While living in Spain during my study abroad semester I traveled, became comfortable communicating in Spanish, deepened my independence, made new friends, discovered new joys and interests, and got very homesick. One of the things I had a difficult time with was the food. While the food in Spain is delicious, it lacked the variety that I have become accustomed to living in Southern California, not only was I used to having Mexican, Italian, Chinese, American, and Vietnamese food all within a few days, it’s also hard to beat the variety of fresh and organic produce available here. I cooked occasionally for my host parents, but I discovered that the food I missed most were dishes I did not know how to make. Things that mom and grandma always made for me like grandma’s Pho, and mom’s spagetti. I began searching for a new comfort food, something that would be the chicken soup of my Spain experience.
It is ironic that the food I found to be my new comfort food is a very traditional Spanish dish with nothing American about it- tortilla. I find it funny that while in Spain I was homesick for America, but now that I have been back for 5 years, I find myself sometimes feeling homesick for Spain. Homesick for the food, the culture, the history, the architecture, the excitement of living somewhere foreign and having probably fewer worries than I will ever have again. The same food that comforted me in Spain, continues to comfort me and remind me of that wonderful time in my life.
The ingredients and preparation seem simple enough, but the key to making tortilla as good as my host mom did is in the details. You may be tempted to slightly alter the recipe, or maybe skip or change a step that seems unimportant, but don’t. The results just won’t be the same, trust me on this. I have been trying for 5 years to make this with less olive oil, without letting it rest, slicing in cubes using a sharp knife and a cutting board, and I tried boiling the potatoes first, don’t do it. Just follow the steps my host mom gave me to a “T.”
One of the steps I regularly skipped until I realized it’s importance is the way the potatoes are cut. I used to watch my host mom make tortilla and think “why doesn’t she use a cutting board, and WHY is that knife so dull?” I knew they couldn’t afford nice kitchen ware, but it seemed a little too simplistic and even outdated to me to do it like that. But, as it turns out, there’s a method to the madness. I could go on explaining the chemistry of starches and how this makes sense, but, to make a long story short, creating the roughest edge possible on the potato is key to getting the right texture so that it crisps slightly but doesn’t brown and absorbs some of the egg. Why do you not want the potato to brown? I DON”T know, but my host mom said so, and I have learned through trial and error to just take her word for it when it comes to making tortilla. This seemingly simple dish is nothing but simple. The method has been refined over decades, and some things are just better left as they are. Delicious.