Miriam had requested gazpacho for Sunday’s dinner. Her husband, Chris, does not particularly like gazpacho. Jan suggested that I make a variety of tapas to go with the cold soup, so they could both be happy.
Tapas are the Spanish equivalent of Chengdu snacks and follow many of the same rules. Tapas are small plates of tasty nibbles that can be shared with friends over glasses of sherry—tea in China. Tapas are Spanish bar snacks, something to keep you going until dinner—which is served around 9-10:30 pm in Spain. Conversation and conviviality—talking with your friends, rather than the food—is the objective of a good tapas meal.
Tapas may be spicy, savory, or sweet and can be vegetarian, dairy, seafood, or meat based. They may be as simple as spiced almonds or olives or as complex as small roasted peppers stuffed with seasoned meat or seafood. While one or two tapas do not make a meal, 4-20 can be filling enough to feed a crowd.
Note: In China, even 20 snacks would not make a meal, until you have eaten at least one bite of rice— mĭfàn (米饭).
There are dozens of different tapas, but the recipes are more of guidelines. Each bar and tavern in Spain—and other Hispanic countries—has their own special tapas recipes. In making a tapas meal you want a balanced variety of tastes, textures, and colors.
There are some specialize ingredients in some of the recipes that may be hard to find: Oloroso (Spanish semi-sweet sherry), Pimentón de la Vera (a hot Spanish paprika), Piquillo peppers (small mild chilies), Spanish chorizo, Serrano ham. There are substitutes for some of them: dry (not sweet) sherry, smoked paprika, sweet mini bell peppers, Portuguese Chouriç or Italian prosciutto, but the flavors would be substantially different.
I am fortunate that I live in a place that I can get many of even the most obscure ingredients—the advantage of the Bay Area’s global multiculturalism. The semi-sweet sherry is available at BevMo. Pimentón de la Vera is available at Whole Foods, but for some reason they do not put it with the other spices—look for the Spanish food section. There are rumors of jarred Piquillo peppers at Whole Foods and Sprouts, but I have yet to see them for myself. Lunardi’s carries Spanish chorizo. Trader Jose’s sometimes carries a low quality Serrano ham—in a package with two other sliced Spanish sausages—but you can only get the good stuff—south of San Francisco and Berkley—at Andronicos.
The dishes I chose to make could all be assembled ahead of time—the stuffed mushroom, peppers, tomatoes and meatballs—and then refrigerated for a few hours. They could then be baked together—on the same baking tray. Other dishes, to be served cold—the chick peas, gazpacho, and stuffed cucumbers—could simply be prepared and then served as needed. The shrimp and mackerel could be prepared ahead and then fried at the last minute.
After Dinner Note: I printed out 20 tapas recipes that I wanted to try, and even eliminating some I made far more than five people could eat—so many tapas so little time. Even I will admit that, I got a bit carried away with stuffing meat into vegetables—except the one case where I stuffed vegetables into meat. Miriam suggested that my only vegetarian tapas, gazpacho, was like serving catsup as the vegetable. She asked that next week I make some vegetarian dishes.
Karl’s Tapas Dinner
For my meal I chose to make:
Garbanzos Picantes Asados (Roasted Spicy Chickpeas)
Chorizo Relleno de Pepino (Chorizo Stuffed Cucumber)
Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp Tapas)
Gazpacho (Cold Tomato Soup)
Piquillo rellenos de Cordero (Sweet Mini Peppers Stuffed with Lamb)
Albóndigas de Cordero (Lamb Meatballs)
Tortilla Española (Spanish Potato Omelette)
Champiñones Rellenos de Cerdo y Piñones (Mushrooms Stuffed with Pork and Pine Nuts)
Tomates Rellenos de Gambas y Jamón Serrano (Tomatoes Stuffed with Shrimp and Serano Ham)
Caballa Frita Rellena (Fried Stuffed Mackerel).