Originally from Serbia, Ajvar, a roasted red pepper-eggplant spread, is nowadays consumed throughout various Balkan countries. The spread is typically made in the fall when there is an abundance of Roga, a red, horn-shaped pepper that has a thick flesh.
Escalivda, a Catalan concoction made out of roasted eggplant, peppers and onions, is dressed very simply with olive oil and sherry vinegar. The simplicity of this dish allows the flavors of the vegetables to shine and the splash of sherry vinegar brightens all the flavors. This recipe goes really well on bread and is also an excellent accompaniment to meats.
Fried eggplant with honey is a melody of contrasts. There is a sweet and savory flavor contrast… There is also a contrast of textures with the crispiness of the eggplant being juxtaposed by the ooziness of the honey. It is precisely these contrasts that make this tapa a marvelous addition to any entertaining menu.
Because it is made with bread, olive oil and garlic and served cold, Ajo Blanco falls into the gazpacho family of chilled Spanish soups. In addition, it contains almonds and is topped with green grapes making this refreshing soup distinctly different from it’s better known, tomato based gazpacho or salmorejo.
Whenever I have an impromptu dinner party, I invariably turn to this recipe of roasted asparagus for a side dish. Not only are asparagus an incredibly elegant vegetable, this recipe is very versatile... It goes well with fish, seafood, chicken or beef. In addition, the recipe does not require too much prep and the asparagus can be in the oven in no time!
The first time I had falafel was in college, where there was a strong Jewish population. At first, I was not crazy about this dish. It felt pasty and mealy. But throughout the years, I learn to appreciate it and discovered the two elements that separated the good falafel from the great falafel!
There is a beautiful neighborhood café called Les Philosophes right across from my old apartment in Paris. I started going there to meet friends for a drink or casual meal merely out of convenience. But it quickly became a favorite of mine because of their tomato tarte tatin.
Panzanella is a classic Tuscan bread and tomato salad, typically served with a vinaigrette made out of the tomatoes’ own juices. Traditionally it is made with stale bread, but I prefer the texture of fresh bread that has been lightly toasted.
Setas al Ajillo or garlic mushrooms are a wonderfully easy tapa that never fails to impress my guests. The garlic and the chili give the mushrooms a nice bite while the olive oil is reminiscent of all the amazing food Spain is well known for.
Cabrales cheese is an artisan blue-veined cheese from the mountainous area of Asturias, Spain where Picos of Europa are located. The cheese is initially cured for two weeks in cylindrical molds and then furthered aged for two to five months in natural limestone caves for which the area is known.
Salmorejo is similar to the better known gazpacho in that it is served chilled and has a lot of the same ingredients: tomatoes, bread, garlic and olive oil. What truly differentiates salmorejo is the fact that it contains a higher proportion of bread making it a much thicker, denser and creamier chilled soup.
Creamy, salty, naturally sweet and a little bit sour… This perfectly sums up this amazing and flavorful soup that can be prepared in almost the same amount of time that it takes you to offer and serve a drink to your guests!
I have spent a limited amount of time in the south of Spain but when I think of sunny Southern Spain, there are three ingredients that immediately come to mind… chickpeas, tomatoes and oranges and that is why I have combined them in this salad that is a great addition to any summer entertaining menu or as complement to a heavier dish. The juice of the orange combined with the sherry vinegar create a slight sweet and lightly acidic dressing which is quite refreshing.
Spinach with Chickpeas is essentially a hybrid between super food and comfort food. With highly nutritious ingredients such as spinach, chickpeas and tomatoes, there is no debating how healthy and good this is. Yet it is prepared in a stew form enriched with bread and almonds, making this an ideal dish for the cold weather. I particularly enjoy this as a side dish for grilled fish or meat or on top of toasted rustic bread as a tapa.
Membrillo or quince is a Mediterranean fruit recorded back to medieval times that looks like a hybrid between a pear and an apple. Due to its dry flesh and astringent tart flavor, it is invariably consumed cooked as a preserve - as in the case of membrillo, which is typically served with a variety of cheeses. I typically buy my membrillo at Spanish specialty stores or more upscale grocery stores. However, for my book launch party, where I was serving the quintessential manchego and membrillo pairing, I had a case of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”… except it involved quinces and not lemons!
Pan con Tomate y Jamón Serrano is a tapa where the saltiness of the ham is softened by the freshness of the tomatoes and the fruitiness of the olive oil. Typically the bread is rubbed with tomato and sometimes garlic and then drizzled with olive oil before topping with the Serrano ham. I prefer putting the tomatoes, olive oil and garlic in the food processor to create a paste that I can then brush on to the toasted bread. I find that this produces a much more flavorful tapa.
Baking olives with wine, olive oil and garlic and serving them warm really draws out their richness and aromas. My favorite type of olives for this recipe is manzanilla olives. However, I will sometimes prepare this recipe with a mixture of three types of olives, which invariably stimulates a conversation about the different olives among my guests. Once the olives are gone, I love dipping some rustic bread into the remaining olive oil mixture!
Spain has declared the third Thursday of June as World Tapas day as a way to honor the small plates that are so ingrained in Spanish culture. The beauty of tapas is that it allows you to leisurely taste a variety of dishes while chatting away with friends and savoring a beer or glass of wine. This year (2016) this celebration will fall on June 16th. Leading up to then, I will share some of my favorite tapas. Below I'm including a recipe for croquetas de bacalao or cod fish fritters. Traditionally, they are made with salt cod that has been desalted. But if you can't find salt cod, you can easily substitute with fresh cod.
In Morocco, the term “salad” does not equate to mixed greens tossed in a dressing as frequently seen in the United States or Europe. Instead, salads are little appetizer plates of spiced or sweetened, cooked or raw, vegetables served prior to the main course. They tend to be quite tantalizing and refreshing and often have contrasting flavors. One of my favorite Moroccan salads is Zalouk, a combination of eggplant and tomatoes spiced with cumin and paprika. It is cooked down to a pureé and enjoyed as a spread on a flatbread.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large eggplant (about 1.5-2 lbs.), peeled and chopped into ¼ inch cubes
3 garlic cloves, pressed
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant and sauté for about three minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another two minutes. Add the tomatoes and reduce the heat. Add the paprika, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the eggplant and tomatoes softened, use the back of a spoon or a potato masher to crush and blend them together. Remove from the heat and add the white wine vinegar and sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm or chilled.
Poke is a Hawaiian dish made out of fresh fish cut into small pieces and seasoned with soy sauce, ginger, green onion and sesame. Traditionally it is made with ahi tuna but I've also tried it with red snapper and swordfish and it is equally delicious. You can serve the seasoned fish over a salad, in lettuce cups or cucumber rounds. I’m partial to cucumber rounds as they add a crunch texture. Because the fish is consumed raw, it should be very fresh and of the highest quality. For me, this is the best dish when I'm looking for something light and fresh and full of flavor.
4 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, green and white parts
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
3 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sambal (or your favorite hot sauce), or to taste
1 pound sushi-grade Ahi tuna*, cut into ½-inch dice
½ English cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Combine the green onions, soy sauce, ginger, oils, garlic and sambal in a medium mixing bowl; stir to mix thoroughly.
Add the diced tuna and toss gently to thoroughly coat each piece. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Arrange the cucumber slices on a chilled serving platter. Spoon the tuna on top of the cucumber slices. Garnish each with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serve immediately.