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1/01/2015

Finding Long Lost Marujas (Water Plant Shoots) in Restaurante Sacha (Madrid), Salamanca, Casaserra, El Heliocoptero, Roman Bridges and Serving Marujas for Christmas in Sevilla





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Article & Photos by Gerry Dawes©2015
 
My old friend Mari Carmen Honrubia de Esquivias eating a bowl of marujas (tiny green water plant shoots) with pomegranate seeds, dressed with a garlicky vinegreta made with Spanish Extra Virgen Aceite de Oliva, Sherry vinegar, minced garlic and sea salt, Christmas Day on Manolo and Mari Carmen Esquivias house in Sevilla.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.

Years ago in Salamanca at a classic place called Candil that is now sadly out of business, I had a dish of local greens that I was told came from cold water streams in the mountains around Salamanca.  We were given a big bowl them dressing with what I thought was a way too garlicky vinagreta dressing. However, the memory of the potential of that dish had stuck with me all these years.

I had been to Salamanca for a night in 2006, but had not encountered the dish. I went back to Salamanca in September 2014 with Chefs Ryan McIlwraith and Joel Ehrlich from San Francisco with a specific mission:  to eat at Cala Fornells, where my old friend Juan Santamaría had made such an impression with his paella divida (several different types of arroces/paella in the same divided paella pan) and his Minorcan-inspired cuisine, including an incredible caldereta de langosta (a seafood stew cooked with a whole lobster in it), that I was contracted by Food Arts magazine to do an article on him more than a decade ago. 

Chefs Ryan McIlwraih and Joel Ehrlich of San Francisco getting ready to enjoy the caldereta de langosta, a Minorcan specialty, at Cala Fornells restaurant in Salamanca, Sept. 21, 2014.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  
Olympus Stylus 1 - 10.7x i.Zuiko Optical Zoom Lens 28-300mm (equivalent) f/2.

Paella divida with four kinds of paella--(clockwise, duck, mushrooms, shellfish, black rice with cuttlefish--at, Cala Fornells, Salamanca. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Alas, when I e-mailed his daughter Elisa about Juan and a reservation, she informed by e-mail that Juan had died almost a year earlier in September.  Partly in homage to Juan and partly to see if the restaurant had kept up his standards, I decided to take the chefs there anyway. It was not likely that they were going to encounter either the paella dividida or the caldereta de langosta anywhere else on this trip. I mean,really, a Balearic Islands Minorcan cuisine restaurant in a suburb one of the most castizo cities in Castile. Fortunately, both dishes turned out to be as good as I had remembered and Ryan McIlwraith took the paella dividida idea to Bellota, the award-winning restaurant he opened in San Francisco, where the dish has been a big hit.

In the evening, we went to Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor looking for Candil, tostón (roast suckling pig with a especially crackling skin) and that once-encountered elusive dish of those spectacular greens.  Instead, we found a modern cuisine restaurant that impressed none of us. 

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca.
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.
 
In mid-December, I was back in Madrid with Kay and out to dinner with Madrid Fusión Director Esmeralda Capel and her husband Juan Suárez (a retired lawyer who is a great cook), my friend Harold Heckle of the Associated Press Madrid bureau and his girl friend Mercedes Morcillo at Sacha, a top restaurant run by Sacha Hormaechea where famous chefs hang out on their nights off (one night I was there with Ferrán Adria, Juan Mari Arzak and José Andrés).  
  
Kay and Juan Suárez (a retired lawyer who is a great cook at Sacha, a top restaurant owned by Sacha Hormaechea, shown explaining his dishes.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  
Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.  

Among many excellent dishes that we were served during a dinner that to my chagrin was accompanied by wines, save one, that I did not like at all, was a salad of those mythic greens which Sacha called corujas. My interest in these rare and elusive was piqued again.

Corujas, known as marujas in Salamanca, at Restaurante Sacha, Madrid.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  
Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.

The next day, after finishing the dinner at Sacha far too late—we got into bed at 03:00—we were off in the direction of Galicia to make the rounds of my Spanish Artisan Wine & Spirits Group suppliers, then make the long trek south to arrive in Sevilla on Christmas Eve.

After three days in Galicia, I decided that another stop in Salamanca was in order as we headed south towards Sevilla.  Kay, who had never been to Salamanca, and I stayed at the Hotel Puente Romano, where I stayed with chefs McIlwaith and Ehrlich The hotel is comfortable and was close to Cala Fornells, but it is in an unprepossessing neighborhood, south of the Tormes River, with a gas station for a neighbor.

However, for my September trip with the chefs, the hotel was also close to the escape route to Guijuelo, where I had made an Ibérico jamón appointment for the chefs and me at Carrasco the following morning.  And the aptly named Hotel Puente Romano is just a block from the Salamanca’s magnificent pedestrian-only Roman bridge, which leads to Salamanca’s Cathedrals, the new and the old, and up the Rua Mayor to the Plaza Mayor, one of the best plazas in Spain.   

Roman bridge and Cathedral, Salamanca.    
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest.  
Canon EOS 7D / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (38.4-168mm equivalent).  

In the 1970s, I had crossed this Roman bridge in my vintage Volkswagen sedan--not a VW bug type, when there were signs saying that said all traffic over 16 tons had to use the Roman bridge instead of the new steel and concrete highway bridge, because the Roman bridge was sure to be able to support heavier traffic, while the authorities were unsure that the new bridge could handle the weight.  My Volkswagen was nowhere near 16 tons, but what the Hell, it’s a Roman bridge, one of three major Roman bridges (Córdoba and Mérida being the others) in Spain that I once crossed in a car, but are now pedestrian only.

Salamanca's Roman bridge on a foggy winter morning, Dec. 23, 2014.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest.
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS.
 
