Spanish Tapas

The word “tapa” is Spanish for pot cover but “tapas” also refers to small food appetisers Spanish bars serve with drinks. After work, the Spanish flock to bars for their tapas to tide them over until dinner, which is not until about 10pm. Baskets of different types of bread are served with the sauce-based tapas.

Tapas originated in the middle ages when inn keepers served up samples or small portions of the food they had on offer instead of menus (because innkeepers were often illiterate). A bar or a small local restaurant will have about eight to 12 different kinds of tapas on offer which are served with sliced bread. They are often very strongly flavored with garlic, chillies or paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron and often lots of olive oil. One or more of the choices are usually seafood such as sardines, octopus, prawns or others in tomato-based sauce with seasonings.

Here are some of my favourite tapas I can remember from my time in Marbella, on the Costa del Sol south of Malaga. When I lived there, it was only a small town but famous for its five-star celebrity resort Marbella Club and the nearby luxury marina Puerto Banus. The ride from Malaga was on a dual lane country road, passing through a charming country side dotted with small villages. Unfortunately, that road now is a multi-lane highway passing through kms and kms of one long urban sprawl.

– Eva Wiland

Albondigas in Salsa

Albondigas is a must on the tapas menu. The word albondiga comes from Arabic “al-búnduga”, meaning “hazelnut”, referring to the shape of the meatballs. Today’s albondigas are bigger, reflecting our improved living standards since the Middle Ages. There are as many albondiga recipes as there are chefs and the sauces also vary. Here is my take:

30g butter
4 eggs
¼ cup reduced fat cooking cream
2 tblsp Champagne or sparkling white (optional)
½ cup of snipped chives or herb of
​your choice: parsley, chervil, dill, basil
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sea salt to taste

Utensils: non-stick saucepan or microwave dish/CorningWare pot with cover; whisk; vegetable knife; spoon
Time: Under 10 minutes


  1. Add butter, eggs and cooking cream in saucepan on stove at high heat.
  2. When the butter is melted, turn heat to low and whisk until well blended.
  3. When the eggs start to thicken, add seasoning and turn off heat. At this time, add the Champagne, fold in herbs with a spoon and cover.
  4. Alternatively, put butter in microwave dish, cover and melt in on high in the microwave for 20 seconds or until melted. Break eggs into the bowl, whisk in cream and add the Champagne.
  5. Cover and cook in microwave on high for one minute.
  6. Remove from microwave, stir egg carefully, shifting the cooked parts at the edges into the middle. Return to microwave, stir and cook in increments of 30 seconds and then 10 seconds until cooked but still soft, and fold in herbs.
  7. The egg should finish up fluffy but still soft. Cover and stand for one minute, season and serve with buttered slices of toast or English muffins.
Chorizo in Cider

250g Chorizo
1 tblsp extra virgin oil
1 clove garlic
3 cups of apple cider
1 tblsp chopped parsley
2 tblsp salsa (optional, see above)

Utensils: Cutting board; chef’s knife; heavy-bottom skillet; wooden spoon.
Time: 20 minutes


  1. Cut chorizo in 5mm thick slices. Heat frypan on medium. Pour oil into skillet and heat to medium. Add chorizo slices and fry until they start to brown.
  2. Add cider and finely grate garlic into pan and cook for about 10-15 minutes until the cider has reduced by one-third.
  3. Place in earthware tapas bowls, sprinkle parsley on top and serve while still hot.
figs and goats cheese in serrano ham

This starter is very easy to make but sure to impress. The recipe was inspired by one of my favourite eateries – the former MuMu’s Grill in Crows Nest – where it was one of the signature dishes.

