Tapas Talk

Small Plates of Tapas

Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish gastronomy. They may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or warm (such as fried baby squid or crispy potatoes). In many Spanish bars, tapas have evolved into a sophisticated cuisine. Many American restaurants and bars also taken offer small plates, similar to tapas, on everyday menus so patrons may sample small amounts of several specialties instead of ordering a large meal.

The meaning of tapas has changed over time. According to the official Spanish dictionary any small portion of food that is just enough to eat along with a drink is considered a tapa. The accurate meaning for the word “tapa” is “cover”.  The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”, a cognate of the English word “top”.

According to old legends, in Castilla, Spain, the land of Don Quixote, red wine was a popular drink of the men who frequented taverns. And the wine barrels, in those taverns, attracted wine flies and other flying pests. So, it became the custom to cover a glass of wine with a tapa to avoid flies drowning in one’s drink.

Here are some tapas that I particularly enjoy.

Fried Almonds / serves 4

9 ounces blanched almonds

3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

Warm the oil in a non-stick frying pan. When hot, sauté the almonds until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and immediately sprinkle with coarse salt.

White Beans with Vinaigrette Sauce

Two 15-ounce cans white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini) rinsed with cold water and drained

1 medium red or green bell pepper (or 1/2 each)

1/2 medium size sweet onion (Walla Walla, Maui, etc.)

1/3 cup red wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil


Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well. Transfer to serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate one hour before serving. Serves 8-10 as appetizer.

Patatas Bravas

5-6 medium potatoes

Salt to taste

1 ½ cups olive oil

Pepper sauce, mustard, tomato sauce (optional)

Peel the potatoes. Cut each potato into 4 even lengthwise pieces, then cut crosswise to ½” chunks. Sprinkle with salt. Pour olive oil into a wide deep-frying pan with a heavy bottom. Heat the oil on medium high until hot. To test the oil, drop in a chunk of potato. If it immediately starts frying, the oil is hot enough. If it doesn’t begin frying, the oil isn’t hot enough and the potatoes will absorb too much oil. Cook the potatoes about 10 minutes; using a slotted spoon, remove potatoes from the pan and drain onto paper toweling. Serve with mustard, pepper sauce or tomato sauce, if desired. 4 appetizer servings.

Marinated Green Olives

1-pound brine cured green olives, well rinsed

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 long thin orange or lemon zest strips

Olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a bowl or large Mason jar, adding olive oil to just cover. Stir. Cover and refrigerate two or more days. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serves 4-6

Marinated Black Olives

8 ounces (one cup) black olives

2 dried red chiles

12 cloves garlic

Red wine vinegar, as needed

Dash of lemon juice

Lightly crush the olives without breaking them and pour into a glass jar with a lid, discarding any oil produced.  Add the chiles and garlic, lightly shaking the jar to evenly distribute. Pour in enough red wine vinegar to entirely submerge the contents of the jar. Add a dash of lemon juice. Seal the jar and store at room temperature for a few days, shaking the jar twice or more daily. Serves 2-4. All these recipes would be great served with a glass of sherry or wine, lemonade, Sangria or other refreshing beverage.

Recipes adapted from original: Asoliva of Spain

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