Pros: Fascinating information and delicious recipes!
Cons: More ingredient listings would be nice
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book (published 2009) courtesy of Chronicle Books.
When I lived in Boston over my college years I was introduced to the concept of tapas at a local tapas restaurant, and instantly fell in love with them. According to Wikipedia:
Tapas (IPA: [ˈtapˌas]) is the name of a wide variety of appetizers in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or warm (such as puntillitas, which are battered, fried baby squid).
In North America and the United Kingdom, tapas have evolved into an entire cuisine. In these countries, patrons of tapas restaurants can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal.
The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them. Also, in some countries it is customary for diners to stand and move about while eating tapas.
In Joyce Goldstein’s book, Tapas: Sensational Small Plates from Spain, she explains the origin of tapas as snacks meant to accompany wine, and the manner in which they evolved into el tapeo, or “essentially the Spanish version of the English pub crawl.” Instead of a formal dinner, people wander from bar to bar enjoying small plates of food along with their drinks.
I was definitely eager to try out making some of these dishes at home. The book starts off with interesting history regarding regional cuisine, various ingredients, and so on. It suggests which ingredients you might be more likely to find in American grocery stores these days, versus the ones you’ll have to go online to find.
The first, small chapter of recipes includes basic sauces: an alioli (garlic mayo), a pepper and nut sauce, a mixed-vegetable sauce, a green sauce, and a red sauce.
The next chapter explains the concept of “shop-and-serve” tapas: things you can throw together after a quick shopping trip for the right ingredients. Fried Marcona almonds or marinated olives would be a good example, or stuffed eggs. My one problem with the cookbook crops up here. I know the stuffed eggs don’t take many ingredients, but it’s still easier to make sure you get everything you need if those ingredients are listed out separately rather than woven into paragraphs of instruction. On the other hand, here you’ll also find a cookbook technique I like: often a single recipe will include a handful of variations. For instance, the piquillos rellenos (stuffed piquillo peppers) recipe offers five different delicious stuffings. In some ways this book contains far more ideas than you might think by its relatively slim profile: a page on “Sausages, Serrano Ham, and Cured Pork Loin” actually includes no less than 15 different ways to serve these ingredients, from thinly sliced dry chorizo served plain, to serrano ham cooked with mushrooms, garlic, and olive oil, and scrambled eggs, tucked into rolls for sandwiches.
There’s also an entire chapter for eggs, fritters, and savory pastries (yum!). There are several varieties of omelet, and ham and cheese croquettes that can easily be varied until you find your favorite combination of ingredients. There are shrimp fritters, empanadas and empanadillas with a variety of fillings, Majorcan flat bread with a couple of optional toppings.
The vegetables chapter includes the absolutely wonderful “fierce” potatoes (patatas bravas); this is one of the first fried potato recipes I’ve found that actually makes potatoes soft inside and crispy outside (perfect!). The sauce that goes with it is delightfully spicy, with a tart and surprising flavor. You’ll find chickpeas with spinach, garlicky fried mushrooms, Andalusian style asparagus, sausage-stuffed mushrooms, and more.
The seafood chapter is quite inventive and varied, from seafood cocktail to squid with peas, stuffed squid, white beans with clams, griddled tuna, fish in pine nut sauce, and quite a few more. I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but these recipes have plenty of flavor and style. A chapter on poultry and meat includes a surprisingly flavorful and juicy recipe for grilled chicken with honey and cumin—one of my favorites from this cookbook! (Actually, I think everything we made was a favorite.) There’s quail in grape leaves, quail with apples, chicken livers with sherry, meatballs with two sauces, lamb meatballs with mint, pork in almond sauce, and other equally inventive delicacies.
We’ve been looking for a good recipe for fried mushrooms and fried zucchini since we tasted some in Boston years ago, and we finally found one in this cookbook! I can’t tell you how delighted we were. We didn’t find the ingredients too difficult to find, although if you don’t live near some good stores you will need to go online. We also didn’t run into any mistakes in any of the recipes we tried or looked through.
If you enjoy sampling small plates of flavorful food, or think you’d like to experiment with the tastes of Spain, then I highly recommend Joyce Goldstein’s Tapas: Sensational Small Plates from Spain. It’s absolutely wonderful!