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Spain on a stick: Spanish tradition of serving tapas


Even without the sunshine, the wonderful Spanish tradition of serving tapas is almost as enjoyable in Ireland. A fun, relaxed way to entertain friends, tapas are perfect for Sunday brunch.

Tapas are not just a particular food, but also a way of eating. Serving tapas is designed to encourage conversation rather than focusing on eating an entire meal. While it may not seem like a meal, all the different dishes mean the guests leave feeling very satisfied and happy! Just set the table with a wide selection of little dishes from which the guests can help themselves, or serve the dishes a few at a time.

Tapas can be as simple as a dish of tasty olives, slices of mature Manchego cheese, or thin slices of the Serrano ham and olives, pictured far right. The beauty of a tapas lunch is that many of the items require no cooking at all. Naturally, a selection of cooked dishes should also be included and many of these dishes can be cooked in advance.



A true Spanish omelette is traditionally made with onions, potatoes and eggs, though many versions will also include peppers or tomatoes, chopped serrano ham or chopped grilled rashers. The potatoes can be cooked from raw in the olive oil, but it speeds up the process, and uses less oil, if the potatoes are parboiled for about eight minutes before frying. The cooked tortilla can be served as a light meal for four, or cut into lots of little squares and served as tapas.

You will need:

700g (1 1/2lb) potatoes, boiled or steamed for about 8 minutes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large onion, thinly sliced

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1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

3-5 tablespoons olive oil

6 large eggs

Dash of mustard

If you're steaming the potatoes, they can be peeled and sliced when they are raw, then steamed until they're half tender. Otherwise, peel and thinly slice the half-cooked potatoes when they are cool enough to handle. Season the slices with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Fry the thinly sliced onion and chopped garlic in the olive oil in a generous-sized frying pan. When they are tender, add the sliced potatoes to the pan and season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fry gently, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. Tilt the pan to pour off any excess olive oil. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the mustard and pour the mixture into the pan. Shake the pan to settle the liquid ingredients through the potatoes and onions. Cook over a gentle heat until the egg begins to set and the tortilla turns golden underneath. Cook the top of the tortilla under a hot grill until it is golden. Slide out on to a warm plate. If you prefer, don't use a grill. Instead, when the egg has set, invert the tortilla out on to a plate and then slide it back on to the hot, oiled pan and fry it until it is golden underneath.

Ideally, make the tortilla more compact by pressing it down with a flat tin weighed down with a bag of sugar or something that is somewhat heavy. Then when it's cold, it is much easier to cut into squares.


The meatballs are fried and then added to the tasty sauce in which they can be reheated for convenience.

For the meatballs, you will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1/2-1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2-1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon (if using minced lamb)

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

About 700g (1 1/2lb) lean minced beef or lamb

1 small egg

Oil for frying

For the sauce, you will need:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 green pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

150ml (1/4pt) red wine

300ml (1/2pt) chicken or beef stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the meatballs, put the olive oil, the crushed garlic, the cayenne pepper, if you're using it, the ground cumin, the dried oregano, the smoked sweet Spanish paprika and the freshly squeezed lemon juice, if you're using minced lamb, into a bowl.

Add the chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, the lean minced beef or lamb, whichever you are using, and the egg, to the bowl and mix everything well. Form the mixture into small meatballs, a little smaller than a golf ball. Fry the meatballs in oil in small lots until they are nicely browned all over. Lift them out on to a plate.

To make the sauce, add the olive oil to a pan --one that is large enough to hold all the meatballs in a single layer -- and fry the sliced onion and the chopped garlic. Add the finely chopped green pepper and fry a little. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, the red wine and the chicken or beef stock, whichever you are using. Bring to the boil, stirring to make a chunky sauce, and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix the fried meatballs into the sauce, cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until they are cooked through. This dish reheats well.



Leave the olive oil to marinate for a few days for better flavour. Use a selection of mixed olives for preference.

You will need:

300g (10oz) mixed olives, pitted, in brine, drained

4 garlic cloves, crushed (see note)

2 teaspoons coriander seeds, lightly crushed

3 sprigs fresh thyme, bruised

3 small sprigs rosemary, bruised

Grated zest and juice of 1 small orange

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Sun-dried tomatoes, to serve


For those who do not wish to eat raw garlic, try frying the crushed garlic gently in a little of the olive oil, and cook it without browning. Allow the mixture to cool and then add to the rest.

Put the olives into a bowl or jar. Add all the other ingredients, pouring in enough olive oil to cover the olives and stir well. Cover the container and keep for a few days at room temperature. When serving, garnish with some slices of sun-dried tomato.



Inspired by Jamie Oliver, this simple recipe wraps a thin anchovy fillet around each cherry tomato and holds it in position with a cocktail stick. Delightful if you like anchovies as much as I do.

You will need:

1 tin anchovy fillets, oil drained off

About 12 cherry tomatoes

Prepare as just described.


A very popular tapas dish, and one which is best served freshly cooked. Cook the garlic in the oil in advance if you like, adding the raw prawns to the heated oil just before serving.

You will need:

450g (1lb) raw prawn tails -- there should be about 25

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

About 100ml (4fl oz) olive oil

1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon chilli flakes

50-75 ml (2-3fl oz) brandy or dry sherry

Juice of 1 small lemon

3 teaspoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

French bread, to serve

The shells can be removed from the prawns either before or after cooking.

In a heavy, deep-sided frying pan, gently fry the finely chopped garlic in the olive oil, adding the Spanish paprika and the chilli flakes. Fry for one minute over a medium heat, and then add the prawns along with the brandy or dry sherry, whichever you are using, and the lemon juice. Watch out for spluttering. Fry for about three minutes, stirring until the prawns turn a pink colour.

Empty the contents of the pan into a warm dish and scatter with the finely chopped fresh parsley. Serve with the French bread to mop up the juices.



Chorizo is a typically Spanish spicy sausage that is readily available in many shops.

You will need:

1 chorizo sausage

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Crusty bread, to serve

Chopped scallions, to serve

Simply slice the chorizo sausage in short 1.5cm (?in) slices. Place the slices in an ovenproof dish and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of wine vinegar and a tablespoon of honey. Bake in a hot oven -- 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 -- for about 15 minutes, serve in the oil, accompanied with plenty of crusty bread. Serve garnished with some chopped scallions.


This is a popular dish from Central Spain. There are two types, one with meat and one without. Serrano ham is used in this recipe, but feel free to leave it out.

You will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

50g (2oz) serrano ham, chopped

1/2 onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 courgette, chopped

2 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped

1/2 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

A pinch of sweet Spanish paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crusty bread, to serve

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the serrano ham and the finely chopped onion and cook over a low heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add the crushed garlic, the chopped courgette, the skinned, deseeded, chopped tomatoes, the chopped red pepper, the dried oregano and the sweet Spanish paprika. Simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes, then add some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread. This dish can be made a day in advance and it reheats well.


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