4 large ripe figs
100g fresh goat’s cheese
1 tblsp freshly grated lemon zest
pinch of cayenne
8 rashes Serrano ham

Utensils: baking sheet; cutting board; chef’s knife; fork; teaspoon.
Time: 15-20 minutes


  1. Slice figs in half lengthwise. In a small bowl, fork crème fraîche lightly though the goat’s cheese for a crumbly mixture.
  2. Top each fig half with a heaped teaspoon of goats cheese mixture; sprinkle lemon zest on top and dust with a little cayenne.
  3. Wrap each fig half in prosciutto and cook in oven at 200°C on a baking sheet lined with greased alufoil for about 10-15 minutes, until prosciutto is crisp and brown.
  4. Place a small handful of mesclun salad leaves (see Pages 50-51) on four entrée plates, top with two fig halves on each plate and serve.

Empanadas come from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap. It is pastries with meat or other fillings, most popular in Latin America but also known in Spain. Each country has their own special recipes. The recipe I am using is Chilean. Empanadas are served as snacks, starters and even breakfast and usually have a beef filling flavoured with spices.

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
2 tblsp olive oil
½ kg lean beef mince
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tblsp sweet paprika
1 tsp oregano
¼ cup beef stock
1½ tsp salt
2 tblsp flour
2 hardboiled eggs
24 pitted Spanish olives
For dough
½ cup milk
½ cup warm water
2 tsp salt
½ kg flour
2 egg yolks
85g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten to brush pastry

Utensils: cutting board; chef’s knife; frying pan; stirring spoon; fine grater; egg slicer; measuring jug; mixing bowl; fork. Time: 1 hour


  1. Cut onion roughly and fry in the oil on medium until soft. Grate in the garlic and cook for one more minute.
  2. Add mince, cumin, chili, paprika, oregano and salt, and break up with a fork. cook until crumbly and well browned. Cover and simmer on low for about 30 minutes.
  3. Add flour and cook for about two to three minutes. Pull pan aside and mix in raisins and let filling cool completely. Can be refrigerated for up to two days.
  4. Make dough: In a measuring jug, mix brine with milk, water and salt. Stir until salt is completely dissolved. In a large bowl combine flour and egg yolks and mix using a fork. Add butter and keep mixing with a fork for about 10 minutes until mixture resemble crumbs.
  5. Start adding the liquid gradually and then knead the dough until smooth and elastic. If dough is too dry, add a little bit more water and milk but no salt. Form into a long roll, wrap in cling wrap and leave in fridge overnight (keeps for up to two days and also freezes well).
  6. Preheat oven to 200°C. Divide dough roll into 12 portions, flatten with rolling pin and roll out portions to about the size of a salad plate (20cm).
  7. Fill each half with two tablespoons of beef and put 2-3 slices of hard-boiled egg on top, and one black olive at each end.
  8. Fold over to form a half moon. Make sure no air is trapped inside the empanadas before closing – they have a tendency to “explode”. Lightly brush the edges with milk, press edges firmly together. Brush with beaten egg and put in oven.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden, keeping a close eye. If they bubble up or swell, poke with a tooth pick to prevent them exploding. They reheat well.

Chicken filling:
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pod jellied concentrated chicken stock
1 bayleaf
¼ tblsp vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
½ red capsicum
1 tblsp sweet paprika
pinch cayenne
1 tsp cumin
1 ½ tsp caster sugar
Flaked sea salt to taste
125g can of corn kernels , drained
3 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
½ cup pitted green olives, sliced
1 egg beaten with a tblsp of water for brushing

Utensils: saucepan with lid; cutting board; chef’s knife; stirring spoon; fine grater; fork. Time: 1 hour


  1. Place the chicken in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the pod of jellied chicken concentrate and bay leaf. Cover with water and bring to boil.
  2. Bring liquid to boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat and let chicken breasts cool off in the broth.
  3. When chicken is cold, shred the meat well in a bowl and moisten with two tablespoons of the cooking broth. Set aside.
  4. Chop onion and capsicum finely. Heat frypan on medium and add oil. Add chopped onions, capsicum, paprika, cumin, cayenne, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir well, lower heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes while stirring occasionally until mixture is orange in colour. Taste for seasoning and add more cayenne or salt if needed.
  5. Remove mixture from the heat and stir in the chicken. Let the filling cool in the refrigerate overnight.
  6. Add the corn, chopped hard-boiled egg and olives to the mixture.
  7. Prepare empananda dough (see above).
  8. Fill empanadas with the chicken mixture and bake for about 20 minutes.

