Boise Eats: Boise's Basque Community Says, 'On Egin!' 

For over 25 years, Idaho's Basque community has celebrated the patron saint of the Basques, St. Ignatius of Loyola, by hosting its midsummer San Inazio Festival in Boise's Basque Block. The festivities kick off with sporting events and performances by the Oinkari Basque Dancers, but the real showstopper is the food.

"Basque people are very well known for being hard-working," said Janice Mainbil, a former dancer and a volunteer fundraiser for the Oinkari dance group. "I guess we have to show that off every year. Even when it's 105 degrees."

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Mainbil was right: Even triple-digit heat didn't prevent a huge turnout at the 2018 San Inazio Festival on July 27-29, where Boiseans flocked for the opportunity to enjoy (and possibly dance to) the txantxangorria, a traditional music ensemble comprised of accordions (triki trixa) and tambourines (pandareta). San Inazio also showcased karro kampos, or traditional Basque sheepherding wagons. Surprisingly enough, the cozy dwellings of mid-19th-century Basque migrants have gained popularity among modern day enthusiasts of so-called "tiny houses."

"But you won't find those in California," said Mainbil.

While the music and dancing echoed throughout the block for a full weekend, it was the savory aromas of paella and other delectables that thrilled attendees. The array was so eye-popping during this year's festival that Boise Weekly nabbed a few recipes, ranging from simple traditional dishes to bolder, more complex plates like chipironies en su tinta—squid in its own ink sauce. On egin! (Bon appetit!)

The Simple

As an early course, festival participant Jenny Ysursa prepared a traditional Basque salad with an infusion of San Sebastian-inspired flavors. She recommended any lettuce, combined with the chef's choice of white asparagus, tuna, olives, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and onions, all sprinkled with salt and pepper, and drizzled with olive oil. She said it's best to eyeball the amount of ingredients, which should be purchased at the Basque Market on the Basque Block, although she added they're also available at the new Albertsons on Broadway.

Another hotspot for simple Basque fare is Leku Ona. Translated as "Good Place," it's also a popular fine dining restaurant Miren Artiach and her husband Jose Mari opened on the Basque Block in 2005. Leku Ona serves traditional dishes like beef tongue, tripe, cod with red peppers, and seafood soup, and Artiach packs those flavors into her San Inazio contributions.

"I get asked to bring a shrimp dish every year," she said. "I always boil my shrimp. I usually use a peeled, cleaned variety of raw shrimp and then prepare it by frying it lightly in olive oil with lots of garlic—garlic is very traditional—and parsley. And that's it. It's very easy to fix and it's good hot or cold. Perfect for a picnic."

Artiach said traditional Gernika peppers are also a must-try because so many people in the Treasure Valley grow them. It's said that eating the long, skinny pepper is like playing Russian roulette, as some of the peppers turn out to be very spicy.

"There has kind of been an informal competition with the Gernika peppers around here. Everybody checks to see who's getting the first batch; they always try to have them ready by the time the festival starts," she said.

The Bold

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Chirpirones en su tinta both sounds and tastes more elegant than its translation: squid in its own ink. It also happens to be family chef Joseba Criswell's favorite dish to cook. And yes, the final product is served smothered in a briny, pitch-black sauce.

"You can't waste the ink," Criswell explained. "The color puts off a lot of people, but it's incredible."

Lucky for us, Criswell was happy to walk us through his delicate process. For those with more exotic pallets, this one's for you:

What You Need:

  • 2 lbs. of squid, cleaned Toothpicks
  • 1 whole onion (your choice) 1/2 green bell pepper
  • Olive oil 3 large tomatoes, peeled
  • 2-3 cloves garlic 1 slice stale bread (optional)
  • Salt and pepper Food processor
  • Cooked white rice (for serving)

What You Do:

  • While cleaning the squid, locate the ink sacs (they will be visible) and carefully peel them off, and then set them aside to extract the ink later.
  • Take the tentacles, stuff them back into the squid, and secure them in place with toothpicks.
  • Chop the onion and green pepper and throw them in a pan with olive oil on medium-low heat.
  • Once the vegetables are soft, add the squid. It will turn a purplish-white color. Once the squid starts to cook and its ends seal, remove the toothpicks.
  • Remove the squid from the pan, and add the peeled tomatoes and garlic to the vegetables. It will boil down to a sauce. Add the slice of bread to make the sauce thicker.
  • Add the sauce to a food processor to create a smooth consistency.
  • Carefully extract the ink from the sacs and add it to the tomato sauce. The sauce will turn completely black.
  • Return the sauce to the pan and cook it down for a few minutes on low heat.
  • Add the squid to the sauce and cook it down for 4-5 minutes on low heat.
  • Serve the dish over white rice.

Topa! (Cheers!)

Before microbreweries, there were cider houses. In the Basque country, it's traditional to prepare cider every fall, letting it ferment in wooden barrels until February, when it's ready to enjoy in a process called txotxing.

"They tap the bottom of the wooden barrel, and the pressure shoots the cider out of spicket in a super-thin stream, so you catch the cider with your glass," explained Elise Overgaard.

Overgaard and Johnny Boyd put a twist on the tradition during the festival, sharing ciders made from apples grown in their parents' orchard—galas, honey crisps, Fujis and crab apples.

"We tried both the American and the Basque methods. The Basque way turned blue and red and green because you don't add in your own yeast," said Overgaard. "There is some work to do on that, but it still tasted good. With traditional cider, there are no bubbles, it's musty. Some people say it tastes like olive juice."

Overgaard explained that traditionally, people gather around the fermenting tanks intermittently between a three- or four-course meal. A cider house menu typically offers cod tortillas, salt cod and green peppers, txuleta (Basque steak), and cod pil-pil (cod in a garlic and olive oil sauce).

"It's just a long night of fun. There are usually accordions playing and of course a lot of txotching. And all the cider houses have their secret recipes for their [ciders]," said Overgaard.

Boyd and Overgaard are members of the Oinkari dancers, who host a fundraising dinner every year before Thanksgiving at the Basque Center.

"We have a chef that's from Basque country and he cooks the dinner like he would in the cider houses. And of course we have the cider in a large barrel so everyone can txotx!"

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