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.

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.


  1. Hey, Janet! Guess what I'm getting for Christmas? Can't wait to make some super tapas. I'm so glad to have found Santana books, also! Thank you!

    1. Christine: Hope you enjoy the books and some great tapas.

  2. Wow amazing and yummy dishes you have shared here in your blog. I will also order Fried quail egg on toasts and Shellfish cocktail for my holiday party with friends. I am sure they are going to like the menu and drinks. Have you more idea for a unique menu items?

    1. Benilhalk: Hope your guests enjoy the tapa dishes. You'll find lots more menu ideas on my weekly blog posts.