Because we arrived late in Salamanca and had been on a five hundred-kilometer plus-wine road warrior trip that day, with fog and fatigue big factors, I asked at the hotel desk if there might be a decent restaurant within walking distance.  The fellow on duty at the hotel directed us to Casaserra, around the corner from the hotel.  

We expected a neighborhood restaurant of adequate cuisine, but no miracles, instead we found Casaserra, one of the great surprise restaurants of Salamanca, not the least of which was at first off-putting, but later gregarious and cantankerously charming owner, Heli (Heliodoro) Casanueva Serradilla, whom I would later dub Helicóptero because he never stopped gyrating around the dining room. 

Helicóptero "Heli" Casanueva Serradilla and his son Jorge Casanueva in their restaurant Casaserra in Salamanca. 
 Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube /  Pinterest.  
Canon G15 / Canon f/1.8 – f/2.8 5X 24-140mm IS USM.

And lo and behold, once I began talking to Heli, I asked him about the corujas I had had in Madrid.  We had already had a simple early-to-bed dinner: a surprisingly good for winter ensalada de lechuga, tomate y cebolla (classic lettuce, tomato and onion salad dressed with Spanish extra virgin olive oil and vinegar), pimientos de piquillo rellenos de bacalao (bacalao-stuffed red piquillo peppers) and revueltos con setas y gambas (scrambled eggs with mushrooms and shrimp), irrigated with a fine bottle of José Pariente Verdejo 2013 white wine from Rueda.  

Heli with his simpático waiter-son Jorge, joining periodically, hovered near our table nearly all evening (it was a Monday night), entertaining us with his running repertoire of Helidodoro-ismos.  In the course of this non-stop banter, I asked him about the corujas I had had in Madrid at Restaurante Sacha.  He informed me that in Salamanca, these tender green leaf shoots from mountain streams are called marujas and claimed he was the only one in Salamanca who had them.  Soon he brought us a bowl of the marvelous tiny shoots, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and properly dressed with a garlicky aliño (vinaigrette).   I was ecstatic.  I had finally re-encountered this scarcest of Spanish regional dishes.  

Marujas con semillas de granada (water plant shoots with pomegranate seeds), Restaurante Casaserra, Salamanca, Dec. 23, 2014.    
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube /  Pinterest.  
Canon G15 / Canon f/1.8 – f/2.8 5X 24-140mm IS USM.

The next morning Kay and I walked over the Roman bridge and up to the Plaza Mayor, where we had a very good breakfast of coffee, chocolate con churros, a kind of flan with shrimp, a great tortilla española with potatoes and onions, and spinach and mejillones aliñados (mussels with chopped onion, bell pepper and fresh tomatoes in a vinaigrette) at the excellent cafe, La Marina de Salamanca. 

Kay at breakfast with coffee, chocolate con churros, a kind of flan with shrimp, a great tortilla española 
with potatoes and onions, and spinach and mussels in a vinaigrette at La Marina de Salamanca, December 23, 2014.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

After breakfast, we headed out of the Plaza Mayor and across the street to the Mercado Municipal de Salamanca, where I found two big boxes of marujas at the fruit-and-vegetable stand of Cándido González. I asked the marujas  would keep a couple of days, Cándido said they would and I promptly brought a half kilo for nine Euros to take south to Sevilla for Manolo and Mari Carmen’s Christmas celebration.  

I had him add a pomegranate—yellow, not red--here and with paler seeds—so I could duplicate the dish served by Heliodoro at Casaserra. Cándido put the marujas in a nice paper bag with a liner and we put them and the pomegranate in the trunk of the car, where they would keep cool on the journey south to Sevilla. After having lost touch with marujas for more than a decade, I had suddenly encountered them three times within a week.  
 

Cándido González at his fruit and vegetable stand in the Mercado Muncipal de Salamanca filling a bag with a half kilo of marujas
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Pinterest. 
Canon 5D Mark III / Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

Two days later, on Christmas Day at the home of Manolo and Mari Carmen Esquivias, where some 30 members of Mari Carmen’s family gathered (we went to Manolo’s 92-year old mother Alegria’s place on Christmas Eve), I made a vinegreta with Oro de Bailen Extra Virgen Olive Oil, Sherry vinegar, white wine vinegar, coarse sea salt and chopped fresh garlic.  I popped the seeds out of the pomegranate, washed and dried the marujas and put them in a big glass bowl. I decided I would serve each person a made-on-the-spot bowl of marujas con granos de granada aliñadas. I served a bowl to each person individually, sprinkled on a ration of pomegranate seeds and added a spoonful of properly garlicky vinagreta


Granos de granada (pomegranate grains or seeds) for marujas (tiny green water plant shoots) with pomegranate seeds, dressed with a garlicky vinegreta 
made with Spanish Extra Virgen Aceite de Oliva, Sherry vinegar, minced garlic and sea salt.  
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 / gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest. Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8.
 
Dressing for marujas con granos de granada (pomegranate seeds), a garlicky vinegreta made with Spanish Extra Virgen Aceite de Oliva, Sherry vinegar, minced garlic and sea salt. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2014 gerrydawes@aol.com YouTube / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest.  
Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP / Zeiss 24-70mm f1.8-2.8. 

The dish was a big hit. None of the guests had ever tasted marujas either. From that half kilo, we had a little left to bring to Cádiz to make two more small salads for Kay and me. I vowed that it would not be another decade before I had this dish again, but that will surely require another trip to Salamanca and another walk across the Roman bridge up to the Plaza Mayor and the Salamanca market.  Maybe this time I will get the Helicoptero to go with me. 

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About Gerry Dawes  

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 


". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 



video
A professional of Gerry Dawes leading New York Chef Terrance Brennan on a culinary
adventure through the Valencia and Alicante regions of Spain.


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