Vegetable filling:
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
½ red capsicum
1 sweet potato, grated
½ cup cooked lentils
1 tblsp smoked paprika
pinch cayenne
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 tblsp brown sugar
Flaked sea salt to taste

Utensils: frying pan; cutting board; chef’s knife; stirring spoon; fine grater; fork. Time: 1 hour


  1. Heat frypan on medium and add oil. Sautee onion until it turns golden – for about 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, lentils and seasonings.
  2. Cook until sweet potatoes fully cook cooke – about 15 minutes. add tomatoes, vinegar and sugar.
  3. Prepare empanada dough (see above).
  4. Fill each empanada and Fill empanadas with the chicken mixture and bake for about 20 minutes (see above).

Ensaladilla is very decorative salad for the table. It is a Spanish variation on the Olivier Salad or Russian Salad created by Lucien Olivier, the chef at Hermitage, one of Moscow’s top restaurants in the 1860s. He varied it depending on the season – it is known to have had grouse, veal tongue, caviar, lettuce, crayfish tails, capers and smoked duck. In Norway, Russian Salad is a popular sandwich filling of julienne cabbage, ham and dill pickled gherkins mixed with sour cream and mayonnaise. In Spain it is served as a “tapa” (see Pages 45-49). Ensaladilla can be served as a small dish, side dish or add canned tuna or diced chicken for a meal on its own.

5 medium sized potatoes, peeled
1 carrot
½ cup sweet corn
½ cup baby peas
2 hardboiled eggs
¼ cup sliced Kalamata olives
1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
1 bunch asparagus spears
1 can tuna or a cup of cooked, diced chicken (optional)
1 tsp flaky sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 can tuna or a cup of cooked, diced chicken (optional)
1 cup mayonnaise

Utensils: 1L bowl acting as mould; plastic wrap; steamer; fork; cutting board; chef’s knife; paring knife; egg mandolin slicer; plastic bag; 2L mixing bowl; stirring spoon; spatula. Time: Preparation – 40 minutes; cooking – 20 minutes.


  1. Line a 1L bowl with plastic wrap. Steam potatoes and carrot until easily pierced with a fork but still firm. Rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle and dice in small cubes and add to bowl.
  2. Drain sweet corn kernels and add to bowl with sliced olives. Slice eggs with mandolin slicer, reserving the middle slices for decoration and chop the rest. Defrost baby peas and add with the egg to mixing bowl.
  3. Place capsicums on a baking tray lined with alufoil in a hot 230°C oven. When they start to blister and the skin turns black, remove and place in a plastic bag to cool. When cold, slice each capsicum, reserving two of each for decoration. Dice the rest and add to bowl.
  4. Trim and rinse asparagus and cook covered in the microwave for one minute. Set aside to cool. Dice half and keep four for decoration. If adding tuna or chicken, do so now. Season and stir in parsley and mayonnaise until mixture holds together.
  5. Spoon ensaladilla into 1L bowl and press down with a spoon. Cover and leave in fridge until needed – up to two days.
  6. Invert the bowl on a serving plate and unmould salad. Smooth with a spatula, adding more mayonnaise if needed. Decorate with alternate strips of red and green capsicum and asparagus and garnish with egg slices and olive halves.

5 medium sized potatoes, peeled
1 carrot
½ cup sweet corn
½ cup baby peas
2 hardboiled eggs
¼ cup sliced Kalamata olives
1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
1 bunch asparagus spears
1 can tuna or a cup of cooked, diced chicken (optional)
1 tsp flaky sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 can tuna or a cup of cooked, diced chicken (optional)
1 cup mayonnaise


  1. Heat frypan on medium and pour in oil. When hot, add sliced garlic and stir until it starts to darken. Add sliced chili and sauté for 1-2 more minutes.
  2. Add prawns to pan and when they start to turn pink, pour in sherry and reduce liquid by one-third. Turn heat to very low and continue stirring for one minute.
  3. Sprinkle salt and parsley on top and serve in ceramic tapas bowls with sliced bread on the side.


