Gather your friends and neighbors and celebrate today's hottest food trend with some serious Spanish style!
- Tapa basically translates to "lid," coming from the Spanish tapar, "to cover."
- Tapas first appeared in 19th-century Andalusia, Spain.
- Bartenders covered drinks with a slice of meat, cheese, or bread to keep out dust and flies.
- Competition led bars to raise the quality of their complimentary snack, and tapas evolved into a national phenomenon.
These days it seems that everybody is talking tapas...but what are they, exactly?
The definition du jour for tapas is "small plates."
However, this is neither an accurate translation of the word nor a complete description of the concept. Tapas are more than a light meal or collection of appetizers. Consider what cookbook author and Basque Country native Teresa Barrenechea says about the tapas tradition in her book The Cuisines of Spain:
In Spain...eating tapas is a separate dining experience that, in principle, does not substitute for a meal. And Spaniards do not eat tapas at home. In fact, the term tapas and its various regional equivalents have come to imply the act of going out: de tapeo means barhopping, or the art of eating while standing.
Creating the perfect tapas party
Now that you have a feel for the meaning and history of tapas, consider four essential elements when creating your perfect tapas party:
- Ambiance Part 1: Location/Type of Party
- Ambiance Part 2: Music
- Drinks: For the Adults
- Food: Tapas Time!
To recreate the idea of barhopping or de tapeo, co-host a progressive party or open-house block party with friends and neighbors.
Whether you prefer your guests to progress from house to house as a group or to come and go as they please, consider designating a different Spanish region or city to each destination.
Hosts can designate their homes "Andalusia" and "Madrid" and give guests a true Spanish tour de tapas, serving the drinks and tapas typical to each location.
If you opt for a progressive tapas party over an open-house block party, you can print up clever "itineraries" so guests can see what's in store on their tapas tour. Unlike the more casual block-party format, the progressive format allows hosts to join in on the househopping right along with their guests. However, think twice before having guests drive from house to house.
Tapas and drinks are like a toothbrush and toothpaste: they work best as a pair.
If you desire to provide the traditional adult beverages, consider corralling your neighbors as co-hosts so that guests can house-hop within the neighborhood, without worry (walking while intoxicated is reported to have a low fatality rate).
Crank up the Spanish energy by dancing after dark. Consider concluding the night at a neighborhood park or green-space. Stay low-key poolside, or go ultimate block-party by stringing up white lights and hiring a band.
Whether you choose to go big or stay home, you can set the right mood with the right tunes.
If you are like me and hiring a Spanish band is not within your budget, Pandora is always an option. The "Spain: Flamenco" station is a great place to start.
If you prefer CDs, Lifescape Music, carried by Target stores, has several Spanish selections.
No matter where you go, tapas and drinks will go hand in hand--or preferably, one in each hand. Tapas are, after all, bar food.
Spain is a land of great variety, and different regions and provinces prefer different drinks. When planning your beverage list, consider some of Spain's finest:
Sherry, one of the world's top three fortified wines, is a specialty of the Andalusia (or Andalucia) region, particularly within the province of Jarez. This strong and syrupy beverage was likely the first to be crowned with a tapa, making it an ideal choice for your tapas party.
La Rioja is one of the prime wine-making regions of Spain, specializing in reds made of tempranillo or grenache grapes. If you cannot find a Spanish Rioja wine at your local store, look for one of these varietals, or try a blend of the two.
In Galicia a favorite is albariño, a high-quality white wine that perfectly complements the myriad of seafood tapas typical to the region. Unfortunately, albarinos are sometimes hard to find outside of Spain; however, the slightly more common vinho verdes of Portugal make a great substitution.
Looking for something bubbly?
Cava, Spain's answer to champagne, is characteristic of the Catalon provinces, particularly Barcelona, Girona, and Tarragona. This effervescent refreshment is generally earthier and less acidic than its French cousin. If you can't find good Cava, try an Italian Prosecco such as Riondo Spago Nero, which is both delicious and affordable.
