Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catalan 101: Salty Tales of Ribaldry (and Cauliflower)

Jen leaves for Salt Lake City in the morning. Before she goes I must mention an unusual set of circumstances happened in the past 2-3 weeks. Firstly, I got this book for Christmas from my mother and father-in-law:

They picked up the book on their trip to Barcelona this past summer. I thought, "Sweet, a Spanish cookbook!" As I flipped through it there were pictures of amazing-looking recipes that I wanted to try making. I then started looking through the book thinking that my kitchen Spanish was likely strong enough to get me by enough to read most of the recipes.

As I looked through I noticed that some of the words looked Spanish. Others looked French. Yet having worked in kitchens and speaking a horrible but apparently comprehensible version of Spanish paired with five years of French and growing up in a French-speaking community with a French-speaking wife I was unable to understand any of the words in the book.


It turns out the book is in Catalan. I am ashamed to admit that I'd never heard of this language which is apparently spoken in Barcelona. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just translate the words one-by-one with Google!"

No luck. There's no Catalan-to-English translation on Google. In fact, there are hardly any reputable sites on the internet at all that perform this translation. The precious few that do translate are pretty clueless about the intricacies of Catalan culinary terms.

Using the best translator I could find I translated the title from Catalan, La cuina comarca a comarca Berguedà, to English: The cooking comarca to comarca

Knowing this was going to be a huge undertaking, I set the book aside temporarily.

The second related circumstance was that I received this fantastic collection of salt blends to try. Normally I'm not big into oddly flavored seasonings but these smelled far too nice to not use. The kind I decided to try was the Flor de Sal d'Es Trenc Sri Lanka. I usually don't build a meal from the salt up but I was willing to make an exception in this case.

Thankfully the container is labeled in Spanish. Unthankfully there is no English translation. My sub-rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language allowed me to translate part of the label which says that this particular variety would be good on chicken. Or would not be good on chicken. It definitely says something about chicken. (Pollo means chicken, right?)

I went to the website, Gustomundial.com, in hopes of finding a little more information on the product but what I was greeted with instead was a giant picture of one of their products (orange chili salt which I'd love to try) and the odd phrase "yes, we build up something new..." translated into three languages. Not quite what I was expecting.

Through the magic of Google Translate I was able to decipher the seasonings added to this salt: Coriander seeds, green cardamom, tumeric, fenugreek, chili, black pepper, cayenne, cloves, and cinnamon.

I used the salt to coat and roast a head's worth of cauliflower florets. As an accompaniment I also roasted some potatoes (without the seasoning) then tossed them in a mixture of sour cream, cumin, and cilantro. For some color I wilted some baby spinach with garlic and olive oil. As a protein I made a curry crust for some lamb chops, seared them, then finished them off in the oven.

The cauliflower turned out even better than I'd thought it would. Jen commented that as a child she would only eat cauliflower liberally coated in cheese sauce. She said if she'd had this cauliflower things would have been different. I think she gives a child's palette too much credit.

After dinner research showed that this salt comes from the island of Mallorca. Mallorca, coincidentally, is the Catalan name for Majorca, the largest island of Spain. The company that produces these superlative salts was founded by Katja Wöhr. A Google search of that name returns a YouTube video of what appears to be Katja harvesting the salt. It also reveals a Facebook page for Katja Wöhr who appears to own this very company.

Know this: In 2010 my culinary mission will be to better learn basic Catlan cooking terms and master some of this interesting cooking.

Also, know this: A friend request has been sent.


uberlours said...

Did you try Catalan into Spanish. Then Spanish into English?

Unknown said...

Hi Jen and Nate, love the blog by the way. I recently visited Barcelona, if you are into food you will be into Barcelona. The local university actually will translate for you on line at http://traductor.gencat.cat/index_en.jsp. I blog at http://www.busygourmand.com/. Millors desig (best wishes). Jeremy

Lickedspoon said...

Hi, your post really made me smile and I love the idea of building a recipe from the salt up. If you want a really good book in English on Catalan cooking, I recommend Colman Andrews' (one of the founders of Saveur)Catalan Cuisine: Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret. It's completely fascinating, one of those books that's a real pleasure to cook from, but you can read it like a novel too.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the comments! Hopefully I will magically learn the Catalan language this year! Or (most likely) I will look at the pictures and make reasonable facsimiles of these recipes!