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kinda, sorta patatas bravas

Being a vegetarian in Spain is not easy, but if you know what to look for you can eat like a king. Ryan has family in Bilbao and we have been fortunate to visit them a few times together over the years. Our first experience was in the summer of 2011, and while the trip was amazing… getting there was not. Thanks to weather and other delays, our sixteen-hour travel time turned into an unpleasant (and uncomfortable) thirty, leaving us exhausted and worn out by the time we arrived. But the huge hugs and warm welcome we received from all the relatives waiting at the airport made us forget the ordeal we had been through, and for the next four days we had the time of our lives. We had planned our trip to overlap with the city’s annual festival, Aste Nagusia, or “big week.” From morning till night, there were tens of thousands of locals and tourists partying in town, with colorful floats, jaw-dropping fireworks, and delicious street foods on every corner, and this is where Adam tried churros con chocolate for the first time: thin, extra-crispy churros dipped in a cup of rich, thick melted chocolate. Ryan’s family showed us all their favorite local bars and restaurants, took us to the Guggenheim Museum of modern art, and we basically spent the entire visit eating and drinking our way through this lively Basque city. At times, it was tricky to find tapas that we could eat, but almost every bar had a few classic dishes we could enjoy, like traditional Spanish tortilla de patatas, roasted pimientos de país, and the crispy, spicy, dangerously addictive potatoes known as patatas bravas.

We have been hearing so many wonderful things about Julia Turshen’s new cookbook Small Victories, and couldn’t wait to get our hands on a copy. It was difficult to pick what to try first since she tempts us with so many mouthwatering choices: Olive Oil-Fried Eggs with Yogurt + Lemon, Sour Cream Pancakes with Roasted Blueberries, Kimchi Fried Rice with Scallion Salad, and the appetizing list goes on. But our hearts were immediately drawn to the spicy Spanish dish that we fell in love with in Bilbao, and we were intrigued by the clever title: Kinda, Sorta Patatas Bravas. In this easy recipe, bite-size fingerling potatoes are simmered until tender, then tossed in a hot skillet with spicy smoked paprika and a pinch of salt before roasting in the oven, turning deeply browned and extra crispy. These perfectly cooked potatoes are then topped with a spicy homemade mayo made with minced garlic, smoked paprika, tangy red wine vinegar, tomato paste, and cayenne pepper. Garnished with fresh parsley and flaky sea salt, this simple and satisfying Spanish side is surprisingly spicy and a superb sizzling selection to serve with supper.

So, what makes them “Kinda, Sorta”? Well, traditionally the potatoes are fried, but Julia’s version roasts them in the oven instead, which is easier, less messy, and healthier too, but the results are just as crispy and perfect. The other difference is that in some parts of Spain, the dish is served with two sauces—one garlicky aioli and one spicy tomato—but here she combines the two into one deliciously tangy spread. The method may be unorthodox, but the flavor is certainly not: these “kinda, sorta” potatoes are “definitely, unquestionably” some of the best we’ve ever tasted. Buen Provecho!

Kinda, Sorta Patatas Bravas
adapted from Small Victories by Julia Turshen
serves 4

For the potatoes:
1 1/2 pounds (680g) fingerling or small yellow potatoes, cut in half if larger than bite-size
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon spicy smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
a generous pinch of kosher salt

For the sauce and garnish:
1/4 cup (55g) mayonnaise
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 (5g) garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon spicy smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
flaky sea salt, for garnish

Place a large (12-inch) cast iron skillet in the oven, and set the heat to 425ºF.

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan, and add 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. If the potatoes are not fully submerged add an additional quart of water and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of salt as needed. Cover, and place over medium-high heat. When boiling, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes until potatoes are barely tender and still offer some resistance when pierced with a small knife. Drain potatoes in a colander, then transfer them to a clean dish towel and gently pat dry. When dry, transfer them to a large mixing bowl, and add the olive oil, pimentón, and a generous pinch of kosher salt, and toss to coat the potatoes evenly. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, then pour the potatoes into the skillet, arranging them into a single layer. Place the skillet back in the oven and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are deeply browned and nice and crispy.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, cayenne, paprika, and kosher salt, and stir until evenly blended.

When the potatoes are done, transfer them to a serving plate, and drizzle over the sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and flaky sea salt, and serve immediately. Enjoy!

note:
— Pimentón de la Vera is smoked paprika from Spain. It has an intense smoky flavor, and comes in two varieties: dulce (mild), and picante (spicy) which is used here. Both varieties can be found in many grocery stores and online.
— To make this recipe vegan, simply use a vegan mayonnaise.