals from her culture. She liked all things American, especially the food. But this August an exchange student from Madrid, Spain, will come to live with our family for the school year, and with the help of “Spanish Made Simple, Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Everyday,” I’m hoping to expand my repertoire and make some Spanish meals. While total immersion in another culture includes food, a familiar meal once in awhile can be comforting to a teenager far from home.

The cookbook was written by Omar Allibhoy, a Spanish chef and a celebrity of sorts in England where he is known as the “Antonio Banderas of cooking.” (He got the name from no less a personage than celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.) Allibhoy has seven Tapas Revolution Bars & Restaurants across the United Kingdom. Americans often use “tapas” as shorthand for appetizers or small plates, but in Spain tapas are more than that – they are an integral part of the culture and social life, and they vary widely by region. “Spanish Made Simple” offers recipes for tapas, as well as all sorts of other Spanish food, with an emphasis, as the title declares, on quick and simple.

The cookbook, a hardcover, is divided into nine sections beginning with De Aperitivo, translated as “Nibbles,” and ending with Postres y Dulces, or “Desserts and Sweet Treats.” In between are chapters for meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, salads, soups and rice. Not every recipe has a corresponding picture, but plenty do – artsy photos of colorful food in ceramic bowls and plates set on rustic wooden tables. Allibhoy prefaces every recipe with a personal note describing the dish, his experience with the meal, or tips on serving it. The recipes range: There are typical tapas, such as patatas bravas; Spanish staples, such as paella; and more unusual dishes, like chilled Gazpacho de Sandia, a gazpacho that blends watermelon in with the more familiar tomatoes.

I was leafing through the pages to pick a test recipe, still just in the Nibbles section when Empanadillas de Queso y Espinaca piqued my interest. Allibhoy writes that he grew up eating these – in English they are Pastry Parcels Filled with Spinach, Raisins and Goat Cheese – but that they are traditionally filled with tuna, red peppers and tomato. He writes that this vegetarian version is popular in his restaurants. The combination of ingredients, notably the garlic and raisins, makes for a tasty burst of flavor. After you roll out the dough – which, by the way, is the easiest dough recipe I ever made – the recipe instructs you to cut as many circles as you can using a saucer as a template. I used a five-inch biscuit cutter, which worked well. For the pastries to turn crispy it took me 15-18 minutes, longer than the given time of 10 minutes. The filled pastries were a big hit, however; the kids already have ideas for what they would prefer inside these hand pies. If the goal of “Spanish Made Simple” is to get more people to eat Spanish food by providing easy-to-make recipes, it’s already a success in my house, with the added bonus of getting more cooks in the kitchen. ¡Buen provecho!

Empanadillas de Queso y Espinaca (Pastry Parcels Filled with Spinach, Raisins and Goat Cheese)

Serves 8 as a tapa


75 ml (1/3 cup) olive oil

175 g (11/3 cups) all-purpose flour

A pinch of salt

1 egg, beaten


5 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 tablespoons raisins

200 g (scant 4 cups) baby spinach

50 g (2 ounces) goat cheese

A pinch of salt

A pinch of white pepper

2 tablespoons heavy cream

To make the dough, pour the oil and 75ml (1/3 cup) of water into a saucepan over a high heat and bring to the boil. Take off heat and add the flour and salt, stirring vigorously for about 1 minute, until fully mixed. Allow to cool a little, then knead for 1 minute. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick and cut out as many circles as you can using a saucer as a template. Re-roll the scraps to make more circles. Set aside.

Pour the olive oil for the filling into a large frying pan and gently fry the onion over medium heat for a good 20 minutes until golden. Add the garlic and raisins and fry with the onion for a further 5 minutes. Add the spinach, crumble in the goat cheese and season with the salt and pepper. Let it all wilt and melt for a couple of minutes and then add the cream. Don’t leave it over the heat for longer than 2 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so that it becomes easier to handle.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/ 400 degrees F/ gas mark 6.

Spread the pastry discs over the worktop and add a tablespoon of the filling to each one. Brush all around the edges with the beaten egg, then fold each one over to make semi-circles. Use a fork to press the edges together to seal. Brush each empanadilla with more egg and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden and crispy.

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