Spain: Paella and Tapas
When I spent a semester in England, I went to Spain for a long weekend with friends from my program. We went to Barcelona, and did a few short side trips. One such side trip included horseback riding through the mountains. It’s a story that really needs to be told in person, but let’s just say it involved the words “caballo” and “Saddam” and was the closest I have ever felt to death. This was in 2003 before I had a digital camera, so I took pictures of my old-style pictures in my scrapbook.
My roommate Christina and I with the caballos.
We had a wonderful time (even including the near-death caballo experience, now that I think back on it having survived) and I loved Spain and really hope to go back someday. One of the unique things about Spanish cuisine is the prevalence of tapas – sort of equivalent to U.S. appetizers but even more common. In much of Spain, you enjoy tapas and drinks for several hours before eating a late dinner. It’s a very relaxed, enjoyable pace of life and pace of dining. Here is wikipedia’s explanation of the history of tapas, both versions of which I find fascinating:
“The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”.
According to legend, the tapas tradition began when king Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or “tapa.”
According to The Joy of Cooking, the original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.”
Regardless of their history, tapas are so much fun. Small amounts of different types of food – delightful. I’m quite happy that Philly has quite a few tapas places, and it’s pretty much my favorite way to eat.
So, for Spanish dishes, I decided to make empanadas and paella. Angela is a huge fan of tapas as well, and she made sun-dried tomato and olive tapenade with manchego cheese crostini. Manchego is a delicious Spanish cheese. She also brought Spanish wine. So we had wine, crostini and empanadas before our main dish of paella, a very popular rice dish in Spain.
Here’s the crostini and Spanish wine:
I have made the empanadas recipe I used before. It is not the most authentic (Paula Deen is not very Spanish, neither is cream cheese 🙂 but it is delicious so I decided to use it again. Here’s the recipe, except I substituted Spanish chorizo for chicken and used puff pastry instead of pie crust:
Now, for the paella. Here’s the recipe I used, although I omitted the lobster, calamari and mussels, making it less authentic but easier to make and eat. Tradeoffs.
The ingredients for both the paella and empanadas:
The stock, chicken, chorizo and shrimp all cook together until the stock is absorbed. This took about 45 minutes. I followed the directions to not stir it, like you stir risotto frequently, but the texture still turned out creamy, similar to risotto.
If you didn’t notice the Christmas napkins, please ignore. If you did notice them…well, I try to use what I have, so instead of buying new napkins I’m digging into my reserves 🙂
Notes for Next Time:
As I said, the texture of the paella was creamy, but we all liked it that way so I think it’s okay. The feedback I got was MORE CHORIZO! and a bit more salt. We all enjoyed everything, and both these dishes are great to serve to a crowd. The paella would probably serve 10 easily.