Strictly, not a tapa, guacamole – a Latin American dip – can still be added to the tapas table.

1 avocado
1/4 onion or 1/2 brown shallot
1 tblsp freshly squeezed lemon juice or lime juice
2 tblsp light sour cream or creme fraiche
A few drops of Tabasco or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Sea salt to taste
Utensils: mixing bowl, fork, grater, juice squeezer
Time: 10 minutes


  1. Slice avocado in two, remove the stone, scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. Break it up with a fork until smooth. Grate the onion or shallot into the bowl, add lemon or lime juice and mix.
  2. Stir in cayenne or Tabasco and sour cream or creme fraiche. Squeeze lemon or lime juice on top and serve with corn chips or slices of ciabatta.
Manchego with herbs and olive oil

Manchego is a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of Manchego sheep. It is aged from 60 days up to two years. Aged Manchego has a nutty flavour. Manchego is delicious on its own with a cracker or piece of bread, but can also be marinated in olive oil and herbs.

250g Manchego cheese
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large sprigs of Rosemary
2 large sprigs of thyme
¼ tsp chilli flakes
Utensils: Cutting board; cheese knife; mixing bowl
Time: 5 minutes


  1. Cut Manchego in 20mm cubes, put in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine olive oil, two of the rosemary sprigs, thyme and chilli in a small saucepan over medium heat until the oil is hot – about two minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  3. Strip the rosemary leaves off the remaining Rosemary sprig and snip with scissors and set aside.
  4. Pour olive oil mixture on top of Manchego. Add more oil to cover if needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours.
  5. Remove dish from fridge and allow the cheese and olive oil to come to room temperature.
  6. Serve in a glass or terracotta bowl, sprinkled with the snipped rosemary and toothpicks in the side.
spanish TORTILLA

Spanish tortilla is the mother of all omelets. At its most basic it has onion and potatoes but you can add a few other ingredients to your taste or left-overs from the fridge.

2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 slices of Serrano ham or prosciutto
1 small knob of butter
2 garlic cloves
2 par-boiled medium sebago potatoes, sliced
1 medium red onion, halved, thinly sliced
1 handful of heritage cherry tomatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 medium red capsicum, cut into 2cm pieces
½ cup sliced mushroom
Soy sauce
6 eggs
1 tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp cayenne
Pinch of sea salt
1½ tblsp water
pinch of saffron soaked in 1 tsp hot water
1 avocado
2 tblsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Mixed salad leaves, served on the side
Utensils: 22cm deep, non-stick frypan; paper towel; fine grater; cutting board; chef’s knife; mixing bowl; whisk; spatula
Time: 30 minutes


  1. Heat pan with a bit of olive oil, add ham and cook on both sides until crisp. Leave to cool on paper towel.
  2. Heat remaining oil in pan and drop in butter. Finely grate garlic and add to pan with potatoes and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes until just cooked. Add onion and cook until soft. Add capsicum and tomato halves and cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Toss mushroom slices in soy and a little olive oil and add to pan and cook for another 2 minutes.
  4. Break eggs into bowl and beat with fork until yolks are broken add saffron with its liquid.
  5. Crumble Serrano in paper towel and stir into eggs with paprika, cayenne and salt. Pour evenly over potato mixture. Distribute eggs carefully with the back of spatula. Reduce heat to low. Cook for another 4-6 minutes or until tortilla is almost set. Scatter parsley and cheese on top and place pan under grill on medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until just set.
  6. Cut tortilla in squares and serve cold on a platter with toothpicks on the side.
  7. Spanish tortilla can also be served hot as a meal. Cut an avocado in cubes and scatter on top and serve sprinkled with a handful of chopped parsley.