Saturday, December 13, 2014


Ready for a party! (Photo © Michelle Chaplow)
Let the festive season begin! Time for glittering parties and cozy fireside dinners with friends. Here’s how to plan all your party menus, around Spanish tapas. 

Tapas, almost by definition, are bar food. Nevertheless, many of them translate very nicely to home entertaining. A spread of salads and cold dishes is very nice for a buffet dinner. Trays of finger foods--bites on bread or speared on toothpicks, fritters and croquettes—can be passed as hors d’ouevres at a drinks party. Many tapas can become starters, side dishes or main dishes, making them adaptable to any dinner party or even Christmas dinner. You only need to add dessert to complete the menu plan.

My cookbook, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN, with photographs by Michelle Chaplow, has a whole chapter on how to plan a tapas party, including tips and complete menus for several kinds of parties, and all the recipes you need to execute the plan.

TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN is currently available at the special price of €5.00, directly from the publisher, Go to

A really simple party plan for a big party is to choose one tapa from each chapter of the  book—“La Tabla / Sausage, Ham and Cheese”; “Montaditos y Tostadas / Bites on Bread” (see recipe below for Ham and Eggs on Toasts); Pintxos / Bites on a Pick”; “Platos Fríos / Salads and Cold Dishes (see recipe below for Shellfish Cocktail); “La Tortilla y Más / Potato Tortilla and More Egg Dishes”; “A la Plancha / Foods on the Grill”; “Cazuelitas / Saucy Dishes” (see recipe below for Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Prawns); “Fritos / Out of the Frying Pan”; “Salsas y Aliños / Sauces, Dressings, Dips and Spreads,” and “Y Para Beber / What to Drink with Tapas”.

How many bites? For a drinks party (not dinner), figure on at least four different tapas to serve six to eight people. Each person will eat three or four of each one. Plan six to eight tapas for eight to 12 people. A guest will eat two or three of each. For big parties, more than 12 people, serve as many as 12 different tapas and expect each person to eat two or three.

Serving tips. Don´t put out all the tapas at once. Serve them two-by-two. Provide a clean ramekin, small dish or even paper plate for each tapa so that your guests don’t have to pile them on a plate together.

In Spain, you can buy inexpensive little cazuelitas, pottery dishes, for individual tapas, or use any ramekins, small bowls or, now that no one smokes anymore, recycled ceramic ashtrays for tapa dishes. If you don’t have enough individual small dishes to go around, plan tapas that can be picked up from a tray and don’t require dishes. Do provide napkins, as even finger foods and pintxos (bites on a pick) can be messy.

Here’s a sample menu taken from the Tapas book. All the recipes appear in the book.

Buffet dinner for a celebration.
This is perfect for a New Year’s Day open house or any grand celebration. You can adapt the menu to serve from 15 to 40. Choose a main dish to center the buffet, such as pre-cooked ham, turkey, roast pork or whole salmon, and add tapas to accompany it. Some can be passed as hors d’oeuvres. Most will be served as side dishes on the buffet table. Provide dinner plates, with knives and forks, as needed.

Cava cocktail                                 Lollipops of Quail in Escabeche
Sliced Serrano or Ibérico Ham   Shellfish Cocktail (recipe below)
Quince Paste with Cheese           Málaga Salad with Oranges and Olives
Partridge Pâté                                Cauliflower Salad
Fried Empanadillas with Tuna      Potato Casserole

Fry the tuna empanadillas before party time. Reheat them in the oven shortly before serving. The potato casserole, a wonderful side dish, can be prepared in advance and reheated in the oven before serving.

Shellfish cocktail. (Photo © Michelle Chaplow)

Salpicón de Mariscos
Shellfish Cocktail

This makes a lovely starter for a dinner party. Turn it into a luxury version by substituting chunks of cooked lobster for the prawns and mussels.

Makes 12 tapas or 6 starters.

½ kilo / 1 lb mussels, scrubbed and steamed open
250 g / ½ lb peeled prawns (shrimp)
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, yolks separated from whites
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Lettuce leaves, to garnish
Sliced avocado, to garnish

Remove mussels from shells, discarding any that have not opened. Save a few on the half-shell for garnish. Cook the peeled prawns in boiling salted water for 1 minute and drain.

