Terrific Tapas Appetizers



by Bob and Coleen Simmons

Tapas are small, flavorful dishes that are a very important part of Spain’s social and cultural lifestyle. The Spanish love to talk, eat and drink, and tapas bars and restaurants provide a convenient place to do all three.

The tapas tradition, which has been developed and refined over the last hundred years, started with innkeepers providing a small nibble to accompany a glass of wine. The food was often full-flavored and salty. Foods like almonds, olives, a piece of cheese or a thin slice of ham were served. These morsels were probably intended to stimulate the desire for another glass of wine. Tapas in Spanish means cover, and the nibble was often served on a small plate, which was carried to the customer balanced on top of a wineglass.

Today, tapas are very popular and are served all over Spain. Many tapas bars acquire a reputation and following for their own unique specialties. An evening of fun may include a stop at several different places for a small plate or two, and another glass of wine before going on to dinner. Tapas bars are as varied as their clientele. Some bars are very small with no seating, and offer a limited tapas selection like a tortilla and a house special or two. Some of the more elaborate tapas establishments are found in Seville and Madrid where a restaurant or bar may have as many as 40 different tapas selections. The traditional beverage served with tapas is dry sherry, but young fruity red or white wines, beer, sangria or even cocktails complement a broad range of tapas dishes.

Tapas customs have spread around the globe, and you can find tapas bars and restaurants in most U.S. cities. Tapas originally filled the long gaps between mealtimes in Spain; today, an assortment of tapas dishes can provide a delicious alternative to dinner.


Rainbow Peppers

A combination of red, yellow, orange or green bell peppers make attractive and easy tapas. Keep some of these on hand in your refrigerator. Serve in a shallow bowl or with a soft cheese on toasted bread. Also try a few strips on a sandwich or in a salad.

1 large red bell pepper

1 large yellow bell pepper

1 large orange or green bell pepper

2 tbs. olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/3 cup water

2 tbs. sherry wine vinegar

Cut peppers in half, remove stem and ribs and cut into 1/2-inch strips. If peppers are quite long, cut the strips in half. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pepper strips and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic slices and toss to coat with oil. Pour in water and vinegar. Reduce heat to low, and simmer covered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until peppers are soft. Uncover and cook over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until liquid has reduced to a syrup. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Oven-Roasted Baby Potatoes with Garlic

These very low- fat, vegetarian tapas can be served hot or warm. Have guests squeeze a roasted garlic clove onto their potatoes.

1 tbs. full-flavored olive oil

1 lb. small creamer potatoes, about 1 1/2-inch diameter

2 heads garlic, divided into cloves and unpeeled

1 tsp. coarse salt

freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a shallow baking pan with foil and add olive oil. Wash and dry potatoes, and roll in olive oil to coat. Add garlic cloves and toss to coat with oil. Sprinkle potatoes and garlic with salt and pepper, rolling to coat all sides. Bake until potatoes are tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove garlic cloves when brown and soft, about 20 to 25 minutes. Shake pan occasionally while roasting. Arrange on a serving plate with garlic cloves. Serve immediately. Makes about 10 potatoes.


Smoked Trout in Endive Leaves

Endive leaves filled with a horseradish-flavored cream and topped with pieces of smoked trout make elegant, light tapas. If they are available, use both red and white endive. Smoked salmon can be substituted for the trout.

1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraiche

1 tsp. prepared horseradish

salt and a generous grind white pepper

5 oz. smoked trout

20 to 24 red or white Belgian endive leaves, about 2 heads

1 tbs. chopped fresh parsley or small watercress leaves for garnish

Combine sour cream, horseradish, salt and pepper. Remove any skin and bones from the trout, and cut or break into 1-inch-long x 1/2-inch-wide pieces to fit into the endive leaves. Cut off bottom end of endive head and separate the leaves. Spoon a little horseradish cream into the larger end of the endive, top with a piece of trout and put a little more cream on top of the trout. Repeat with remaining endive leaves. Garnish with parsley or watercress. These can be done 1 hour ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. Makes 20 to 24 servings.


From Tapas Fantasticas by Bob and Coleen Simmons. Copyright © 1999 by Bristol Publishing Enterprises. Excerpted by arrangement with Bristol Publishing Enterprises. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-346-4889 or click here.