"I'm very classic and I like traditional food—nothing too fussy or complicated," chef Meritxell Sabate explained the other morning as she wandered the aisles in Barcelona's biggest open air food market, trying to decide what to make for lunch.
Sabate teaches at Cook and Taste cooking school in Barcelona's Gothic quarter and often takes her students on a tour of La Boqueria food market before returning with them to her kitchen a few blocks away. Today, though, her only mission was to find the freshest, most delicious ingredients to make a simple lunch.
She picked up some bright red peppers, weighing them in her hands like the Scales of Justice, and said, "I know. A salad." But not just any salad. Sabate bought ingredients to make the classic Barcelona cold summer salad known as empedrat (which translates literally to "stoned" for some reason). Every Barcelona cook makes a version; our favorite is Sabate's.
For an ingredients list and step-by-step instructions, see below.
Photographs by Pancho Tolchinsky.
Above: "In summer, it smells like peppers in the streets of Barcelona, and like aubergines roasted," says chef Sabate, who studied at a "very French" culinary school in Barcelona before training for two years at two Michelin two-star restaurants in Bordeaux.
Above: Ingredients include cooked white beans, olives, cherry tomatoes, salt cod, and quail eggs (you can substitute a chicken egg).
Above: Sabate slices the salt cod she bought at the market. Note: If you buy dried salt cod, before slicing you must rinse and soak it. For instructions on reconstituting dried salt cod, see Saveur.
Above: She mixes diced peppers and onions into the white beans. She adds black pepper to the salad but relies on the cod to provide the salt.
Above: Using a square ring mold, she packs the bean mixture tightly to make a base for the cod.
Above: A 12-centimeter metal Square Ring Mold is $19.95 from Williams-Sonoma.
Above: She gently lifts off the mold, garnishes the salad and...we dug in immediately. Couldn't resist.
Meritxell Sabate's Empedrat (White Bean and Cod Salad)
- 1/2 green Italian frying pepper, diced
- 1/2 sweet red pepper, diced
- 4 heaping teaspoons minced spring onion
- 8 cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 pound bacalao (salt cod), sliced thinly
- 1-1/2 cups cooked Sant Pau white beans, cooled
- 2 eggs (chicken or quail), hardboiled and peeled
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Sherry vinegar
- Black pepper
- For garnish: Japanese basil seedlings, pea shoots, black olives
Serves four. Instructions:
- In a pan of simmering water, cook the egg. If using a chicken egg, cook for 10 minutes precisely. If using a quail egg, cook for three minutes. "You do not want the gray, blue-ish layer that forms on the yolk from overcooking," says Sabate.
- Prepare a vinaigrette by mixing in a small bowl 2 tablespoons of diced red pepper and 2 tablespoons of diced green pepper with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Set aside.
- In a bowl, combine the remaining pepper and the minced onion with the white beans; add the rest of the olive oil. Add black pepper and a splash of sherry vinegar to taste. Mix well.
- Assemble the salad by placing a mold in the middle of a dinner plate. Spoon 1/4 of the bean mixture into a square ring mold, patting it down with the back of a spoon to pack it down. Remove mold gently. Repeat the process, using three more dinner plates, to create four square portions of bean salad.
- Lay three slices of cod across the top of the molded bean salads.
- To prepare garnish, peel and halve eggs. Halve the cherry tomatoes and pit the olives. Place them, along with basil sprigs and bean sprouts, on top of and beside the molded salads.
- Drizzle plates with vinaigrette and serve.
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