Do you ever find yourself wishing you were in a sunny square in Spain sipping Sangria? Now more than ever, nearly every day, I find myself longing for summer in Spanish towns, especially in the Basque region where my tapas can be enjoyed with txacoli. Since we still can’t tapear from bar to bar, you can recreate the sunny specialties in your own kitchen.
Spain is well known for many things, but one of the first things that jumps to everyone’s mind are tapas. If you aren’t familiar with tapas, they are a novelty to travelers and a part of life for the Spanish. Between finishing work and enjoying a typically late dinner, Spaniards will do their version of “bar-hopping”. In the north of Spain (Basque country), they call them pintxos (never “tapas“), throughout the rest of the country a “pincho” means “a bit of”, and from Salamanca to Cadiz to Barcelona, “tapas” are a part of life. All of the words water down into bite sized snacks enjoyed alongside a cold beer.
In some parts of Spain, you can get lucky and tapas are served free alongside a drink order. This used to be the case in Andalucia, where it is thought that the small plates were given alongside a beer to cover the top of the drink and keep the flies out (“tapa” literally means “lid”). Each bar has their own tapa specialty, thus the traditional bar hopping. Eating alongside each drink also helps to slow the effects of the alcohol so you can drink longer in those endless Spanish summer evenings.
When you are in Spain, you can order a ración – a larger portion of tapas – in order to make a meal of the experience. Each tapa is really not much more than a bite, so if you are hungry and can’t hold out until dinner or sharing with friends, raciones may be the solution. Here are some pictures from my time living in Spain:
Nowadays, tapas are a hot topic and restaurants have popped up all over the world serving the most typical Spanish bites. I am happy to share 4 recipes that you can make at home simply in order to have your own tapas experience, with a glass of beer and the promise of summer in the air. The recipes are:
- Roasted red pepper and feta
- Courgette, sumac, pine nut, and feta
- Patatas Bravas
If you have olives and bread on hand, these can be served as well as little starter dishes. I did not make the most typical of typical tapas: tortilla or croquetas, because we haven’t got enough eggs. If you want to add these to your menu, I am happy to share advice on either !
Vale, vamos en España ?
Gazpacho is the ultimate Andalucian dish – a cold tomato soup with a bit of a kick. It is perfect for summer, using all of the best vegetables summer offers. You want your gazpacho to be thin, not like a chunky salsa, so get your blender at the ready. In Spain, it is typical to drink the soup rather than eat it with a spoon, and you can even buy it in small cartons and bottles at the markets!
Gather your ingredients:
- 3 big juicy ripe tomatoes on the vine, cut into medium-thin wedges, cored and 3 Tbsp of the seeds reserved for serving
- 1/2 of a cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
- 1/4 of a red bell pepper (save the other bits for the next recipe!)
- 1/4 of an onion
- 2 cloves of smashed garlic
- If you have sherry vinegar on hand, if not red wine vinegar will do the trick – you’ll need at least 2 Tbsp
- Olive oil, and plenty of it. 3 Tbsp to begin with, and more as needed
- Salt and pepper
To begin, after chopping all of your vegetables as finely as you can with a nice knife, toss them together in a bowl with some vinegar to let all of the flavours meld together. Add a healthy bit of salt on top of this mixture. Let it sit at room temperature, covered, for a little while. I left mine for about an hour, but thirty minutes should do the trick.
Next, take that same mix and put it into your blender and add the olive oil and some more salt and pepper, and blend. Season it with more of the red wine vinegar as needed. Blend it until very, very smooth.
The final step is to strain the gazpacho through a sieve. Some people don’t enjoy this step, and it is not absolutely necessary if you are happy with a chunkier consistency, but I love my gazpacho super smooth. Strain it back into the bowl (or into a bottle or some other receptacle with a lid).
Let the gazpacho chill before serving. Give it at the very least one hour in the fridge in something sealed, or with a covering over your bowl. When serving, garnish with a bit of chopped cucumber and some of the reserved juicy tomato seeds.
Roasted Red Pepper and Feta
This hardly requires a recipe. Get your grill or oven nice and hot, preheated to about 220ºC. Take the red pepper, no cutting necessary other than to remove the stem and seeds, and place it cut side down on a baking tray lined with foil (assuming you’ve cut 1/4 off for the gazpacho). Cover it with olive oil, a healthy 1-2 Tbsp worth. Place it directly in the oven about halfway down. If you want the skin to get nice and charred, put it higher up in the oven. I left it for 20 minutes until it was falling apart soft, with a nice black char on the outside.
Put it onto a serving plate and cut into strips, flip the strips alternating skin side up and down for a pretty display, and cover with fresh crumbled feta. The juices and olive oil will leak out onto the plate and the pepper will be scrumptious eaten hot, warm, or even cold.