In the cooler climes and mountainous terrains of the Asturias region, sidra (cider) reigns supreme. The typical Spanish cider contains 5% alcohol and is a staple in both bars and family residences. I have never seen real sidra in the States, but I often consume Hard Core cider, which is a less candy-like alternative to some of the other American varieties.
The national drink of Spain, sangria traditionally combines red wine, fruit and/or fruit juice, soda, and brandy. In the streets of Pamplona, my comrades and I concocted an impromptu version composed of boxed, convenience-store wine and slightly more expensive fruit punch, and I'll tell you, it wasn't bad. For something slightly stronger, check out my no-fruit-added version in the recipes section.
If all else fails, stock up on college juice: the folks in Madrid are big fans of beer. Madrid-brewed Mahou is said to be suggestive of Coors Light.
Planning for non-drinkers or an under-aged crowd? Nonalcoholic sparkling cider, sparkling or still grape juice, ginger ale and root-beer are festive alternatives to traditional soft drinks. Add several sliced oranges to cran-pomegranate or grape juice and top with peach-flavored Fresca or lemon-lime soda for a beautiful mock-sangria, or add a hot chocolate and churros station to your tapas buffet for a tasty dessert adored by kids and adults alike.
- Green olives (try pitted Manzanilla olives stuffed with pimientos or anchovies if you can find them)
- Marcona almonds (Spanish almonds; flatter, wider, and tastier than the American variety; usually available at Costco)
- Spanish party mix (crunchy snack mix served at bars all over Spain; usually available at Whole Foods)
- Cured Spanish Chorizo (do not confuse with the raw, Mexican variety)
- Artisan bread and extra-virgin olive oil
- Serrano or Iberian ham (Iberian is the best in the world but almost impossible to get in the States; If you can't find Serrano, Italian prosciutto is a good substitute)
- Spanish cheeses such as Manchego or Cabrales
And at last...time to talk tapas!
A tapa can range from a skewered square of the ever-popular tortilla de patata to a miniature bowl of stew to sizzling shrimp to a small sampling of squid salad.
Before planning your menu you should consider how much time you want to spend in the kitchen both before and during the party. Some items can be served at room temperature, while some are best served chilled or hot.
Refreshing Gazpacho Shooters can be made and chilled in individual shot glasses hours before the event and pulled from the fridge as needed.
Sinfully delicious Serrano Ham and Manchego Cheese Croquettes (recipe follows) can be frozen ahead of time and re-heated as needed, but I prefer them fresh from the fryer.
Looking for low-maintenance? Check out the no-cook options to the right.
I try to make my recipes as comprehensive as possible. Nothing is worse than embarking on a recipe and realizing you don't have an all-important gadget. Therefore, the tools and equipment you will need are bolded in the directions, and special notes are in italics. If you should have any questions relating to the recipes, please feel free to ask me in the comment section!
1. Serrano Ham and Manchego Cheese Croquetas
2. Roasted Potatoes with Allioli (garlic and oil sauce)
3. Cumin-Marinated Carrots and Olives
4. Meatballs de Madrid
5. Garlic Shrimp
6. Momma Crumm's Sangria
Serrano Ham and Manchego Cheese Croquetas
I like to serve these croquetas with a snappy roasted-red-pepper dipping sauce: puree 1 cup roasted red peppers (jarred or homemade) and 1/4 cup plain yogurt in a blender till smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Delicious!!
2 oz flour (weigh it out)
2 oz olive oil (again, weigh it out; does not have to be extra virgin)
1T minced garlic
1cup cold milk, plus 2 T, divided (I used 2 %)
7 oz Manchego cheese, finely diced
2 1/4 oz Serrano ham
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1-2 tsp fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley, very finely chopped
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (I make my own in the food processor with 4 slices of toasted whole wheat bread and a pinch of dried parsley)
2 large eggs
- Line a 6-inch square cake pan with plastic wrap so that two ends extend over the sides of the pan. Set aside.
