If you’ve ever had the classic Spanish dish patatas bravas, you understand its power. Fried potatoes with a spicy, smoky sauce: If they’re within my reach at a good restaurant, they’re history. And if any of my dining companions are foolish enough to reach too slowly for their share, they’re out of luck. Best order your own portion.
I confess to never making them at home because, well, I fear they wouldn’t even make it to the table. But I recently discovered how to get my fix in a healthier way. It’s a brilliant idea, really, from the team behind the vegan restaurant Smith & Daughters in Melbourne, Australia.
They’re Mo Wyse, a U.S. expat who is the business mind behind the restaurant, and Shannon Martinez, the cook. Martinez isn’t vegan, and the pair says that is the secret to her ability to make vegan food that appeals to everyone.
“Thanks to Shannon’s ingenuity and direct contact,” Wyse writes in the book, “she’s convinced some serious meat eaters that her creations aren’t missing anything, least of all the meat.”
I haven’t been to Melbourne (yet), so I can’t speak firsthand to whether the restaurant succeeds in that regard. But based on one recipe I’ve tried in their book, they do seem to be onto something. Martinez has Spanish roots on her father’s side, and the Spanish Potato Salad With Chickpeas is enrobed in a dressing with the same smoky punch as the bravas sauce I can’t get enough of at, say, Jaleo. By using it on boiled, not fried potatoes, and adding sliced tomato, onion and chickpeas, Martinez manages to lighten up the dish while keeping the variety of textures that is part of its appeal.
The dressing recipe calls for a few tablespoons of ajvar, a Serbian red pepper relish that’s not so easy to find in the Washington, D.C., area. Rather than make some myself, I subbed in simple jarred roasted red peppers. There are so many other flavor boosters in the dressing – sherry vinegar, crushed red pepper flakes, smoked paprika and more – that it turned out beautifully.
The recipe makes a lot of dressing – up to 1/2 cup more than you might want or need. But you won’t be surprised to read that I don’t think that’s a problem. Save it for another potato another day, and you’ll be happy.