In a bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper and chopped egg whites.

In a small bowl mash the egg yolks with the crushed garlic. Whisk in the oil, vinegar, parsley and salt.

Add the prawns and mussels to the tomato mixture. Stir in the dressing and chill, covered, until serving time. Serve on a platter garnished with lettuce, avocado and reserved mussels on the half-shell.

Fried quail egg on toasts. (Photo © Michelle Chaplow )
Ham and Eggs on Toasts

How did this tapa get the name cojonudo? Well, those teensy quail eggs are just so ballsy. To crack the small eggs, give them a sharp tap with the blade of a knife, then break onto a saucer. Slip the egg from the saucer into hot oil in the frying pan. Fry four or five at a time. They cook in jiffy, so have the toasts and ham waiting when you start the eggs.

Makes 10.
10 slices baguette, brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven
2 tablespoons olive oil
100 g / 3 ½ oz thinly sliced serrano ham
10 quail eggs
2 piquillo peppers (from a tin)
Coarse salt
Hot pimentón (paprika) or cayenne
Place the toasts on a serving dish. Brush a frying pan with a little oil and heat it. Lay the slices of ham in the pan, turn them quickly and remove. Divide the ham between the toasts.

Add remaining oil to the pan on medium heat. Break eggs, one at a time, into a saucer and slide them into the pan. Cook until whites are set but yolks still liquid, about 40 seconds. Lift the eggs out of the pan and place one on top of each toast.

Cut peppers into strips and lay one strip alongside each egg. Sprinkle with salt and pimentón. Serve immediately.

Stuffed piquillo peppers. (Photo © Michelle Chaplow )
Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos con Gambas
Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Prawns

Piquillo peppers are small, triangular-shaped red peppers. They are famous in Navarre, where they are roasted, skinned and tinned. Sweet and slightly piquant piquillos are lovely stuffed with seafood. The classic stuffing is bacalao, salt cod. In this version, which you might find in the taverns of San Sebastian, the filling is prawns in a creamy béchamel sauce.

The traditional way to prepare the peppers calls for an extra step—before baking with sauce, the peppers are coated in egg and quickly fried, giving them a sort of outer skin that holds peppers and stuffing together. 

Makes 6 tapas or 4 starters.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon dry Sherry
230 ml / 8 fl oz / 1 cup less 1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon salt
150 g / 5 ¼ oz uncooked, small, peeled prawns (shrimp)
2 (185-g / 6 ½ -oz) tins piquillo peppers (16 to 20 peppers), drained
4 tablespoons white wine
Flour for dredging peppers
1 egg, beaten
Olive oil to fry the peppers
50 g / 1 ¾ oz grated cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Sauté the onion and 1 clove of the garlic, 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in the Sherry, milk and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, 5 minutes. Stir in the prawns and cook 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Select 12 of the drained peppers. Carefully spread them open and spoon prawn filling into them. Place them in a single layer on a shallow pan or tray. When all are filled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow the mixture to thicken.

While the prawn mixture is chilling, prepare the sauce. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, 1 clove of garlic, white wine and remaining piquillo peppers in a blender and blend until smooth.

Preheat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF.

Place flour and beaten egg in two shallow bowls. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Dip the open end of the stuffed peppers into flour, then dredge the peppers in flour. Roll in beaten egg and fry until lightly golden. Remove the peppers from the frying pan and place them in a baking dish or individual cazuelitas. Spoon the sauce over the peppers and top with grated cheese.

Bake the peppers until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly, 15 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature.

Recipes and text © Janet Mendel
Photos © Michelle Chaplow


Tapas—A Bite of Spain shows you how to translate Spanish tapas from tasca to your own table. The book includes guides to Spanish ham, cheeses, olives, olive oil and wines; a handy Spanish-English glossary, and 140 recipes for favorite tapa dishes. Full-color photos are by Michelle Chaplow, professional hotel and travel photographer ( Design is by Cheryl Gatward.

