One of the occasional fringe benefits of teaching is that you get to orchestrate the first exposure a lot of kids have to other cultures. In the case of teaching abroad, that can often mean cultures that the students have no frame of reference for at all. Mexican food has not made it to Vietnam, apart from a few expat-centric outlets in Hanoi and HCMC, but most of my students could probably, after a few minutes of head-scratching, come up with ‘taco’ as an exemplar of Mexican culture.
(Title music today from the same playlist as last entry’s Tamarindo, but considerably easier to find in a standalone version )
Spanish culture, on the other hand, is almost entirely unknown here, and in the sense that they have greater things to concern them, fair enough. However, when A’s culture club was doing a lesson on Mexico, I thought it would be a good opportunity to combine that with some Spanish cooking in a form that would hopefully be acceptable to a handful of ethnocentric first- and second-graders – plus, one of the great benefits of tortilla is that it is very often made with only store-cupboard ingredients.
The classic version is of course tortilla de patatas, containing a very peasanty/puritan filling of potatoes and, if you’re feeling daring, onion and nothing else at all, how very dare you for even thinking of it. That’s all very well, but I had a fridge full of veggies and an ever-pressing need to find ways to use them, so behold:
One day I’ll take a course on food photography or something.
This tortilla ended up being cut into squares and offered to the kids mentioned above, who rejected it almost universally – but since their idea of a good culinary time is a carton of Milo, I invite you to make this yourself and draw your own conclusions. I am not, as is often believed, an elderly Spanish grandmother, and therefore make no claims to authenticity.
Tortilla de Verduras (serves 6, probably)
- 10 (yes, 10) eggs
- 4 tbsp milk
- 3tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled
- 1 large red onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups/500g assorted vegetables – I used red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, green onions and roasted corn
- A large handful of leaf coriander/cilantro
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Quarter the potatoes lengthwise and slice them thinly, then add to the pan with the olive oil, tossing to coat them.
- After five minutes of gentle sizzling and tossing (the potatoes), thinly slice the onions and mince the garlic. Chuck them in the pan, toss to combine everything and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow to soften for ten minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare your other vegetables in whatever way pleases you, – I aimed to get everything chopped roughly the same size. When the onions and potatoes are softening and golden, add the other vegetables and sauté for another ten-fifteen minutes.
- Finely chop the cilantro and toss everything together once more. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with milk and seasonings. You could add a pinch of chilli powder here if you feel iconoclastic.
- Turn the heat up, add another splash of oil and then the eggs. Very quickly stir the eggs through the vegetables to distribute everything, then leave them alone to form a nice bottom crust. After a few minutes, there should be a circle of cooked egg on the outside, so try loosening the edges with a spatula.
- After 6 to 8 minutes of total cooking time, the tortilla will be ready for turning. If you have an oven or grill, simply heat it up and stick the whole pan under it. Test for doneness by shaking the pan gently – the middle of the tortilla will wobble if it’s still undercooked.
- Otherwise you’ve got some fun coming up: loosen the tortilla from the pan, slide it onto a plate, put another plate upside down over the top and, uttering a small prayer to any gods that may be listening, flip the whole lot over. Then slide the tortilla back into the pan and cook for another couple of minutes.
Allow to cool completely and slice into thick pieces. Serve with very cold white wine.