I am simultaneously indecisive and adventurous when it comes to ordering food, so it’s no surprise that I love tapas-style eating: the opportunity to try a whole bunch of plates without seeming like a total pig. And ever since a brief stint living in Seville several years ago, I’ve been hooked on Spanish flavors (pimentón, saffron, chorizo, jamón) and the sentiment of togetherness reflected in the way the Spanish eat. What better way to make friends than by lounging around, sharing food and wine?
Since tapeando (eating tapas) is such a social dining experience, it makes a particularly fun dinner party theme. Spanish food is a domain in which ham is literally not recognized as a meat. Yet even with that hurdle to jump, a lot of less-meat (even vegetarian) dishes are also key to the cuisine. Spanish menus are actually loaded with beans, breads, and vegetables, too. I thought I’d take on the challenge of offering a Spanish dinner party menu without using any pork. There is certainly room in each of these recipes to add a little chorizo or jamón but each of these recipes is delicious without them.
Espinacas con Garbanzos (Spinach and Chickpeas)
I fell in love with this dish really early on in my time in Spain. After a week or so of eating deep-fried croquetas, I was delighted to see something so healthy on menus. The flavors are complex and vibrant, thanks to pimentón, sherry vinegar, and tons of garlic, and you’ll entirely forget that you’re eating greens and beans. With the bread and chickpeas, the dish becomes a hearty casserole of sorts, and you won’t miss meat at all. For an indulgent addition, serve the spinach and chickpeas with slices of fried bread.
Similar to a frittata, Tortilla Española is one of the mainstays of Spanish cooking. Everyone has his or her own recipe, and beyond the eggs and potatoes, any variation is fair game. As long as you respect the egg to filling ratio, anything goes. Peppers, artichoke hearts, and chorizo would all work nicely. As far as seasoning, you can sprinkle some pimentón on top, or chopped rosemary leaves, as I did. You can eat it hot, at room temperature, or even stick it in the fridge and serve cold. That versatility makes it particularly convenient for dinner parties. Plus, I can assure from experience that with good fresh bread, it is the best late night (and recovery) food out there.
Don’t be turned off by the amount of oil this recipe calls for. Olive oil is the healthiest type of fat around. The Spanish basically drink it, and there’s nary an overweight person in Spain. Do not fear the olive oil. If anything, fear the flip. The trickiest part of this recipe is flipping the tortilla once it’s mostly cooked through. The oil in the pan helps tremendously with this process, but the recipe suggests using a plate for assistance, and this is good advice. I’ve made a bunch of tortillas in my day and this part takes practice. My first successful flip was cause for dancing around the kitchen.
Pimentón makes an encore in this recipe for Spanish style shrimp. I won’t wax on too long about this glorious spice, but it really is a transformative seasoning: smoky, hot, and sweet all rolled into one. This recipe is incredibly simple but has a very high return on investment, proving that simple things done right can be just as delicious as the most intricate of recipes.
Looking for more to add to your Spanish dinner table? A plate of marinated olives, a dish of Marcona almonds, or sliced chorizo are all easy snacks to serve. And extra bread with good-quality olive oil is a must. Manchego cheese served with membrillo (quince paste) makes an easy dessert, too. And if you don’t want to cook everything yourself, it’s easy to pass a dish or two onto your guests to make. After all, tapas-style eating is all about coming together with friends to share a meal.
My final suggestion is to invest in a porrón. As much as the Spanish love sharing food, they may love sharing drinks even more. The porrón is a glass jug, invented in Spain, which gets passed around within a group. It has a very thin spout from which you can pour the contents of the porrón (generally wine) into your mouth without actually touching it. Fun, delicious, AND hygienic: does it get any better?
Espinacas con Garbanzos
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1/2 pound dried chickpeas, cooked until soft and tender; or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound spinach, washed
A hefty 1-inch slice of bread from a country loaf (or about 2 slices from sandwich loaf bread) cut into small cubes
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pimentón (smoked paprika), plus more for garnish
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup tomato sauce, canned or fresh
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil (3 tablespoons). Once the oil is hot, add the spinach with a pinch of salt (in batches, if necessary) and stir well. Remove when the leaves are just tender, drain in a colander and set aside. Keep the saucepan out as you’ll add back to it later.
2. In a separate small skillet, heat 2 more tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Fry the cubes of bread for about 5 minutes or until golden brown all over. Then add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the garlic, cumin, pimentón, and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook for 1 minute more or until the garlic is nutty brown.
3. Transfer the fried bread mixture to a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle. Add the vinegar and process to a thick paste.
4. Return the mixture to the original saucepan, set the heat to medium-low, and add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce. Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot. Then add the spinach and cook until it is hot, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with pimentón for garnish.
Recipe adapted from Anya von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
4 ounces oyster, Shiitake, or crimini mushrooms trimmed, wiped clean with a damp paper towel, and finely chopped
2 medium-size onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 medium-size (about 1 pound) boiled Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered and thinly sliced
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
5 large eggs
2 tablespoons chicken stock or water
3/4 teaspoons white or black truffle oil
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they are lightly browned and have released and reabsorbed their liquid, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a medium mixing bowl.
2. Wipe out the skillet and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. When the onions are done, add another 3 tablespoons of the oil to the skillet, then add the potatoes. Cook over low heat, stirring very gently, until the ingredients are mixed and the potatoes are infused with the oil, 2 to 3 minutes, adding more oil if the potatoes look dry. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the reserved mushrooms and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let cool completely. (The potato mixture can be prepared up to this stage a few hours in advance)
3. Place the eggs, chicken stock or water, and a few pinches of salt in a large mixing bowl and beat until the eggs are just scrambled. Add the potato mixture and the truffle oil and mix until well combined. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
4. Heat about 5 teaspoons olive oil in a heavy 8-inch skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat until it is just beginning to smoke. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and flatten it with a spatula until the top is fairly even. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, moving and shaking the skillet, running a thin spatula around the edge and sliding it into the middle so that some of the egg runs under. Cook the tortilla in this fashion until the top is a little wet but not liquid, about 6 minutes. Run the spatula under the tortilla to make sure that no part of the bottom is stuck to the skillet. Top the skillet with a rimless plate slightly larger than the skillet and, using over mitts, quickly invert the tortilla onto the plate. If the skillet looks dry, add a little more olive oil. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the skillet, uncooked side down. Shake the skillet to straighten the tortilla and push the edges in with the spatula. Reduce the heat to very low and cook the tortilla until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Invert the tortilla again, as before, and cook on the first side for another minute.
5. Invert the tortilla onto a serving plate and pat the top with a paper towel to get rid of excess oil. Let cool a little, then cut the tortilla into wedges and serve warm at room temperature. Serves 6 as a tapa, 3 or 4 as a light main course.
Simple Spanish Shrimp
Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 big cloves garlic, cut into slivers
About 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, 20 to 30 per pound, peeled, rinsed, and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons pimentón or hot paprika
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
1. Warm the olive oil in a large, broad ovenproof skillet or heatproof baking pan over low heat. There should be enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Add the garlic and cook until it turns golden, a few minutes.
2. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, some salt and pepper, the cumin, and the paprika. Stir to blend and continue to cook, shaking the pan once or twice and turning the shrimp once or twice, until they are pink all over and the mixture is bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish and serve immediately.
Freya Bellin works in corporate training by day and is a food writer by night. She lives in New York City and is enthusiastic about local farmers’ markets, restaurants, and healthy living. She writes weekly for www.markbittman.com; her last piece for FP was Spicy Seasonal Squash Salad.