SPANIARDS EAT five meals a day; el desayuno, or light breakfast consisting of creamed coffee and a bread product; el almuerzo - a mid-morning snack; la comida - the major meal of the day - eaten usually around 2:30 in the afternoon; la merienda, a light snack taken about 6 p.m.; and, finally, la cena, a light meal eaten around 10:30 p.m.

The foods of the two major meals - la comida and la cena - are usually served as separate courses: In other words, one might first be served the broth, then the vegetables and finally the meats of the same basic dish, followed by a dessert consisting of fresh fruit and/or cheese.

Spanish cooks rely on fresh foods rather than heavy spices for flavoring, often using a base called sofrito, a sauce consisting of onion, garlic, shopped tomato and parsley (sauteed) in olive oil, using an earthenware casserole having slightly sloped sides. Foods used are fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, rice, potatoes, a variety of meats - with central Spain specializing in pork, poultry, garbanzos (chickpeas), many eggs and an abundant supply of seafood from the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay. The cooking is regional rather than national, and the regions compete with one another cooking varying renditions of a similar basic dish. Some dishes well-known throughout Spain are paella, a rice, chicken and seafood concotion, flan, a caramel-flavored custard and garlic soup (sopa de ajo).

The culinary regions comprising Spain are as follows: Old and New Castile located in central Spain; Andalusia to the South; Spain's eastern coast known as the Levante; Catalonia, Spain's northeastern corner; her northwestern corner comprising Galicia, Aragon, Navarre and the Basque provinces - a region bordering France, and noted for having its own language, customs and regional characteristics; and Asturias, the land lying between Galicia and the Basque provinces.

The kinds of food, and their preparation, in these various regions depend primarily on location, availability of foods and climate. The harsh climate of the pleateaus of central Spain (this region includes Madrid, Spain's capital), for example, demands hearty stews, broth and heavy use of meats; pork, beef and fowl are often used in the same basic cocido (stew). The birhgt, sunny climate of water-surrounded, southern Andalusia, on the other hand, calls for lighter fare, such as gazpacho, the refreshing, cold vegetable "soup" prepared with garlic, olive oil and vinegar, and tasting not unlike a fresh garden salad; superb, lightly-fried fish; and sangria, a light red wine to which sparkling water, fresh slices of orange and lemon, and perhaps cinnamon have been added. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE

Spain's eastern, coastal Levantine region, where olives are grown to produce her olive oil as well as olives, relies for its nourishment on rice, seafood, tomatoes, oranges and saffron, a rich spice (used to flavor paella ) derived from the dried orange stigmas of the purple crocuses grown there; while Catalonia utilizes seafood, lettuce, fresh fruits and wild mushrooms according to season.

Asturians and Galicians, in addition to having an abundant supply of seafood, use the faba, a large, white bean peculiar to the region, in stew known as fabada; cider with meals instead of the traditional wine; and corn, spurned by the rest of Spain, in pudding and in bread. They also eat empanada, a meat or fish-filled pie similar to the steak pie eaten by the Scottish. The most popular cooking technique used here is boiling.

Aragon, Navarre and the Basque regions are well-known for their spectacular sauces and gravies, and the Basques for their gastronomic "societies," exclusive clubs in which men only may cook, eat, relax and enjoy - using the honor system as payment for their food.

CHURROS MADRILENOS

(CRISP-FRIED CRULLERS)

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

Vegetable oil or shortening for deep-fat frying

Sugar

In a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil over high heat. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour in the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a thick, course paste that pulls away from the sides of the pan in a mass. Cool to room temperature.

Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil or shortening in a deep-fat fryer or large, heavy skillet until it is very hot but not smoking, or until it reaches a temperature of 400 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer.

Spoon about half of the dough into a large metal cookie press fitted with a star-disc, and press 3 to 4 six-inch-long ribbons of dough directly into the hot fat, cutting the ribbons off at the tip with a small-knife as you proceed. Turning the crullers occasionally, fry them for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they are a rich golden brown on all sides. Using kitchen tongs, transfer the browned crullers to a double thickness of paper towels to drain while you fry the rest.

Serve the crullers while they are still warm. Just before serving, sprinkle them liberally with sugar.

Note: Do not try to force the churro paste through a pastry bag - the mixture is so stiff it must be shaped with a cookie press.

TORTILLA DE PATATA

(Potato and Onion Omelet)

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large potatotes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

4 eggs

In a heavy 10 or 12-inch skillet, heat 1 cup of olive oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the potatoes, sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of the salt and turn them about in the pan to coat them well with oil. Continue cooking, turning occasionally, until the potatoes brown lightly; then add the onions, reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the potatoes and onions are tender. Transfer the entire contents of the skillet to a large sieve or colander and drain off all excess oil.

With a whisk or a rotary or electric beater, beat the eggs and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt until frothy. Gently stir in the potatoes and onions. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy 8-inch skillet until a light haze forms about it. Pour in the omelet mixture, spread it out with a spatula and cook over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Shake the pan periodically to keep the eggs from sticking. When the omelet is firm but not dry, cover the skillet with a flat plate and, grasping the plate and skillet firmly together, invert them and turn the omelet out in the plate. Then carefully slide the omelet back into the pan. Cook for 3 minutes longer to brown the underside, and serve at once.

Note: If you like, you may add previously fried chopped chorizo or other sausage to the omelet along with the potatoes.

CHICKEN BRAISED IN WHITE WINE WITH ALMONDS AND GARLIC

Pollo en Pepitoria

(4 to 6 servings)

4-to 5-pound roasting chicken, cut into 6 to 8 serving pieces

Salt

White pepper

1 cup flour

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups finely chopped onions

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 large bay leaf

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

1/2 cup blanched almonds, pulverized in a blender or with a nut grinder or mortar and pestle

2 hard-cooked egg yolks

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/8 teaspoon ground saffron or saffron threads crushed with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon

Pat the chicken thoroughly dry with paper towels. Sprinkle it liberally with salt and a little white pepper, dip the pieces in flour and shake them vigorously to remove the excess. In a heavy 10-by-12 inch skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat until a light haze forms above it. Starting them skin side down, brown 3 or 4 pieces of chicken at a time, turning the heat so that the pieces color quickly and evenly without burning. Transfer them to a heavy 4-to-6-quart casserole.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet and add the onions. Stirring frequently, cook them over moderate heat for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown. Spread the onions over the chicken in the casserole and add the parsley and bay leaf. Pour in the wine and water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and simmer, undisturbed, for 20 minutes.

With a mortar and pestle or a wooden spoon, mash the pulverized almonds, egg yolks, garlic and saffron to a smooth paste. Thin it with 3/4 cup of the casserole liquid and stir the mixture gradually into the simmering casserole.Cover again, and cook for 10 minutes longer, or until the chicken is tender. With tongs, transfer the pieces to a deep, heated platter and drape it loosly with foil to keep warm.

Bring the cooking liquids to a boil over high heat and boil briskly uncovered until the sauce has reduced to about half or enough to intensify its flavor. Taste for seasoning and pour it over the chicken. Serve at once, accompanied if you like by hot boiled rice.