Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Sizzle: Guest Post from Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)

~ Tempting Tapas ~
Eighty degree weather is upon us! As we careen into the summer months, cooking a full meal on a hot, humid night might feel unimaginable. Eating it might feel pretty intimidating as well. If this sounds familiar, you might benefit from an evening meal of tapas, Spain's little plates. Tapas originated in the province of Andalusia, Spain's southern tip bordering the Mediterranean Sea, but are now enjoyed throughout the country. Spain's provinces are based on the country's old medieval kingdoms, and each section of the country reflects its geography and history. The cuisine of Mediterranean Spain mirrors the colorful, rich land that surrounds it with sensuous flavors and scents.

The word "tapa" literally means "lid," and refers to when, in medieval times, innkeepers would bring glasses of sherry to stagecoach drivers, covering the glass with a thin slice of meat or cheese to keep the bugs out. Also, this sustenance was said to keep the stagecoach drivers from getting drunk. This old way of eating and drinking has trickled down through the years and continues to be a huge part of Spanish culture.

Sevillian tapas expert Juan Carlos Alonso describes the practice of consuming tapas as "drinking, eating, chatting, strolling, greeting, seeing, being seen...," a way of dining that embodies the Spanish lifestyle. Ataberna, or tasca, is a small bar where customers stand while they drink and eat, while in cervecerias it is more traditional to sit down. People flit from taberna to taberna with their friends and family to taste all sorts of different dishes. Tapas are served in small portions, so a couple will serve as the perfect appetizer; if you had a few more, you can make it a whole meal. Whether served on a thick slice of fresh bread, a skewer, or a tiny plate, tapas are guaranteed to always be a flavorful bite full of pure and rich ingredients.

Some common components of tapas are veggies like potatoes, tomatoes, and asparagus, as well as savory olives and legumes of all varieties. Manchego, goat, and Parmesan cheeses often complement toasted white and multigrain breads. Sausage and prosciutto make tapas worthwhile for meat lovers, and in towns especially close to the Mediterranean, fresh seafood like scallops and shrimp are grilled to perfection.

Today we're bringing you just three of the many options for summer night tapas. First, fresh and easy tomatoes and cucumbers stuffed with tuna will cool you right down. Second, grilled shrimp with pepper confetti skewers from Anya von Bremzen's book The New Spanish Table are a great source of protein. Finally, the most common tapa is probably Tortilla Españolaand there are many versions out there, but Oldways friend and caterer/cooking teacher Gabriela Llamas makes it quickly and simply.

Click on a photo or recipe title below to link to the full recipe.  

Because tapas originated in Spain, seafood historically plays a starring role in them. The best part is, fish and shellfish boost the taste and nutrients in small dishes. Try this easy recipe with tuna, yogurt, green onions, mint, cumin, cherry tomatoes and cucumber.

Recipe, content and photo courtesy of National Fisheries Institute

These shrimp brochettes are the specialty at Goiz Argi, a perpetually-packed bar in San Sebastián's cobblestoned Parte Vieja. Like any proper pintxo (Basque tapa), the brochettes are served on pieces of bread but you can skip the bread if you prefer.

Recipe courtesy of Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table; Photo: Fotolia.com

Tortilla Española or Spanish Potato Omelette is one of the most popular dishes in Spain. There are many variations of the dish, but the most common version features potatoes and onions.  It is perfect for lunch, and is a staple of tapas bars throughout Spain.

Recipe adapted from Gabriela Llamas; Content courtesy of Oldways; Photo: Fotolia.com

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: