May 30, 2018
by Ron Skaar
Eating small portions was established early on in culinary tradition. By the time of Confucius, Chinese cooks had perfected cost-saving food preparation habits along with the delectable, petite dim-sum. The Meze began being served in ancient Persia has a selection of small savory dishes served to accompany alcohol.
The birth of the Spanish tapas traverses a few old Iberian legends. First, Alfonso X, a 13th-century Castilian ruler, decided to take small portions of food along with wine to recover from a long illness. After a speedy recovery, Alfonso decreed that all taverns and inns should serve snacks along with alcohol.
Or, King Alfonso XIII stopped at a famous tavern in Cadiz and ordered a cup of wine. Cadiz is windy, so the astute waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham, to protect the wine from the blowing sand. Although the king knew this was a “tapadera”, a cover to protect wine from bugs and the dust, he ate it. Once he’d finished the king ordered another glass of wine “with the cover”.
Others insist the tapas origin lies with farmers and field workers who consumed small meals, accompanied by wine, throughout the tedious workday, to provide much-needed energy between meals. Or to prevent poor peasants, who could only afford to drink on an empty stomach.
While some believe that in the 16th century, tavern owners from the Castile area discovered that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of cheap wine. Drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses of sweet sherry, between sips, to keep fruit flies from hovering.
During these times there was a multitude of road accidents, mainly due to drunken coach drivers. Monarchs ordered that wine and beer were to be served in a jar with a lid, “tapa” in Spanish. This was accompanied by cold portable food. The drivers were instructed not to open the lid of the booze jar until all their food had been eaten first!
According to the Royal Spanish Academy, tapas are “a small portion of any food served to accompany a drink”. Those beverages are usually wine, beer and during hotter months, gazpacho. Tapas can be any type of food, from nuts, olives, egg dishes, assorted cheeses, cured and roasted meats to an Andalusian stew, so long as it is served on small plates.
The most important part about “tapeo”, the art of tapas, is the ability of people to socialize while they eat and drink. Roaming from place to place while sampling local tapas is the essence of “tapear”, a word which derives from where soldiers used to rest and eat, from one supply stop to the next.
One tapas bar may serve nothing but roasted chicken wings while another down the block is famous for their snails simmered in a chorizo and spicy paprika sauce. Around the corner one serves garlicky grilled mushrooms and batter-fried pimientos. Yet another may offer nothing but traditional grilled-garlic shrimp, which every guest must shell for them self.
Tapas are a perfect portable food for the summer, many dishes can be served at room tempor from the cooler. The Spanish omelette is traditionally layered with thin-sliced potatoes, but also incorporates mushroom, zucchini or shrimp fillings, cut into small squares and tooth picked.
I leave you with a few fun and easy tapas ideas to share with friends along with your favorite beverage, this summer.
Tidbits of marinated olives, vegetables, fish and the like served on skewers...
Spanish olive, marinated artichoke heart, mushroom, pimiento, asparagus, cornichon, hard boiled egg, pickled herring, chunk solid white tuna and cooked shrimp are some of the many options.
3 tablespoons finely minced parsley
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoon dill or cornichon pickle, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Place the parsley, garlic and pickle in blender and with motor running, add oil.
Form your favorite meatball recipe into small balls, no larger than 1 inch. After browning the meatballs off in oil, sprinkle in a teaspoon of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika and cook for a minute. Stir in 1 cup stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Add a pinch of saffron, minced parsley and serve.
Cut fresh tomato in half and rub the open face of tomato onto toasted rustic sourdough bread slices. Drizzle with olive oil. Place a slice of cheese on top and drizzle a little more olive oil, and serve.
PHOTO by Jon Russo
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