I am not sure yet of the significance, but I feel that I reached a new level of intimacy with my MIL this summer when she asked me to help her make dinner!! You see, Spanish (and Italian, and probably Greek as well) mothers don’t let just about anybody into their kitchens – it is their territory and they guard it fiercely! I had actually been allowed to cook once before, a Swedish smörgåstårta but that was O’s idea and this time it was on her initiative and we worked together.
The dish we made is called ensalada rusa (Russian salad) and is a classic in Spanish speaking countries. The base of the salad is potatoes and mayonnaise, and the other vegetables are optional and changeable. I love potatoes, and to a certain extent mayo but as I am trying to watch what I eat (sometimes at least, ha ha), I asked if we could go easy on the fattening stuff… My MIL was very kind and decided that we wouldn’t add any mayo and let everybody help themselves to it at the table. (My parents-in-law, O and his brother finished a whole jar of mayo that night, while I didn’t touch it!)
2-3 boiled potatoes
1-2 boiled carrots
a handful of green peas (if fresh, boil them quickly, if frozen thaw them in room temperature) or another type of beans
2-3 hard-boiled eggs
optional: a can of tuna, white asparagus
salt & pepper
Cut the vegetables and eggs in small cubes and pour some olive oil on top. Add generous amounts of mayo if you want a “true” Russian salad.
I was very happy that I finally got to help out at cooking dinner, even if it was just cutting veggies, but I felt so silly… Why? Well, I can’t cut “in the air” – I need a cutting-board!!! In O’s family everything is cut “in the air”; bread, vegetables, chorizo, fruit is peeled and cut without a cutting-board… Sometimes a simple piece of wood is used for cutting bread. I feel like such a child for not knowing how to cut without a board! O usually helps me by peeling the fruit or cutting the chorizo, but you can imagine how silly I feel…
Fortunately the boiled potatoes and eggs were quite soft and I managed to peel them and cut without a cutting board but I could feel how my MIL was watching my [lack of] technique. I would have been in trouble if the potaoes were not boiled and needed to be peeled without a peeler – don’t know how to do that either! And fruit – forget it, if it is too soft to peel with a peeler… but then again, I hardly ever peel fruit anyway.
Afterwards I said to O that we need to buy a cutting-board or two from Ikea to keep in his parents’ house – and he reminded me that we have actually already bought 2 cutting-boards, that are still wrapped in plastic and stored somewhere in his mother’s kitchen! I definitely need to find it for next time I am asked to assist at dinner-making (or maybe she will never ask me again after having seen how bad I am at cutting) 😕
Can it be a cultural difference? Or a generational one? Or a combo? I asked my aunt when she was visiting us, and she said that she always uses cutting-board as well, and that both her mother (my grandmother) and grandmother would always use cutting-boards.
How do you cut? And do you need a proper peeler to peel vegetables?
To finish the post, a quote from my MIL:
My son C is no longer a Spaniard, he likes pepper on his food!
O’s mother never uses pepper in everyday cooking, only salt and sometimes oregano*. I have no idea if that is typically Spanish or maybe regional? C and his German girlfriend have bought a pepper grinder that I use all the time to my MIL’s amusement… Fortunately she doesn’t take it as criticism of her cooking, phew!
*) Everybody is very surprised when they hear that I use fresh or dry basil (albahaca) in cooking – in Aragón it is used to keep mosquitoes away (typically planted beneath the windows).