We have probably all heard of tapas and many of us would have eaten them on holiday or in a tapas bar in our home country. Your opinion of tapas will have been moulded by your experience and that might not have been a good one.
There are legends surrounding the birth of tapas. Many seem to involve Alfonso X (1221-1284) who was given the additional handle of “The Wise”, and I guess that name is well deserved if he truly was the inventor of this convivial form of epicurean enjoyment. It’s said that he fell ill and had to take small quantities of food with a little wine between meals. He decreed that snacks must be served with wine in taverns. His intention was to safeguard the health of the poor who could not afford a meal with their wine, and so would become blind drunk on a regular basis. Could this be the solution to binge drinking? Could our downfall have been avoided if we had devised something more substantial than pork scratchings with Vodka?
Whatever the historic roots of tapas, there is no doubt that they are here to stay, and have enjoyed increased popularity since the onset of the credit crunch. Many who are still able to eat out are looking to tapas bars as their eatery of choice. One can linger long over small plates of delicious morsels for less money than a conventional meal.
The author of Tapas – A World of Flavours, M Teresa Segura, was born in Cadiz, Spain and lived for some years in Tenerife. She is now London-based and cooks for her large family while working as a food journalist. Her book offers an insight into classic tapas, which have become standards all over the world, but also regional dishes that might not be quite so readily found outside Spain.
The beauty of a tapa is that it doesn’t always need to be cooked. An ideal tapas spread might include some salads, marinated fish and some hot dishes. Green olives are quite acceptable and a very common feature. This is entertaining without tears: it’s easy to present tapas for a small intimate gathering or for a crowd.
Tapas are dishes that will bring joy to the hearts of vegetarians and fish lovers. Mejillones Asados (Grilled Mussels) are a familiar dish around coastal regions of Spain. They are simple to prepare but always look spectacular. Camarones al Ajillo (Garlic Prawns) are another classic and are an ideal home tapas dish as they are quick to prepare and will fill your kitchen with a mouth-watering aroma.
Paella is what often springs to mind when thinking of Spanish food. This dish works well as a tapa with each person just taking a small portion to be eaten along with several other dishes. This book offers various alternatives to the regular mixed paella of meat and seafood, found in The Costas and outside Spain. Paella with Chicken, Courgettes and Rosemary, Vegetarian Paella, Chicken Paella with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Paella with Currants and Toasted Almonds (a real taste of Moorish Spain), and my favourite, Prawn Paella with Sherry.
Spanish diners will most often finish a meal with fresh fruit, but desserts are not entirely forgotten in Tapas – A World of Flavours. Malaga Raisin Ice Cream is a sophisticated but easily prepared confection of vanilla ice cream, sherry and dried fruit. Sweet Cheesecake with Mint is a light tart and more delicate that the New York-style cheesecake we have come to expect. Orange Flan has long been a favourite with the Spanish so it’s no surprise to see the recipe here. It’s tangy and flavourful and, in my opinion, a cut above the French Crème Caramel.
Tapas – A World of Flavours is a book full of lovely photography, marvellous authentic recipes and an enticing insight into the different culinary traditions of the regions of Spain. It’s a showcase for tapas but equally for Spanish cuisine in general, with the focus on fine ingredients simply prepared.
Tapas – A World of Flavours
Author: M Teresa Segura
Published by: Apple Press
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018