My sister’s mother-in-law is incredible. At 87, Leonor – or, as we call her respectfully, Mama Aranda – has more energy than me and my sister combined.
When we visit her house a bit south of Cullera, close to the sea, within minutes she will either vanish in the kitchen, or start working in her vast garden that surrounds the house.
She grows limes and lemons, grapefruit and aubergines, figs and a number of other vegetables.
And then, she cooks them.
Each time we visit, we come home with a few pounds more on each side. Her paella was always amazing, cooked over an open fire on a stove behind the house, on one of these massive paella pans that could also serve as a boat.
At her age, she has stopped doing them – it simply is too much work for an old, and tiny lady.
However, her best treats are the tortillas she makes: traditional potatoe style, or with her own home-grown vegetables, with onions or courgettes.
Probably the top though are her fried aubergines, which she manages to get so soft and mushy that they melt in your mouth.
So, on a rainy evening, and after having eaten all day, Leonor gave me a little cooking lesson in how to make her onion omelette. And those aubergines.
Her secrets: time and olive oil.
Her food is slow food. Not only because it’s been home-grown over months. She also takes time in preparing: letting the onions roast very slowly, letting them sit for a while in the scrambled egg to really soak it all up, and then frying it slowly in the pan.
Same thing for her augerbines: no wonder I never managed to get them right, it takes time for them to become so mushy.
And lots and lots of olive oil.
I remember my sister Sabine, one one of her visits, asking for the fried aubergines, but without the oil. Leonor, surely wondering what was going on, did her the favor and roasted the aubergines slowly without much oil.
Serving them to my sister, who was looking forward to the low-calory version, she took a can of oil and… poured it all over the aubergines.
Clearly in her world, cooking and fat-free are mutually exclusive.
So her dishes may not bet fat-free or low calory. But looking at her at 87, and the energy she has, this might just be the recipe for longevity.
Here’s a little gallery of Leonor in action.