Bite-size Spanish moments

Bart Beek | VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5

What started as a cover to keep insects out of a sherry glass has become a staple part of Spanish cuisine – tapas.

It’s such a joy to be out at a restaurant with family and friends, sharing an irresistible selection of small dishes. The Greeks and many Mediterranean regions have meze (pronounced meh-zeh), the Italians have antipasti, the Chinese have dim sum and the Spaniards have tapas. Meze and tapas complement the taste of a drink with food and are a communal, laid-back way of eating and entertaining that provide a delicious backdrop for social gatherings and lively conversation.

The array of small dishes served in southern Spain is called tapas and are traditionally served with sherry. The term ‘tapas’ comes from the Spanish word ‘tapa’, being the lid that kept insects out of the sherry glass – and which also served as a handy spot to place an accompanying snack. Travel to the north of Spain and into the Basque region and you’ll be served pintxos (pronounced peen-chos). Again, these food items are small, eaten in one or two bites while standing up at high tables, a counter or at the bar. The word pintxos comes from the Spanish word pinchar, which means ‘to skewer’.

In Spain, the tapas or pintxos specialties vary from region to region and each restaurant or bar takes the food choices they offer most seriously, trying to out-do each other with the best they can present.

Some tapas can be most basic, from a cube of Manchego cheese made only from the whole milk of the manchega sheep raised in the La Mancha region, or a humble bowl of local olives with wooden toothpicks on the side. Others can be quite elaborate, such as seared goat with piquillo pepper and saffron aioli, or charcoal-grilled octopus with olive oil and pimento.

In this issue, I grill chicken skewers on charcoal, basted with the Portuguese piri-piri sauce. It’s hot and full of life with the chillies, lemon juice and fresh coriander dancing on the taste buds. And while the coals are still hot, the lamb koftas are grilled in their own delicate smoke, accompanied with a cooling, simple cucumber salad.

The chorizo and beef pintxos need nothing more than a gentle lick of olive oil during the grilling, as the flavoured oil from the chorizo spreads its delicious flavour across the beef. It’s accompanied with a little chimichurri, an Argentinean sharp herb sauce often served with grilled meats.

The Spanish sherried mussels with garlic, chilli and parsley take just three minutes to cook and make the perfect tapas. They are cheap to buy, quick to cook, delicious and come on their own plate (their shell). And for vegetarians, there are three stunning dishes. A coca, which is a Catalonian flatbread similar to a pizza. This one is oval-shaped and topped with sherry-glazed figs and ashed goat’s cheese. The pipérade with beans and baked egg is a stunning little starter with its soft egg yolk glazing the top. And the grilled haloumi skewer with a watermelon salad is so refreshing on a warm summer’s night.

Whether the dishes are quite simple or complex, it’s the casual relaxed way in which they are served that makes them so special. So get some quality ingredients, cook up a storm, grab the glasses and share the moment with the people you love!

Kofta is a Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian dish made with finely ground meats, spices and herbs. Also known as kefta, kufta and qofte, there are hundreds of variations.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Serves: makes 12-plus

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

2 small shallots, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

250g lean lamb mince

250g veal and pork mince

½ tsp salt flakes

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 tsps smoked sweet paprika

2 tblsps ground cumin

1 tblsp ground coriander

1 tblsp fennel seeds

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 cup hummus

4 small pita breads, cut into wedges

Cucumber salad

2 continental cucumbers, half peeled and sliced thin

2 tblsps Spanish sherry vinegar

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

½ lemon, zest only

½ cup mint leaves, torn Salt flake sand freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Combine together the cucumber salad ingredients, season well and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a frypan and add in the diced shallots, crushed garlic and chilli flakes. Cook until softened but not browned, then set aside to cool.

Combine together the lamb, veal and pork mince, shallot mix and salt. Work in the pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and parsley.

Using your hands, form into 12 balls and divide each one into two. Roll on a wooden board to form even sausage shapes. Place two onto each skewer, keeping them slightly apart.

When the coals turn white, place the kofta skewers onto the barbecue above the hot charcoal, turning often until golden brown on all sides and fully cooked.

Present with some hummus, cucumber salad and pita bread.

This recipe is from the Basque region in northern Spain. We combine tender beef, red onions and chorizo to make pintxos (skewers) and serve it with an Argentinean sauce – chimichurri, which is often served with grilled meats.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 6 minutes

Serves: makes 12

Chimichurri sauce

1 small shallot

4 tblsps fresh oregano leaves

4 tblsps continental parsley

2 tblsps chives

6 tblsps sherry vinegar

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

1 pinch chilli flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients together in a food processor and set aside.

600g beef eye fillet, cut into 2cm cubes

2 chorizo sausages

1 red onion, cut into 2cm pieces

20ml extra virgin olive oil

1 cup mixed fresh herbs

½ cup roasted capsicum strips

Using a sharp knife, make a cut along the full length of the chorizo sausages and plunge them into boiling water for 20 seconds, remove and allow to cool for one minute.

Peel off and discard the skin and slice the chorizo into 1cm thick slices.

Place the beef cubes, onions and chorizo onto metal skewers, brush with a little of the olive oil and grill until cooked to your desired rareness.

