A Tapas Dinner

We have a lot to dislike the Spanish for. Flamenco, Penelope Cruz and hysterical guitarists being among them. However, they HAVE given us one of the finest food traditions on earth. I refer to tapas, naturally. For this we should be very very thankful.

Legend has it that tapas originated in the Spanish region of Andelusia as a necessity. Glasses of sherry would be covered with a tapa (‘lid in Spanish’) of bread to keep the fruit flies at bay. Over time, cunning bartenders would add toppings to the bread to entice customers back to their establishment. Starting with simple vegetables or cured meat. Over time, the bread was dispensed with, indeed the lid itself. Instead a drink would be accompanied by a small nugget of food – from a vast array of ingredients.

As the Spanish are a nation of night owls they don’t eat till late. For them, tapas has become the ideal ‘in between’ snack to stave off hunger until dinnertime. Tapas bars are all over the country. Some still free, most not.

In other countries, their interpretation of tapas has evolved into more of a main course affair. Not unlike the Mediterranean Meze, the dishes are served as a selection in one sitting. This is how I normally serve it. Ocassionally I will make one small dish for a snack, but generally, I’ll cook as many as 12 tapas dishes and serve them as a spectacular dinner party spread. These can be as easy or as complex as I feel like. A bowl of olives, or some warmed chick peas constitutes a tapa as does a more complex slow braised chicken in garlic. The key is to have a small amount of each, so that your guests don’t get the chance to gorge themselves on any one thing.

If I’m cooking tapas I keep it pretty informal – I organise my meals way in advance, so that I can either reheat them or serve at room temperature. If I have any cooking to do, I keep it to a minimum. The freshness of Spanish food, means there aren’t a lot of technical procedures to master. Keep it rustic and you won’t go wrong.

Get hold of some earthenware tapas dishes if you can – they are the perfect size for each serving. Remember to keep the bread flowing too, some dishes have lots of delicious sauces to soak up and shouldn’t leave the table until they’re completely dry. Vegetarians can easily be catered for too, Spain has an abundance of fresh produce to draw from and some of their best dishes are meat free. Try the Spanish Baked Eggs, with its rich tomato sauce and runny egg yolks it just the perfect tapas dish for your vegetarian guests to fight over.

Enjoy your meal, and be sure to share your favourite tapas dishes with us if you feel the urge.

Get cooking with our favourtite Spanish dishes. Some recipes are enough for a main course, but you can adapt them to make less in quantity.

(v) denotes vegetarian. (f) denotes one of my favourites

Spanish Quail & Proscuitto Croquettes
Prawns with Garlic, Herbs and Wine (f) (v)
Chicken with Garlic & White Wine (f)
Eggplant and Chickpea Salad (v)
Leek & Chorizo Filo Pastries
Flamenco Eggs (f) 
Orange, Onion & Cumin Salad (v)
Spanish Baked Eggs (f) (v)
Chickpeas with Chorizo (f)
Spanish Tuna Dip
Chicken & Paprika Empanadas
Tuna Empanadas
Catalán Tomato Bread (f) (v)
Sausages with Potatoes
Manchego, Olive & Pepper Canapés (f) (v)
Chickpea & Chorizo Tortilla
Alioli “no friends mayonnaise” (f) (v)
Spanish Stuffed Capsicum (v)
Spicy Fish Fingers with Alioli
Octopus with Onions & Potatoes Spanish Style
Romesco Sauce with Prawns
Spanish Asparagus & Jamon Salad
Spanish Style Rabbit with Herbs (f)
Zucchini Salad with Cumin & Paprika Dressing (v)
Potatoes with Chorizo
Spanish Chicken in Wine, Garlic & Thyme (f)
Prawns in Garlic & Sherry (f)
Chicken in Brandy – Spanish Style
Spanish Style Braised Aubergine (v)
Albondigas (meatballs) (f)
Chicken in Paprika & Sherry (f)
Chorizo Y Jerez (Chorizo in Sherry) (f)
Bread Salad (f) (v)
Tortilla Española (f) (v)

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