If you’ve ever visited Spain, whether you’re in Granada, Andalucia, or the capital city Seville, one thing will certainly leave an impression are delicious, spicy tapas served with chilled sangria.
Spaniards care deeply about food and are proud of their cultural heritage, an example being the especially spicy tapas of Andalucia which reflect the Arabic influence of this region’s cuisine.
In fact, traditional Spanish cuisine is largely based on a Mediterranean diet, long considered one of the healthiest in the world. Spain is also an important producer of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and olive oil, which it exports to most of the world. Of particular importance are the legendary Spanish cured hams; the most prominent of which are from Serrano and Iberico. Delicacies aside, Spanish cooking is still essentially family cooking, prepared simply using fresh produce and high-quality ingredients.
For a little historical background, the word “tapa” means lid or to cover something. The word came from the practice of placing a small plate on top of your wine glass to keep fruit flies out. This custom originated in Seville, where bartenders would serve drinks with the small plate on top, adding pieces of cheese, bread, thinly sliced Spanish ham, and a few olives to accompany the drink. Today, the word Tapas refers to small, shareable plates of various dishes, which are often salty and deep fried, or small pan-seared bites drizzled with delicate, grassy Spanish olive oil. Others feature a variety of fresh, roasted or sauteed vegetables or light, chilled ceviche.
Most Tapas bars distinguish themselves by their secret recipe house sangria and a wide range of mouth-watering tapas. The traditional way to enjoy tapas is standing at the bar with a group of friends, who share the dishes, washing them down with wine, beer, and of course, Sangria. In the early years of the tradition, tapas were served free with a drink, and to this day some bars and restaurants in Grenada continue to do so. Occasionally tapas are referred to as pinchos, which were originally served with wine or sherry, though this is becoming less and less common. At the end of your meal, the waiter or waitress simply adds up the number of toothpicks on your plate to calculate your share of the bill, as it is customary to move from bar to bar, sampling the various specialty house tapas offered at each restaurant.
Sangria is a vibrant, deep-purple, sweet wine made from Tempranillo grapes, blended with fruit extracts, and is customarily served chilled with slices of fresh fruit which is often soaked in Sangria, mingling the fruit flavors. Recently, I had the pleasure of trying Beso Del Sol, the first boxed sangria. The phase “Beso Del Sol” means kissed by the sun, which very poetically describes this high quality, 100% natural sangria produced in Spain. It is made from premium quality, medium-bodied Spanish Tempranillo wine which is flavored with a carefully blended selection of Mediterranean fruit extracts, creating a vibrant, light and fruity sangria that I found moderately sweet and very refreshing. Tempranillo wine itself features cherry and strawberry aromas, which shine through the other fruit flavors, and the sweetness is balanced with tannin’s you can feel in your cheeks.
While there are many recipes out there for summer sangria’s, this one is already expertly mixed and available at a growing selection of wine retailers and grocers specializing in European foods. All that’s left to do is chill it and enjoy. While this sangria really needs no garnish, I added some sliced fresh fruits, which steep in the sangria, turning into a delightful fruit salad waiting at the bottom of your glass. The eco-friendly 100% recycled cardboard packaging contains four 750ml bottles (3 liters) of wine and retails for $20. I purchased mine at Caputo’s. The wine inside will stay fresh for up to six weeks after opening, but it never seems to last longer than a few days!
Of course, you can’t enjoy sangria without tapas, so I thought, what a better way to introduce Beso Del Sol than with a few of my favorite Spanish tapas!
On my menu are albóndigas (Spanish meatballs) in a spicy tomato sauce, Langoustines pil-pil (baby lobsters prepared similarly to gambas (shrimp) pil-pil), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) with a spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli, Serrano ham wrapped dates, piquillo (sweet spanish) peppers stuffed with scallion-laced cream cheese, and a mixture of marinated olives.
Albóndigas (Spanish meatballs) with spicy tomato sauce
makes 16 meatballs
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons of herbs de Provence
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar also works perfectly)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
freshly chopped parsley for garnish.
Mix both ground pork and beef together in a bowl. Add all spices and blend thoroughly. Gently scramble the egg in a separate bowl and pour into the meat mixture and stir. Add the chopped garlic, bread crumbs, and sherry vinegar and mix. Roll into 16 golf ball size meatballs.
Preheat a frying pan on medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil, and place half of the meatballs in the pan, turning frequently to brown evenly on all sides. When the meatballs are cooked through, decide whether to simmer them in the spicy tomato sauce or serve them with it spooned over the tops, then garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Salsa de Tomate Picante (spicy tomato sauce)
1 onion finely diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can of petite diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons sherry or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Heat one tablespoon of olive in a sauce pan and add the finely diced onion and chopped garlic and saute for six minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the paprika, cayenne pepper to the onion/garlic mixture and stir. Add the canned tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and salt, mixing well. After two minutes, add the chili pepper flakes and simmer for 20 minutes on low heat with the lid on. *Use this sauce for both the meatball and potato dishes.
Patatas Bravas (Spanish potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and aioli)
For the potatoes
5 gold potatoes, medium-diced
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the aioli
1 cup mayo (I used olive oil mayo)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 400F
Slice the potatoes thickly, about 1/2 inch. Alternatively, cut them into 1 inch cubes. Place the potatoes in a bowl and add the olive oil and smoked paprika then stir. Arrange the potatoes on a baking tray in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt. Bake in oven for 25 minutes until golden and crisp, then turn the potatoes over and bake for another 15 minutes.
In the meantime, mix 1 cup of mayo with the finely chopped garlic and add the teaspoon of lemon juice. Mix well. Place the potatoes in a dish and spoon over the spicy tomatoes sauce and drizzle the the aioli over the top of both. Serve immediately.
Langoustines with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes
3 langoustines per person
4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
red pepper flakes
Preheat a small skillet on medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Heat until you see a few small bubbles. Add the langoustines. Cook until you see the tails just start to curve (about 3 mins). Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Be sure to not burn the garlic!
After the langoustines are cooked, place them on a platter and drizzle a little of the olive oil, garlic, chili pepper mixture over the top and serve immediately.
2 cups various olives in oil or brine, drained well
1 tablspoon good olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
Combine the olives, garlic, and olive oil and sprinkle with parsley, chill before serving.
Pequillo peppers stuffed with cream cheese
4-5 peppers per person
pequillo peppers; fresh or from jar, both work perfectly (I used mini pequillo peppers)
3 tablespoons cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 scallion, finely chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice
Mix cheese, scallion, chili flakes and a squeeze of lemon. Stuff one teaspoon of cheese mixture in each pepper.
Serrano ham wrapped dates
4-5 per person
5 dates (pitted)
2 slices of serrano ham
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap each date with about 1/3 of a slice of Serrano ham
Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until ham is starting to get crispy.
wow, let me just wow!!! and the photos, WOW!!! you really love food and are an artist! i really want to go to span one day, what do you think, what Chicago restaurants really resemble Spanish Mediterranean cuisine?
Hi Alla! I’m happy you enjoyed my tapas piece. My favorite Spanish/Mediterranean restaurants here in Chicago are Mercat a la Planxa, Emilios Tapas, Tapas Valencia and Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! The cuisine at all of these places are very close to what you would find in Spain. All a must try!