Remove the beef and chorizo from the skewers (or leave on the skewers) and present on a serving platter lined with fresh herbs, some roast capsicum strips, tooth picks and a small bowl of the chimichurri sauce.

Mussels are the perfect tapas – they’re inexpensive, bite sized, they cook quickly and are perfect eaten hot or cold. They can be cooked in a lidded pan either on the stove or in a hot oven.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 3 minutes

Serves: produces 25 mouthfuls of tapas

400g fresh mussels

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small birds eye chilli, sliced

150ml dry sherry

½ cup continental parsley, coarsely chopped Salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Scrub and rinse the mussels well, pull away the beards. Discard any mussels that have cracked shells and those that do not close when handled or tapped.

Place a deep-sided pan onto the heat and add the olive oil. Before it gets too hot, add in the crushed garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add in the chopped chilli, dry sherry, salt, pepper and cleaned mussels. Shake the pan gently while it comes to a boil. Place the lid on the pan and cook for three minutes, or until the mussels open.

Shake well, add in the parsley and serve hot or cold with a little crusty bread and a glass of dry sherry.

This is a classic Portuguese sauce using chillies originally found in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. Piri-piri refers to the fiery red chillies which are commonly used in Portuguese cuisine.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves: makes 6 skewers

Piri-piri sauce

4 small red chillies, seeded and chopped finely

1 lemon, juice only

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ cup coriander, chopped

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp freshly milled black pepper

½ tsp salt

Combine all the above ingredients in a blender, cover and refrigerate.

500g chicken thigh fillets, skin and fat removed

½ cup coriander sprigs

1 lemon, cut into wedges

½ cup semi-dried cherry tomatoes

Cut the chicken into 2cm pieces and combine with three to four tablespoons of the piri-piri sauce, cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Place about six chicken pieces onto each of the six skewers neatly and set aside until required.

Cook above charcoal, turn and lightly baste until fully cooked but moist. Present with a little coriander, lemon wedges, semi-dried cherry tomatoes and a side dish of extra piri-piri sauce.

Pipérade (pronounced peep–ay–rod) is a mixture of sweet peppers, onions and fresh tomatoes stewed slowly with olive oil and sugo (Italian tomato sauce). It forms the flavour base for many classic Basque dishes and here it’s combined with white beans, smoked ham and a baked soft-yolk egg.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 18 minutes

Serves: multiple portions of various size

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small brown onion, sliced

1 red bell pepper, cleaned and cut into 1cm wide strips

1 yellow bell pepper, prepared as above

1 green bell pepper, prepared as above

3 garlic cloves, crushed

4 ripered tomatoes, quartered, seeds removed, diced

1 cup sugoor passata (cooked concentrated tomato) Salt and pepper, to taste

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup smoked ham, diced

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

6 small free-range eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup chopped parsley

To make the pipérade, place the olive oil in a heated saucepan and add in the garlic. Cook on low heat for 30 seconds, then combine in the sliced onions, sliced peppers, chopped fresh tomatoes and the sugo. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the peppers have softened. Season and put aside until required.

Combine together in a saucepan the pipérade, beans, diced ham and chilli flakes. Gently heat through and simmer for five minutes, then place into a large flat oven dish, or portion into six individual shallow oven-proof dishes.

Using the back of a spoon, make an indent into the centre of each dish and break an egg into them.

Bake them in a hot oven until the whites are set, but keep the yolk runny and soft. Sprinkle each with a little chopped parsley and a few salt flakes. Present accompanied with anchovies and a bowl of mixed olives.

A coca is a flatbread similar to pizza and is mostly made into long oval shapes. They originate from the Catalan region of Spain, which covers the east coast and includes Barcelona.

Makes 5 x 20cm cocas

The basic dough

15g instant dry yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 cups lukewarm water

4 cups bread flour, high gluten variety

⅓ tsp salt

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, combine together the yeast, sugar and warm water. Cover with cling film and place in a warm position until bubbles begin to appear. Combine in the olive oil, salt and all the flour gently, mixing well and adding more flour if required. Knead on a floured board for five minutes until smooth and elastic.

Place into a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. Remove from the bowl and knock down onto a floured board. Divide into 150g portions (200g for a larger coca) and knead to make a round ball. Roll out into your desired shape and place onto lightly oiled pizza trays.


200g tomato purée

1 cup mozzarella or cheddar cheese, grated

½ cup parsley and basil, torn

20ml extra virgin olive oil

120g ashed goat’s cheese

2 ripe figs

1 tblsp Spanish sherry vinegar

1 tblsp Pedro Ximénez sweet sherry

6 basil leaves, shredded (optional)

Wash the figs and cut away the stems, then cut into 5mm thick slices. Place onto a tray and brush with the vinegar and sweet sherry. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.

Spread the tomato purée evenly over the dough, leaving 1cm of the crust exposed. Sprinkle the parsley and basil on top and finish with a little grated cheese. Place into the pre-heated 185C oven.

After one minute, carefully lift the coca from the tray and place directly onto the oven stone. When fully cooked, remove to a cutting board or place directly onto a serving plate. Place the sliced goat’s cheese, figs and basil on top, brush the crust with the olive oil, cut into portions and serve.