When I moved to Spain many moons ago I was far from vegan, not even close to vegetarian. If it swam, walked or ﬂew, it made it to my plate. You don’t automatically think of vegan options when you think of Spain. The thought process goes something like: chorizo sausages, Spanish potato “tortilla” made with eggs, paella with seafood, chicken and sometimes pork, serrano ham with a side of serrano ham. The truth is Spain is ﬁlled with what I call vegan by default dishes made exclusively with delicious plant foods, and with all the local ﬂavors of Spain. Why? Because although ﬂamenco, bull ﬁghting, and ham are a part of the Spanish stereotype, you only have to spend a few days in Spain to meet one of the pride and joys of this country: its agriculture. Not only is Spain the world’s largest producer of olive oil and third biggest producer of wine, but its fruits and vegetables are a large part of the economy, and especially, the plate.
Many things have changed since I moved to Spain. I became vegan several years ago, when there were only one or two vegan restaurants in Madrid, and saw the vegan movement grow at Speedy Gonzales speed with now over 23 fully vegan restaurants, 35 vegetarian restaurants, countless omnivore and ethnic restaurants with vegan and vegetarian options and more opening every single year. This means you can now have any cuisine or typical Spanish dish you like in its vegan form in any of these little hubs of plant-based deliciousness. All over the country, the vegan movement just keeps growing. What if however, you’re in an area in which there aren’t as many vegan or vegetarian restaurants, or what if, in spite of having these options available to you, you wish to explore the local cuisine, just as Spanish grandmas have been making these dishes for centuries? Are there naturally vegan options within the Spanish kitchen? In today’s post we’ll get to explore some of these dishes, so you can head into almost any bar or Spanish restaurant and ﬁnd something that is both traditional, kind to the planet, the animals, and your health.
This delicious dish of crispy yet tender on the inside potatoes is so typical in Spain you’ll have a hard time not ﬁnding it on a menu. These little pieces of potato heaven are served with a spicy red sauce, and sometimes, although not part of the tradition, some restaurants will serve it with aioli or a mayonnaise-based sauce as well, so just ask for them without, for a fully vegan version. Most places serve them with the red sauce only, as is the tradition.
Pimientos de Padrón
These delicious tiny green peppers served with sea salt are beyond scrumptious, and typical throughout Spain. They aren’t usually spicy, but tradition says that there will always be one spicy pepper per plate, and the lucky person to eat the hot pepper gets to pay the bill. Ok, maybe lucky isn’t the right word.
This delicious tomato-based soup is a staple in the summer at nearly every restaurant in Spain. Although there are many varieties, including new recipes for cherry or watermelon gazpacho, the traditional one is made with tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, garlic, onion and olive oil. It’s usually served with chopped raw vegetables and croutons for topping for the perfect contrast between crisp and silky smooth. Perfect for the hot days of summer.
Think of it as the gazpacho’s ﬁrst cousin everyone loves because it brings along another important part of Spanish eating culture: bread! This is a richer version of gazpacho since bread is added to vegetables in the blender. It’s rich, full of fresh ﬂavors and very ﬁlling. In some areas of Spain, like Córdoba, Salmorejo is so thick you could practically eat it with a fork! Make sure to ask if it’s topped with anything when ordering, as many restaurants top salmorejo with ham and hard boiled eggs, so just ask for it without.
Champiñones al Ajillo
Spaniards are proud of their mushrooms and for good reason. Although this dish is available year round, when the fall and rain arrive, the Spanish countryside is bursting with all types of mushrooms, and you’ll see them pop up in menus all over the place! The ajillo is basically a sauté of olive oil, lots of garlic and usually parsley, that will ﬂavor the mushrooms in the most delicious way. Have this dish with some bread and you’ll be ordering plate after plate.
Paella de Verduras
If there is one dish people typically associate with Spain it’s the delicious paella. A slightly sticky, saffron infused rice, with the most delicious crunchy bits at the bottom of the pan, and different additions depending on the type of paella and the local specialty. Traditionally made with seafood, chicken, sometimes pork, green beans in the case of the ﬁrst paellas in the city of Valencia, vegans and vegetarians can still enjoy this amazing dish. Most paella restaurants offer paella de verdures or vegetable paella, and the ingredients will vary from place to place. The only issue you might encounter sometimes with vegetable paella is the broth in which it’s cooked in, so just ask the restaurant if they can make it fully vegan by using veggie broth instead of meat or seafood based broth.