Measurements for ingredients are given in three standards, metric, British and American, so the recipes are usable on any continent.

Get TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN for only €5.00 (plus shipping). Until December 24 you can order it from

Also on sale is COOKING IN SPAIN, €6.00 (plus shipping). Order it from

Shipping prices for the cookbooks
Spain €1.50 for one book
Europe €7.00 for one book
Rest of the world €14.00 for one book
If ordering more than one book, add €1.00 for each additional book.

Would you like a signed copy of COOKING IN SPAIN or TAPAS--A BITE OF SPAIN? On the Santana Books Checkout order form, leave your request for author's autograph in the box at the bottom for "Comments." If you want the book dedicated to a special person, tell me that person's name.

FOR SALE, PUBLISHING COMPANY IN SPAIN. Anybody want to buy a small publishing company in southern Spain? Santana Books, specialists in books about Spain in the English language, publisher of two of my cookbooks, will be closing up shop at the end of 2014, due to retirement of the director. Contact Alan Roberts .

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Diego Velázquez, An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618, Oil on canvas, 39 ½ x 47 inches
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
 Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery, at The Frick Collection in New York City, through February 1.

You don’t need a recipe to learn how to fry an egg—the painting by Velázquez tells it all. Start with very fresh campo ("country", eg, free-range) eggs. Heat olive oil in an earthenware cazuela (or small skillet). Use plenty of olive oil, to a depth of about 1 inch. Break an egg (or two) into the hot oil. Use a wooden spoon (or espumadera, skimmer) to ladle a little oil over the top of the egg.

Fry egg in cazuela
or in a skillet.

When whites are cooked, yolk still runny, skim the egg out. Immersed in oil, the egg cooks very quickly, so take it out before it looks done. It’s fine if the egg whites get a lacy brown edge—puntilla. The yolk should have a filmy white top, cooked by the hot oil spooned over it.

After removing the egg, you can add onion, garlic or peppers to the oil, if desired. Or, drain off the oil and fry some chorizo sausage to go with the egg.. Crush some dried sweet red pepper in a mortar—or just use a sprinkle of pimentón (paprika). Serve the fried egg with bread. Ya está. A comer. Not breakfast. Could be lunch. The perfect supper.

Fried egg, chorizo and fried peppers, a perfect supper.

Fried eggs also go with migas, fried breadcrumbs (migas recipe) and with pisto, a splendid dish of mixed vegetables (pisto recipe).

Migas, fried breadcrumbs, topped with fried egg.
Pisto--mixed vegetable stew--with fried egg.

Huevos Rotos
“Broken” Eggs (Fried Eggs and Potatoes)

Huevos rotos--fried eggs broken over fried potatoes--a classic tapa.
This simple combination of fried eggs and potatoes is a classic tapa, famous at Casa Lucio in Madrid. The potatoes can be sliced or cut in strips, as for fries. Fry the potatoes in abundant olive oil.
I measured out 1 cup of olive oil to fry the potatoes (in an 11-inch skillet). After frying the sliced potatoes, I put them in a strainer to drain off the oil (which can be used again). Then I measured the oil again. I had used less than 1/8 of a cup. So, the potatoes soak up very little oil.
Serves 2 (allowing 1 or 2 eggs per person) or 4 tapas.

3 medium potatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 cup olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham
2-4 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise about ¼-inch thick. Pat the potatoes dry. Lightly crush the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, but do not peel them (skins keep them from burning).

Heat all of the oil in a medium skillet. Add the potatoes and garlic to the oil. Turn them in the oil to coat them. When potatoes just begin to brown, turn down the heat, and turn them again. Cook on medium heat until the potatoes are tender, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. They do not need to brown or crisp.

Place a heat-proof strainer over a heat-proof bowl. Carefully pour the contents of the skillet into the strainer and allow all of the oil to drain off. Spread the potatoes on a serving dish. Sprinkle them with salt. (Potatoes can be kept warm in a low oven.)

