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A lenten dish that doesn’t seem like penance

By Norma Olizon-Chikiamco, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 23, 2023 5:00 am

During a recent trip to Spain, my daughter Lisa would often send me photos of the food she would eat in restaurants. One of these dishes was patatas bravas.

Though a traditional specialty of Madrid, these chunks of potatoes are served all over Spain and are one of the most loved tapas. Having tasted it myself during a visit to Spain, I can certainly see why. The potatoes are crisp, yet meltingly tender. They’re served with a bold, spicy sauce, hence the term “bravas,” which means fierce. The spicy sauce gives the potatoes a kick, which will keep you wide awake and alert—and reaching for a glass of sangria, Spain’s most popular cocktail.

Try this dish during one of the abstinence Fridays of Lent (though it may not seem like penance because it’s so yummy).

To fry the potatoes, the Spaniards use olive oil. Here in the Philippines, where olive oil is rather expensive, that may seem quite extravagant. But in Spain, it’s their oil of choice, since they’re one of the world’s biggest producers of olive oil (olive trees grow abundantly in Spain). It’s as ubiquitous in Spain as Baguio Oil is in the Philippines. It adds a certain fruity, slightly nutty flavor to food. While here the varieties of olive oil we have are quite limited, in Spain, they have several kinds; in fact, one for every purpose: olive oil for drizzling on salads, for making sauces, for drizzling on their soups, and even olive oil that’s particularly good for frying.

Here I’ve recreated the recipe for patatas bravas. To fry the potatoes, I used pomace olive oil, which is the cheapest kind of olive oil on the market. Though it’s made from the residue after the first pressing of the olives, it’s olive oil nevertheless and fulfills its purpose.

Try this dish during one of the abstinence Fridays of Lent (though it may not seem like penance because it’s so yummy).

Patatas Bravas 
  • 3 - 4 medium potatoes, peeled
  • Water, for soaking
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Salt

Cut the potatoes into chunks. Soak in water for one to two hours. Drain the potatoes then wipe them dry. Heat the olive oil. Fry the potatoes until slightly tender. Remove the potatoes from the heat and let rest 25 to 30 minutes (if longer, keep covered in the refrigerator). Reheat the olive oil in the pan and return the potatoes to the pan. Fry until crisp. Season with salt. Serve with the salsa brava.

Salsa Brava 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chili flakes or paprika picante (spicy paprika)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 cup tomato purée (passata)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped parsley leaves

Pour the olive oil into a cooking pan and heat to low. Add the chili flakes or spicy paprika and simmer for one to two minutes to infuse the oil with flavor. Add the garlic and onion and sauté for one to two minutes over low heat. Toss in the sweet paprika and simmer just for a few seconds. Immediately pour in the tomato purée to prevent the paprika from burning. Season with salt.

Simmer, while stirring, for about five minutes. If desired, strain the sauce through a sieve into a clean bowl. Drizzle the sauce over the potatoes or serve on the side. Sprinkle parsley leaves over the potatoes before serving.