My grandmother, the first person to inspire my creativity in the kitchen, was born in a small village in Galicia, Spain called Leiro. It was by her side that I learned how to turn scraps of vegetables and leftover meats into wholesome soups or nutritionally dense salads, all imbued with culinary essences of her Spanish roots. When I first visited the village in 1995 I immediately felt at home. Sparsely populated with only 1830 inhabitants, Leiro is lush with vegetable gardens and grape vines. Walking through the narrow streets amongst the stone homes that lie along the river, I gained a better understanding of myself and the things that most move me.
The home in which my grandmother lived with her parents and five siblings is a tiny fragmented structure that is a living museum of our entire family history. Pictures of every relative as far back as the early 1900’s, dot the walls. Seemingly, nothing has changed since the days of my grandmother’s childhood and while technically inhabitable, it is a relic of the past. Still, I love to visit it. I can feel my grandmother’s spirit there as strongly as I feel her when I prepare some of her recipes in my kitchen.
A tiny but formidable woman, my grandmother left her small village at the age of 15 in order to find a better life in Cuba. Together with my grandfather, also from the same province in Spain but whom she met in Cuba, they accomplished exactly that by opening a successful grocery store. Over time they purchased rental real estate properties, affording them an affluent lifestyle. They enjoyed it until Castro’s revolution upon which time they swiftly lost it all.
I continue to marvel at my grandmother’s story. Not only because she had the bravery to leave her family and the security of provincial life to strike out on her own, but also the determination with which she built her dream and then the grace she maintained while it was all taken away. I like to think that my will to leave pharmacy and start my own nutritional consulting practice is a genetic hallmark of my grandmother’s spirit. I also like to think that I get my love of food and cooking from her. I know I do.
I just returned from a two-week trip to Spain, a place I travel to often with my parents. It gives me an opportunity to spend time with them while we are all healthy and it allows me a chance to reconnect with family there. A visit to Leiro was the first thing on our list and I was once again reminded of the quiet, peaceful beauty of the place that sits firmly inside my heart.
In the land of Jamon Serrano, Manchego cheese and Paella, it was a challenge to keep any semblance of healthy eating in play. Thankfully though, nearly every menu included an Ensalada Mixta, Spain’s version of Salad Niçoise. And while I indulged in all the culinary delights of Spain, I had this salad often in an effort to eat as cleanly as possible. It also reminded me of my grandmother, who made this salad regularly. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it until I had it again. It will certainly be one of the staple recipes in my diet moving forward.
It was great to be back in my grandmother’s village and see the family again. Since our last visit, one family member has sadly died while another lovely baby has been born. Leo is the new star of the family and we all smothered him with love. His is the next picture to go on the wall of my grandmother’s birth home… and hopefully not the last.
I hope you enjoy this delicious salad and that you all have a healthy and happy Monday!
Ensalada Mixta: Spanish Mixed Green Salad
This salad is traditionally made with canned asparagus, which actually lends a lot of flavor to it. However, it is always best to eat fresh food rather than canned so I am making that adjustment to the recipe and using grilled asparagus instead.
Serves 2 to 4
- Head of Romaine lettuce, cleaned and shredded
- A dozen or so cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or slices of beefsteak tomato
- 3 or 4 grilled asparagus
- ½ small white onion, sliced thin
- 2 hard boiled eggs, quartered
- 1 can of mercury free tuna (I use Wild Planet)
- ½ cup pitted green olives
- 2 small boiled potatoes, sliced in quarters
- Olive oil
- White wine vinegar
- Himalayan salt and pepper
- Organic corn
- Shredded carrots
- Pickled beets (which I added to mine because I happened to have some at home)
Place lettuce in center of platter. Arrange tomatoes, potatoes, and boiled eggs around the periphery. Break up the tuna into small chunks with a fork and place on the bed of greens. Scatter with olives and sliced onions. Arrange asparagus over the top. (if using optional ingredients, add as you desire). Dress with olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!