- Using a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, make a roux by combining olive oil and flour in a medium-sized saucepan or sauté pan over med-heat. Stir till smooth and lump-free and cook for about one minute, adjusting heat if necessary--do not allow mixture to darken. Add garlic and slowly pour in 1 cup cold milk to make a thick bechamel sauce, stirring continually until smooth. Cook 1-3 minutes until mixture thickens almost to the consistency of whipped potatoes. Remove from heat and stir in salt, pepper, parsley, ham, and cheese.
- Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan and cover with another piece of plastic wrap, gently pressing the plastic onto the mixture to seal. Chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
- Assemble breading station: in a shallow bowl or dish, lightly beat 2 eggs with 2 T milk; place breadcrumbs in another shallow bowl or dish; to the right of the breadcrumb dish, place a cookie sheet.
- Use plastic-wrap "handles" to lift the chilled bechamel mixture out of the pan. Cut the mixture into 1"x 3" rectangles--mixture will be tacky. Working with one rectangle at a time, coat evenly with egg mixture and then breadcrumbs before placing in a single layer on the baking sheet (if you have a friend on hand, one person can work the egg dish and the other can work the bread crumbs; otherwise, use your left hand to coat rectangles with egg and transfer to the breadcrumb dish, and use your right hand to apply the breadcrumbs--this keeps the process from getting too goopy). Once on the baking sheet, the croquetas are fit to be fried.
- Line another cookie sheet or large plate with paper towels. Set aside. Add a depth of 1-2 inches of oil to a cast-iron skillet over med-high heat. Carefully flick a drop of water into the oil. If the water spatters or "jumps," then the oil is ready. Fry the croquettes in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry till just golden brown, about 1-2 minutes on each side, turning carefully with a metal spatula or spider (plastic will melt!). Use the spider to carefully transfer fried croquetas to paper-towel-lined cookie sheet. Serve immediately. Leftovers can be frozen in an airtight container or freezer bag and reheated in an even layer on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.
When frying, it is important to use a heavy-bottomed vessel that conducts heat evenly. My cast-iron skillet by Lodge is the only thing I fry in (see recipe above), and it's great for making cornbread, too!
Did you know measuring ingredients by weight is far more accurate than measuring by volume? My bread and baked goods have improved tenfold since I started using my Salter digital food scale, and so have my rouxs, which by definition should be equal parts flour and fat by weight. This scale will actually calculate calories for you, which is an added bonus if you're watching your waistline--just don't count the calories in the croquetas!
Roasted Potatoes with Allioli
Unlike Provencal aioli, which is a garlic-mayonnaise, traditional Spanish allioli does not contain any egg. Some chefs may add an egg yolk to create a creamier, more emulsified sauce, or they may even add garlic to store-bought mayonnaise. I prefer the simplicity and intensity of the robust, traditional version below.
2 large Russet potatoes
3 T olive oil (does not have to be extra virgin)
1 T dried rosemary, very finely chopped
3/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 T garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 cup quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub potatoes under running water to clean any dirt off the skins. Pat dry and do not peel.
- Cut potatoes into 1"-2" wedges or squares and toss in olive oil, coating evenly. Arrange wedges in an even layer in a roasting pan.
- Combine rosemary, salt, black pepper and paprika. Sprinkle mixture evenly over potatoes and bake at 400 degrees F for 45 minutes or till golden brown and cooked through, opening the oven every 15 minutes to toss/flip the potatoes with spatula.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic in a mortar and sprinkling the salt over the top. Use a pestle to smash the salt into the garlic, continuing to smash in a circular motion until the garlic is a homogenous paste. Slowly add the olive oil a little at a time, continuing the circular motion with the pestle to incorporate oil completely between each addition (you can adjust the consistency of the sauce by adding or reserving oil according to your preferences).
