Today Sonja's asked me about life in Madrid. I share how I merge the somewhat unpredictable expat lifestyle with my Whole Nourishment approach to food and life, my secret to maintaining healthy habits, and a Spain-inspired recipe, Eggplant Involtini with Spanish Mojo.
Keep reading for the full interview and recipe. Then head over to Sonja and Alex's blog to see their beautiful photos of the recipe, including a very cool animated image showing the assembly process!
Sonja: After 4 years living in Switzerland as an American ex-pat, you recently moved to Madrid. Spain has such a vibrant food culture. What's it like living there, and what dishes have you found that you love?
Katie: Madrid is an accessible, vibrant, and energetic city. We feel at home here. As for Spanish dishes, I enjoy cafes that offer modern, whole takes on Spanish classics. A simple one is Pan con Tomate, a tapa of grilled bread with freshly grated tomato spooned on top. I once had a breakfast variation adding scrambled eggs, avocado and onion on top. Simple and delicious!
Sonja: I lived for 4 months in Madrid in college, and fell in love with all the traditional dishes. At that time healthy eating wasn't on my radar, so I indulged in just about everything on a regular basis. As an integrative nutrition health coach, what kind of interest do you see in healthy eating in Spain? How do you find that melds with the native food culture?
Katie: There’s a growing niche of interest and health food stores, but awareness is low. Spain is five years behind the organic and healthy-eating curve. Slowly, the large grocery stores are adding organic produce sections, but some things like organic leafy greens are not always available.
In working with Spanish clients, I've had a glimpse into typical home kitchens, which I've discovered are naturally quite balanced. In other words, the fried croquetas and Jamón Ibérico are not always reflective of everyday food customs at home. As Spanish food culture is rooted in the Mediterranean diet, I've noticed that conscious home cooks rely heavily on extra-virgin olive oil, fish and seafood, legumes, and fresh, local vegetables and fruit. This is a good base to help make upgrades in the kitchen.
Sonja: We asked you to create a dish that melds traditional Spanish flavors with healthy, vegetable-based eating. Can you explain more about this recipe and how it came to be?
Katie: Last year, we traveled to Fuerteventura. Nearly all dishes – fish, potatoes, or vegetables – came with a red- or green-colored sauce called “mojo”. It’s an olive-oil based sauce made with either paprika or cilantro. The red mojo from the Canaries inspired the sauce I'm sharing today. Some variations include vinegar, cumin, and bread crumbs or blanched almonds to thicken. I chose almonds for a nutty body and threw in jarred roasted bell peppers and smoked paprika to add a depth of flavor. This sauce is seriously addictive. I enjoy it with quinoa or rice, add a dollop to lentils and bowl meals, and serve it as a dip for raw vegetables. Today I've rolled it up with thin slices of grilled eggplant. This makes a perfect summer side dish or appetizer. Enjoy!
Sonja: What are the 3 best things about living in Madrid?
- The center! Madrid downtown offers a diverse range of cultural activities I love: theater, art, world-class restaurants. There are many cool neighborhoods, each with their own personality. But no matter where you go, people tend be open. For us, the lively, friendly, sexy and laidback vibe makes Madrid a very livable city.
- I love the weather. There are four distinct seasons with an abundance of warm, sunny days. It's the best of both worlds, allowing us to get out in nature or explore quaint Spanish villages all year round.
- Take an hour flight or fast train or drive, and you can reach beach or mountains any weekend. Coming from Switzerland, we thought we'd miss the mountains. But we knew we found the right home in Madrid when we realized we could see the mountains from our rooftop patio and neighborhood park.
Sonja: Anything else you want to share with us, food-related or otherwise?
Katie: Whether you're transitioning to a healthier lifestyle or looking for new motivation to maintain good habits, I’ve learned adaptability is key to avoiding a rigid, rules-based mindset. Until leaving the U.S. I took for granted the ease of one-stop food shopping. In Madrid as in St. Gallen, I frequent various stores to find everything. Availability also varies. Whether I'm looking for organic kale or frozen berries, affordable almond butter, or wild salmon, living in Switzerland and now Spain has taught me to be more adaptable with the foods that are available. For example, using cabbage in place of kale in soups and salads.
I've also learned eating well is a mindset. It's not only about adding in the good food and lifestyle habits, but also adopting an attitude of flexibility, satisfaction, and variety when making these choices.
We achieve this attitude by simply challenging our own thinking. Are we choosing that daily green smoothie and kale salad because we want it or because we fear losing "balance"?
As a health coach, I guide women as they establish small daily habits to feel good in and about their bodies. Balance comes naturally when we define boundaries with a few non-negotiables, then embrace adaptability!
Once I found the crossroads between nourishment and satisfaction in my own life, it made a tremendous difference in how I felt. And I want others to experience the same.
Eggplant Involtini with Spanish Mojo
Makes 14-16 rolls
- 2 medium eggplants
- Coconut oil or ghee, softened
- Salt + pepper, to taste
- Spanish Mojo (recipe below)
- Toppings: toasted almonds, chopped; crumbled feta; fresh cilantro, chopped
- Set oven to broil.
- Use a large, sharp knife to remove stem and slice eggplant lengthwise into thin planks, about 1/4 in.thick. You’ll get 7-8 slices from each eggplant, excluding end slices.
- Place slices on lined baking sheet. Use a butter knife to spread a thin layer of oil on each slice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Place in the upper third section of oven. Broil 5 minutes. Flip and broil 3 more minutes, or until soft. You may have to remove thinner slices after the final 3 minutes and let thicker slices cook another few minutes. Stack cooked slices to steam and soften further.
- Place one eggplant slice on cutting board with the narrow end pointing away from you. Dollop a tablespoon of mojo sauce on the wide end, and roll eggplant over sauce towards the narrow end. Repeat with remaining slices.
- Spread any leftover mojo sauce on a serving platter and place eggplant rolls on top. Garnish with almonds, feta, and cilantro.
Notes: The recipe calls for jarred Piquillo peppers, a small sweet pepper grown in Northern Spain. If you cannot find jarred Piquillo peppers, used equal weight jarred roasted red bell peppers instead. This should be ~ 4-6 bell peppers.
- 1/4 cup (35 gr) blanched almonds
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 185 gr. (170 net weight) jar roasted piquillo peppers (~10-12 peppers)
- 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. Sherry vinegar
- 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 Tbsp. water
- Scant 1/2 tsp. salt
- Drain peppers and place in a high-powered blender along with remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust for acidity (sherry vinegar), smokiness (cumin), and salt.