Courgette, Sumac, Pine Nut, and Feta
Another recipe that doesn’t require a recipe. The ingredients are in the name, and nothing surprising happens here. Tapas can be inventive, outside of the typical menu, and I decided to make my own here using what I had available. If I had padron peppers, or nice juicy mushrooms, I would have gladly kept the classic menu. But I had courgettes and feta…
Since Spain and Morocco are so near to each other, their cuisines obviously influences either way. Sumac is a light spice that adds a depth of flavour. It comes from the crushed berries of the sumac bush, and has almost a citrusy tang to it. Without knowing it, you’ve probably had sumac on top of hummus or, if you enjoy za’atar, it is one of the main components.
Again, preheat the oven to 220ºC. Get ready:
- 1 courgette
- 1/3 pack of feta
- 1 Tbsp sumac, plus extra for sprinkling
- 2 Tbsp pine nuts
- a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped finely
- olive oil
I used one courgette, washing it, cutting it in half (not lengthwise, the short way) and then slicing it thinly with the mandoline. I also sliced my thumb with the mandoline, so be careful! After you have your beautiful slices, lay them out on another tray lined with foil. They will cook best in the grill at a high temperature. Using a pastry brush, coat each one lightly with olive oil.
Sprinkle some sumac (not too much, not too little) atop the courgette, and then slide them into the oven. They will probably only need about 15 minutes under the grill, so check on them. While they are cooking, toast some pine nuts over medium heat in a skillet. To toast pine nuts, you do not need any oil or butter in the pan. Sprinkle enough to create one layer in the pan, and stir frequently until they have turned golden brown and are fragrant.
Once the courgette is finished, some will have charred slightly and the rest should look nice and soft. Carefully remove them from the foil, and place into a bowl.
Fresh mint, feta, and sumac are such a lovely combination. I chopped some mint from the garden and placed it in the bowl, then added the feta, and finally the toasted pine nuts. I sprinkled a bit more sumac over this mix, a tiny squidge of black pepper and salt, and voilà ! Toss it lightly in the bowl, so the courgette doesn’t fall apart completely, and serve.
There had to be one classic in all of this mix ! Patatas bravas are one of the most well known tapas dishes from Spain, and they are deceptively easy to make ! Some recipes call for deep frying the potatoes, but I found that baking them did the trick. This recipe originated in Madrid (or Barcelona depending on who you ask) – the city I spent one absolutely lovely summer in – and is the Spanish answer to English chips, Belgian frites, and the USA fry.
The sauce is made spicy in Spain to encourage people to drink more, and it is likely THE tapa dish you will see the most. For vegetarians and meat lovers alike, the dish is an easy favourite. This is my take on the bravas sauce, not quite as spicy and using fresh tomatoes instead of tinned.
The ingredients below make two healthy portions of bravas:
- 2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled, cut into small cubes
- olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped (use the leftover from the gazpacho, about 3/4 of an onion is ok)
- 2 garlic smashed cloves
- 1 large chopped tomato, core removed (should be ~200g worth)
- 1 tsp tomato puree
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- chili powder
Begin by laying the cubed potatoes on a baking dish and coating in olive oil, tossing with some salt. Place them into the oven, heated to 220ºC, for about 20 minutes. They will cook alongside the above things in the oven (pepper and courgette). I had two ovens going, the pepper and potato in one and the courgette in another. Once twenty minutes has passed, open the oven and toss the potatoes again so they get evenly crisp. They’ll go back in for another 10 or so minutes, until they are crispy outside but soft inside. You know your oven and cooking environment best, so use your best judgment.
While those are cooking, you can begin the sauce. First step is to heat some oil in a pan over medium high heat, then add the diced onion to cook until soft. Add the garlic and then the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, paprika, chili powder and sugar (a hearty pinch of each, more chili if you want a spicier sauce). Sprinkle a bit of salt over the top, and cook until the tomatoes have turned into a nice reduced and pulpy mess. This will need to cook for about 10 minutes. Add about a tablespoon or two of water to the mix. Stir it occasionally so that it doesn’t stick to the pan.
The typical bravas sauce is usually quite smooth, and run through a blender. I did not do that. I liked the chunky aspect of this sauce, but if you want traditional then chuck it into the blender and go for it.
Once the potatoes are done, put them into a serving bowl and tip the sauce on top of them. An aioli sauce is also usually served with the potatoes, but mayonnaise will do the trick. Or, enjoy them simply with the bravas sauce.
And there you have a Spanish tapas array. This makes the perfect amount for two people and easily adaptable to add more for a Spanish themed meal party. I highly recommend serving some pan con tomate or fresh olives alongside the above as well as a nice fresh cold Spanish cerveza. Have you ever had tapas before? What are your go to favourites? Paella, padron peppers, croquetas, and manchego cheese with honey or quince jelly are the absolute winning classics for me.
It doesn’t seem like any of us will be going to Spain in the near future. I am okay with that for the sake of general public health. Give these a try in the meantime, and open a window to feel the summer air.
I've also updated the "Kitchen" playlist. I've also also just finished a lovely book called "Kitchen" by Banana Yoshimoto. Listen to/read those to keep yourself busy if all else fails !
Keep well, and let me know how this goes if you do decide to give it a try!