Parrillada de Verduras
This platter of grilled vegetables is now more and more readily available in restaurants these days, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite staples of Spanish cuisine. Grilling elevates the umami compounds in vegetables, which make you not only dig into and love the delicious produce of Spain, but do so in a way that completely excited your taste buds. This usually big platter of vegetables like asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and sometimes little lima beans spread throughout, is drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and is best enjoyed with some delicious Spanish bread.
In the region of Catalonia, a delicious dish of ﬁre roasted or slowly oven roasted red peppers, sweet onions and eggplant is a classic. It’s served with a drizzle of olive oil and some coarse sea salt and it’s the best plate of melt in your mouth goodness.
Pan con tomate (Pa amb Tomàquet) and Tostada con Tomate y Aceite
Another Catalan specialty you’ll be able to ﬁnd anywhere, and it couldn’t be simpler. Perfectly toasted bread is spread with grated tomato, olive oil and salt, and sometimes a garlic clove is rubbed on the toast beforehand. There are variations of this dish throughout Spain, and in Madrid, the tostada con tomate y aceite is the typical breakfast, served in every single bar you walk into.
Forget fondue, Spain has its own traditional fun food. Aka, a dish that is so fun to eat it will become a tradition as soon as calçots, or these slightly sweet vegetables that are part of the green onion and leek family, are in season. In the region of Catalonia, these are grilled on an open ﬁre or grill, and served with romesco sauce and of course a bib! You eat them with your hand, and yes, it’s messy, which is 90% of the fun.
Papas con Mojo
Straight from the Canary Islands comes this delicious dish of wrinkled mini potatoes, served with either red mojo or green mojo, a lightly spicy but extremely refreshing sauce that will make you wonder why this dish hasn’t become the new sushi sweeping the world. There’s nothing like it.
From the regions of Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha comes the famous pisto. A delicious ratatouille style vegetable stew that is usually served warm with bread, or inside empanadas or empanadillas (dough pockets ﬁlled with this dish). Many of the empanadas are vegan by default but ask to make sure. I love pisto next to some bread and a glass of wine.
Yup! These fried twirls of dough topped with sugar are also typical for breakfast and are 100% vegan! The only ingredients in these breakfast or late night treats are ﬂour, water, and salt, and it’s the hot chocolate that is served with them that is usually not vegan. Having said that, more and more “chocolaterías” or “churrerías” are making versions with dark chocolate that are 100% vegan, so be sure to ask your server!
Fried artichokes and fried eggplant
Artichokes are another one of Spain’s treasures, they’re fantastic any way you cook them, but when they’re served fried, they will make you do a happy dance. These are sometimes served with romesco sauce and they’re utterly scrumptious. Breaded and fried eggplant is also typical in Spain, and although in many places they use eggs as a binder, more and more restaurants are making them vegan, so just be sure to ask.
Ensalada de Tomate
You’ll laugh when I tell you about the simplicity of this Spanish classic. It is, however, a tribute to what in many cooks’ opinions is the most delicious product of Spain (next to olives and olive oil of course), and that is the Spanish tomato. I could write a 5-page poem on the beauty of Spanish tomatoes. As a cook I can tell you I have never found the ﬂavors in tomatoes we can encounter in Spain, you’ll ﬁnd so many varieties, from the typical cherry, pear and vine tomatoes, to “Raff”, “Rambo”, “Corazón de Buey”, “Azurcado”, “Kumato”, and more. The ensalada de tomate, or tomato salad, is the Spanish ode to the tomato, and it’s usually a large plate with one or several local varieties of tomato, olive oil, salt and sometimes some smashed garlic clove. You’ll never be the same, and yes, it is that good in spite of its simplicity.
These dishes only scratch the surface of all the local, naturally vegan specialties in Spain. The beauty of this country is its diversity. Put your ﬁnger on the map and you’ll ﬁnd different architecture, a completely different landscape, different customs, sometimes a different language! You’ll also deﬁnitely ﬁnd different local produce that is that town’s pride and joy, and that will most deﬁnitely inﬂuence the local cuisine. From the famous fresones (strawberries) of Aranjuéz to the oranges in Valencia, the asparagus in Navarra, the collard greens of Galicia and countless others. Spain is bountiful when it comes to vegan foods that are as traditional as the famous jamón, and when in doubt, you can walk into many of the local veg-friendly restaurants and ﬁnd many other traditional favorites, like the Spanish potato omelette (tortilla de patatas), or the amazing croquettes (croquetas), all in their vegan versions, for a taste of what is quickly becoming a very vegan friendly Spain.