Once the oil is drained off, add the slices of ham to the hot skillet. Give them a quick turn (30 seconds total) and remove. Place the ham around the potatoes on the platter.

Pour enough of the oil into a small (8-inch) skillet to come to a depth of ½ inch. Heat until shimmering. Break 1 egg into a saucer or cup and carefully pour it into the hot oil. Use a spoon or edge of a skimmer to spoon oil over the top of the egg. Use the skimmer to remove the egg when the white is set but yolk still runny. Place the fried egg on top of the potatoes.

Continue frying eggs, one by one, and place them on the potatoes. Use two spoons to break open the yolks, letting them run onto the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

Fried eggs, ham and potatoes.
Fried egg with pisto--a melange of eggplant, zucchini and pumpkin.



For holiday gifts or for yourself. Special low prices on two of my cookbooks.

Go to 

Santana Books, my publisher in Spain (specialists in books about Spain in the English language) is having a clearance sale on books in stock.  You can order books direct from the publisher on the  Santana Books web site. Shipping is available worldwide (see below for costs).

COOKING IN SPAIN, by Janet Mendel (2006). €6.00 (+ shipping)

TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN, by Janet Mendel (2008).  €5.00 (+ shipping).

Shipping prices for the cookbooks:
Spain €1.50 for one book
Europe €7.00 for one book
Rest of the world €14.00 for one book
If ordering more than one book, add €1.00 for each additional book.

Would you like a signed copy of COOKING IN SPAIN or TAPAS--A BITE OF SPAIN? On the Santana Books Checkout order form, leave your request for author's autograph in the box at the bottom for "Comments." If you want the book dedicated to a special person, tell me that person's name.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Chicken chilindrón, with a heap of sweet red peppers.

Very large red peppers.
I’m still harvesting from the summer garden! We had a bumper-crop of pumpkins (Thanksgiving pies) and the green beans are still producing. At long last, my bell peppers are ripening. These are big red, thick-fleshed, sweet peppers, bigger than market-size bell peppers. They’re perfect for stuffing or for roasting and skinning.

In Spain, the regions of the Ebro river valley—La Rioja, Navarra and Aragón (inland north-central Spain)—are famous for sweet peppers. Here the best-known dish made with peppers is chilindrón, peppers stewed with chicken or lamb. I made chicken in chilindrón to celebrate my harvest-season peppers.

 Pollo al Chilindrón
Chicken with Sweet Red Peppers

Chicken stewed with red and green peppers, tomatoes, onion and wine.

Use a whole, cut-up chicken or all legs and thighs for this recipe. You will need 3 or 4 roasted bell peppers. Roast your own or substitute store-bought flame-roasted peppers. Patatas fritas—potatoes fried in olive oil—are the usual accompaniment. But rice or wide noodles would be great to soak up the sauce.

Serves 4-6.

3-4 red bell peppers
2 ½ pounds chicken pieces
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 green pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ounces serrano ham, cut in thin strips (optional)
½ teaspoon sweet pimentón (paprika)
Red chile flakes (optional)
4 tomatoes, grated (about 2 cups tomato pulp)
1/3 cup white wine

Roast peppers over gas flame.

Roast the peppers on a grill over hot coals, over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning them until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover and allow them to cool. Discard stems and seeds and rub off the charred skin. Cut or tear the peeled peppers into strips.

Rub off the charred skin.

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and allow to come to room temperature. Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Remove them as they are browned.

Add the cut-up green pepper, onions, garlic and ham, if using, to the pan and sauté until onion begins to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the pimentón and chile flakes, if using. Add the grated tomato pulp and cook on high for 3 minutes. Stir in the wine, ½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Return the chicken pieces to the pan. Cover and let the chicken simmer 30 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces, add the reserved red pepper strips and uncover the pan. Cook until chicken is tender, another 20 minutes.

Chicken chilindrón, a dish famous in Aragón.

The sauce of sweet peppers is good with potatoes, rice or noodles.
Sweet bell peppers, roasted, peeled and cut in strips. Add olive oil, a splash of vinegar and heap them on toasts. Top with strips of anchovies for a delicious tapa.