Recipes and stories from an Alpujarran village

Peter Williamson, 19 January, 2017
For a real insight into life in a small Alpujarran village, take look at a beautiful new book from our friends, Emma and David Illsley from Mairena...

In early December 2016, Inntravel played host to a special book launch. The book in question has been written by Emma and David Illsley, long-time friends of Inntravel and well-regarded hosts of Las Chimeneas, their wonderful hotel in the quiet village of Mairena in the mountains of Las Alpujarras in southern Spain.

As the title suggests, Las Chimeneas – Recipes and Stories from an Alpujarran Village is far more than just another cookbook. It is the culmination of many years living and working in their adopted homeland, getting to know the area, the village and most importantly, the people of Mairena who are not just neighbours but who are now David and Emma’s friends. Integral to it all are their cooks and the restaurant that reflects the area’s traditional dishes.

David and Emma are described in the book as both having “a deep knowledge of and love for the Alpujarra, and writing this book, an idea that has been in the wings for years, has been a way for them to consolidate and share this knowledge – not only of the food customs and agricultural practices that still bind the community that they have become part of, but also of the delicious recipes that often reflect the area’s extraordinary history.”

It’s a book that records, through beautiful words and images, the way that village life is slowly changing in this remote rural community, as the old ways slip deeper into memory, as Emma explains in the book's introduction: “Those mornings when we were awoken at dawn by the stiff-legged clop of reluctant mules, and the bleary-eyed cursing of their handlers, outside our window now seem rare, as do the swish of the blades of scythes and that general daybreak caterwauling of a village...
...But though diminished, the centuries-old deep knowledge and understanding of the countryside and the culinary secrets it underpins, live on – as those who have visited and seen our cooks, Soledad and Conchi, in action will attest. We hope that as well as serving as a document of this knowledge and lifestyle, this book will, in its own tiny way, also help to defend the survival of this proud mountain society that has defied the odds for so long.”

As a tasty appetiser, we’ve reproduced one of their authentic recipes here: Garbanzos con Chorizo y Espinacas (chickpeas with chorizo and spinach):

• 200g chickpeas (pre-cooked or good-quality jars or tins)
• 600g fresh spinach or chard
• 3 small chorizo sausages (either sweet or picante – whatever your preference)
• 330g carrots
• 1 small onion
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 pinch black pepper
• ½ tsp cumin seeds
• ½ tsp sweet paprika
• ½ tsp picante paprika
• ½ tsp oregano
• ½ tsp Provençal herbs
• 4 dessert spoons extra-virgin olive oil
• ½ litre boiling water

1. Toast the cumin seeds gently in a dry pan or under the grill
2. Chop the onion and garlic very finely and fry in the oil on a low heat
3. When it softens add the chorizo, chopped into 5mm slices
4. Add salt and pepper to season, plus all the other spices
5. Cook for 5 mins, continually stirring
6. Add the boiling water to the pan and the sliced carrots
7. Leave to simmer until carrots start to soften
8. Add the chickpeas and the washed spinach leaves (whole or chopped)
9. After a few minutes, take off the heat before the carrots or spinach become too soft
10. Serve with freshly made tortilla (also in the book)

[Author’s note – I tried this at home and at it was easy to make and easy to eat! ]

Further information

Order “Las Chimeneas – Recipes and Stories from an Alpujarran Village”
If your mouth is watering and you’d like to try more of Soledad and Conchi’s recipes, you can buy your own copy direct from Emma and David.
Order your copy here >
Life in an Alpujarran Village
You could, of course, visit Emma and David at Las Chimeneas and enjoy a week’s holiday exploring the local area and dining on the fabulous dishes that grace the pages of this book.
More about our walking holidays in Las Alpujarras >
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