Note 1: If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can make the sauce in a food processor--just remember to add the oil GRADUALLY.
Note 2: You can eat the potatoes with your fingers or with toothpicks. To serve, either pour the sauce onto a plate and pile the potatoes on top, or serve the sauce on the side for dipping.
Note 3: Mix together any leftover sauce and potatoes and refrigerate to make a great-tasting and unique cold potato salad.
I love the therapeutic benefits of crushing garlic or herbs beneath my pestle--and it works great for allioli!
Discouraged by the high prices at specialty stores in the States, I finally picked up my wooden set for a bargain at a farmer's market in Nice, France. Now it seems the high demand for these handy tools has made them widely available at non-specialty-store prices. The eclectic-looking rainbow set and nonporous porcelain set below are super-affordable.
Cumin-Marinated Carrots and Olives
Cumin adds a surprising kick to this slightly sweet, tangy treat.This may be my favorite way to eat carrots; you could increase the carrots and omit the olives, or mix it up by adding or substituting the veggies of your choice.
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 T brown sugar
1/2 T Kosher salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
dash cayenne pepper (optional)
3 large carrots
1/3 cup Manzanilla olives with pimientos
6 cloves garlic
1 small, white onion
1. In a medium-sized saucepan combine everything but carrots, garlic, and onion. Bring to a boil, stirring gently just till sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves, onion, and carrots into circles or discs (or rings in the case of the onions). The carrot slices should be a little thicker than the slices of onion and garlic.
3. Add the vegetables to the marinade, stirring to coat evenly. Transfer mixture to an airtight container and chill in fridge till ready to serve. Will keep stored this way for at least a week. Best served cold or at room temperature.
Meatballs de Madrid
Traditional Spanish meatball recipes often use a combination of ground pork, beef, veal, and white bread. I use a combination of ground turkey, bacon, and whole wheat bread to achieve an amazing marriage of complex flavors.
2-3 slices (about 3 oz) whole wheat bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup milk or cream
2 extra-large eggs
6 strips (about 7.5 oz) uncooked bacon, roughly chopped
4 whole cloves garlic (about 1 1/2 T minced)
1 medium-sized white onion (about 8 oz), roughly chopped
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 lb ground turkey
1 T Kosher salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp paprika
oil for pan (not olive oil--I use peanut oil; vegetable or canola would be fine)
2 large carrots, finely diced
2 cups red wine
1 T tomato paste or 1/3 cup plain tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
1. In a very large bowl, lightly beat together milk and eggs. Add bread, and stir to coat evenly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.
2. Meanwhile, place bacon, onion, garlic, parsley, and rosemary in a food processor, and pulse till well-blended.
3. To the bread mixture add the ground turkey, salt, pepper, paprika, and the bacon mixture. Use your hands or a rubber spatula to incorporate evenly, making sure not to overmix. Cover bowl and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.
4. Place all sauce ingredients in a slow cooker, and stir just to dissolve sugar. Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes on the high setting, and then reduce heat to low.
5. Remove the meat mixture from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Heat a 1/4-inch depth of oil in a cast-iron skillet or large sauté pan over med-heat. Test the oil by dropping a tiny piece of the meat mixture into the pan. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready; if it burns immediately, the oil is too hot. Carefully drop 1-inch-sized balls of the meat mixture into the oil and fry in batches, making sure not to over-crowd the pan. Using a heatproof rubber spatula or metal implement, carefully turn the balls so they brown evenly, 1-2 minutes on each side. Transfer browned balls to the slow cooker using a metal slotted spoon or spider.
6. Once all the balls are in the slow cooker, cover and cook on the low setting for 2 hours. The slow cooker can remain on the "keep warm" setting throughout your party, and the balls can be served directly from it. For an authentic flair, serve the meatballs in earthenware casuelitas, or decorative enamel-coated ceramic ramekins, and set out plastic forks or decorative wooden toothpicks.
