In recent years, Spanish tapas have become increasingly popular – and rightly so. They taste delicious, the choice is almost limitless, and many of them are easy to put together. This beginner’s guide provides simple ideas for making and serving a range of tapas at home.
What Are Tapas?
Contrary to popular belief, tapas (which is plural, one of them is a tapa) are not a particular kind of food. Neither are they starters. Dinner is eaten late in Spain, so tapas are a sort of ‘stop-gap’ between work and dinner. They can be found in almost every bar, and it is common to bar hop, consuming a different tapa with each drink.
Generally speaking, anything that can be served in small portions can be considered tapas. This leaves the way open for a delicious array of dishes that can be warm or cold, meaty or vegetarian, spicy or mild, and range from simple potato dishes to complex seafood-filled paellas.
Tapas are said to encourage conversation as they are served over several hours. So get ready for a lively party that is guaranteed to last until mañana.
Tip: most supermarkets will stock the ingredients outlined below, but head to a shop specializing in Spanish food for the pre-prepared items.
Traditionally, meat plays a central role in tapas, although it is easy enough to adapt a tapas party to suit non-meat eaters. One of Spain’s most famous meats is pata negra (literally ‘black hoof’). Considered by many to be the most exclusive ham in the world, pata negra comes from acorn-fed Black Iberian Pigs.
Pata negra can vary in price quite considerably, so select a cut that fits the party’s budget. Arrange the ham on a plate with slices of juicy melon for a simple sweet-and-savory dish. Spicy chorizo sausage is another readily available meat option.
Cheese is a simple way to add another dish to a tapas party. Spain is particularly renowned for its goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses. A generous hunk of ripe sheep’s milk manchego is always a crowd-pleaser and goes perfectly with slices of fragrant quince jelly.
Easy, Homemade Tapas
One of the pleasures of throwing a party is making at least some of the dishes oneself, and many tapas take no time to put together.
Patatas (fried potatoes), for example, can be mixed up in a large frying pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper until golden and crispy; while a cup of mayonnaise and two cloves of crushed garlic quickly transform into alioli – delicious spread on slices of crusty Spanish bread or as a patatas topping. Try also stuffing small Spanish peppers with soft cheese for a colorful tapa with bite.
Some tapas require more input, however, and it is worth buying some pre-prepared items. Look out for classics such as tortilla (potato omelet), albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce), boquerones (anchovies with garlic and parsley) and paella (rice with vegetables, seafood and/or meat).
A ‘dessert’ tapa can be as simple as almond nougat or chocolate pralines served with coffee.
How to Make Sangría
No tapas party would be complete without alcohol, and sangría is about as Spanish as it gets. Many supermarkets sell ready-made sangria, but it is just as easy to make at home and tastes much better.
This recipe is enough for about 5-6 glasses of sangria. Simply double or triple the recipe for larger amounts.
1 bottle red wine (such as a cheap Rioja)
1 lemon and 1 orange, cut into eighths
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons brandy
2 cups ginger ale
Mix all the ingredients, except the ginger ale, together in a large jug and chill in the fridge for around two hours. Just before serving, stir in the ginger ale!