Spain is a Roman Catholic nation. Over 94% of the country’s entire population has been baptized into the Catholic church. With such overwhelming church membership, it’s only logical that many of these Catholic church-goers are not actual “believers” as much as they are cultural Catholics. Their parents were Catholic as were their parents before them and so on. This being the case, their lives have always been shaped by religious traditions even if whole families today don’t have any personal religious convictions.
One example of these such traditions is the menu surrounding religious festivals and holidays. Pictured above is the traditional Good Friday dish called plato unico. This roughly translates in English to “the dish that stands on its own.”
In what Catholic tradition does this dish find its roots?
Well, many of you are probably aware that devout Catholics are expected to abstain from eating meat every Friday during Lent. Not ones to let this mean eating less food, the Spaniards created plato unico as a way to fill up without eating meat but also without sacrificing taste. The above dish is chock full of vegetables (spinach), starch (potatoes and rice), and protein (eggs, beans, and fish). Believe me, it is very filling. There’s no way you’ll still be craving meat after a bowl of this stuff.
But our dinner’s not done!
Almost as a break between the meal and dessert, Spaniards often enjoy sweetened fruit as a springtime holiday treat. Yesterday’s fare was a bowl of strawberries swimming in orange juice and honey. It was delicious and the first berry I could remember eating for several months. Citrus is much more popular in Spain and is actually in season all winter long.
It would have made sense if this light dish was the extent of dessert following my heaping helping of plato unico, but no . . .
Say “hola” to a nice plateful of torrijas. These sweets are prepared very similarly to the french toast that is so familiar in the United States, but it is served cool and has a much lighter consistency than french toast, making it more like a Spanish variety of bread pudding. These are another traditional Easter food, supposedly developed in convents as a way to simultaneously whip up something special yet cheap for Easter dinner and also to use up leftover stale bread.
The beauty of torrijas is that they can be prepared in so many more imaginative ways than the cliche French toast. Not only have Josh and I tried the traditional egg-and-milk-soaked variety, but we have also been delighted by torrijas soaked in red wine and anise liqueur. The latter may possibly be the most delicious thing I have ever tasted . . . except maybe Mama Thurston’s anise biscotti 🙂
And just when you think you can’t fit one more thing into your oh-so-happy belly, it’s time for your post-meal cafe con leche. Don’t worry, though. While this picture fails to capture how purely petite this little cup-ette of coffee is, I assure you it won’t take up much room.
How was your first traditional Spanish Easter meal? Did you miss the ham and gravy? I, for one, am still too full to even think about what a traditional US dinner would have been like.