Note: Turn this tapa into an easy meal by serving over peeled, chopped, potatoes boiled 30 minutes in salted water.
The slow cooker plays a valuable role not only in the cooking of this dish, but also in the serving. While this clever vessel keeps your meatballs warm, you are free to mix and mingle!
Set the pretty ramekins next to the slow cooker, and guests can serve themselves a tasty combination of convenience and authenticity.
Like the meatballs above, this recipe also makes use of a slow cooker and casuelitas, freeing you up to mingle with guests rather than slave over the stove.
1 1/4 cups olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves separated and smashed lightly to remove skins
1 T paprika
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 lbs frozen, uncooked, deveigned, peeled or easy-to-peel shrimp
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
2-3 T finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Place the first four ingredients in a slow cooker set to high, and stir just to distribute. Cover and cook 1 hour to soften the garlic and infuse the oil.
2. Add shrimp, salt and pepper, and stir to coat shrimp evenly in oil mixture. Cover and reduce heat to low setting. Cook 2 hours or till all the shrimp have turned pink, stirring gently every 30 minutes or so to ensure even cooking, and then reduce heat to the "keep warm" setting. The shrimp can remain in the slow cooker throughout the party on this setting for up to four hours. Serve spoonfuls of shrimp in casuelitas or decorative enamel-coated ramekins. Make sure to have plenty of napkins or moist towelettes on hand if your guests will be peeling their own shrimp.
Note: Turn this tapa into a meal by serving the shrimp over linguine or creamy cheese grits (full of smoked Gouda and Irish cheddar) and topping with crispy, diced pancetta.
Momma Crumm's Sangria
This is a great use for cheap wine; my husband and I love Carlo Rossi Paisano. Unlike the traditional Spanish recipe, my mother-in-law's sinfully strong sangria is fruit-juice free. Sweet, refreshing, and a snap to make, this nod to Spain's national drink will sneak up on you quickly!
3 cups red wine (I have used many varietals, and they have all worked well)
2 shots (4 oz) peach schnapps
2 shots (4 oz) sour apple puckers
2 shots (4 oz) brandy
ice (for serving)
1 can peach-flavored Fresca (or other sparkling soda)
- In a large pitcher gently stir together wine and all 6 shots.
- Fill 4 glasses with ice, divide wine mixture evenly among glasses, and top each glass off with Fresca (you may have leftover Fresca). Enjoy responsibly!
- Fallas de Valencia/ Fallas de San Jose: celebrated in Valencia March 12-19.
- Feria de Sevilla/ Feria de Abril: the country's largest annual party starts the 2nd Monday after Holy Week, the end of April, in Seville.
- La Batalla de Vino: the Battle of Wine is part of an annual wine festival held June 29 in the city of in Haro in Spain's foremost wine region, La Rioja. Participants attack each other with wine-filled water guns.
- Fiesta de San Fermin: July 7 commences the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
- La Tomatina: The world's greatest annual tomato fight is held the last Wednesday of August in Bunol, Valencia.
Need a reason to celebrate?
Many of America's favorite reasons to party have been pilfered from other countries.
Think Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick's Day.
If you're looking for an excuse to throw the ultimate tapas party, why not celebrate with the Spaniards?
Spain honors several national holidays and a multitude more regionally or within individual cities. Festivals may last for weeks, often honoring patron saints with parades, song, dance, wine and food.
Almost every celebration culminates with a concert and dancing in the grand plaza or town square.
Whether arming their arsenals with crimson wine and ripe, red tomatoes or running with the bulls, one thing is for certain: the Spanish know how to have a good time.
"Tapas Party!" was inspired by my personal travels through Spain. I am not Spanish, nor do I claim to be an expert on Spanish cuisine. However, I have dearly loved re-creating some of my favorite Spanish memories, and I hope you will enjoy them, too!
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