Spain tends to be overlooked when talking about European cuisine. Its more popular neighbours, Italy and France, are represented far better, be it in restaurants, cookbooks, and how it has been assimilated into the commonplace. And while this may be changing for the better thanks to the globalization of food culture, it might take a while. Part of the difficulty in popularizing Spanish food, particularly in Asia, is how many dishes are tied up to local products that are not quite readily available.
But arguably, the heart of Spanish cuisine is not on how it just insists on exactitude, but how it actually evolved out of necessity: taking what produce was plentiful, preserving for months of scarcity, making the best of any situation. These are reasons why you would find dishes that incorporate cured pork products, organ meats, a mix of shellfish, and generous applications of olive oil, garlic, and onions. On the latter, why not? These were abundant and made everything they touched so unbelievably delicious. Ingenuity rather than extravagance is espoused.
More than a Morsel
Case in point: tapas. These are the little dishes they serve you when you sit down in a café or bar for drinks, encouraging you and anyone else who is drinking to feel comfortable, have a longer chat with friends, and inevitably drink and order more from the bar. A tasty stroke of genius.
But going even deeper, the name tapas is said to derive from the verb tapar, meaning “to cover”. The theory goes that tapas evolved when mindful bar owners put a piece of bread on top of a glass to prevent dust or flies from settling. The free piece of bread then became a vehicle for all sorts of treats for their all-too obliging customers, who then began drinking more, thus beginning the tradition.
And so tapas exemplify the spirit of resourcefulness, paired with a keen appetite. In this way, it is easier to imagine how to start tackling Spanish cuisine. As bar foods, these are meant to be easily prepared, made from cheap, common ingredients, yet packaged as delectable bites meant to ignite the diner’s appetite. In our case, it serves as a sampler of the varied flavours of a country.
“Hola!” to Olives!
Thankfully, there are staples from this cuisine that can be found in our grocery shelves, so it makes sense to start with the simplest of tapas: marinated olives.
The Spanish have a love affair with olives. After all, they grow around 250 varieties for the fruit and the oil, mainly in the regions of Andalucia in the south and Catalonia in the east. It is used ubiquitously, serving as a sharp punctuation in dishes ranging from salads to thick stews. Even out of the bottle or can, cured olives are salty, tangy, slightly vegetal but meaty, with some varieties carrying a little bitterness that adds complexity to dishes.
Bars would serve (for free, if you’re lucky) a dish of olives as an accompaniment to beer or wine. A preparation such as a marinade elaborates on the briny flavour profile with the addition of acids, fats, and spices, adding a distinction that is the cook’s special touch.
1/2 tsp Coriander seeds
1/2 tsp Fennel seeds
2 Garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp Fresh Rosemary, chopped
2 tsp Fresh Parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp Borges Sherry Vinegar
2 Tbsp Borges Classic Olive Oil
Using a mortar and pestle, crush the coriander and fennel seeds first, then gradually add in the garlic and herbs. Incorporate the vinegar and olive oil to the mixture. In a bowl, place the drained olives and thoroughly mix in the marinade. Cover and chill for up to one week.
Humble and Hearty
Most of the ingredients behind Spanish recipes revolve around humble ingredients, and tapas are no exception. Among the most popular of these is the tortilla. Not to be confused with the Hispanic flatbread, it is none other than a potato omelette, and yet it is well-loved. The onions in the dish add savouriness, and everything is fragrantly fried in olive oil from start to finish. It is typically served in small triangles or fat squares speared with toothpicks, it is solid, creamy, salty, greasy—to be washed down with crisp beer. Our version adds olives to this classic to break the richness.
Spanish Tortilla with Olives
¾ C Borges Sliced Green Olives, drained
7 Medium potatoes
2 Medium onions (optional)
Salt to taste
Borges Extra Light Olive Oil for frying
Wash, peel, and cut potatoes and onions into halves, then slice thinly. In a wide and deep non-stick pan, heat enough olive oil to submerge the potatoes. Fry the potato slices and add the onions when the potatoes are almost done frying. When fully cooked but not browned, remove the vegetables, drain with a strainer to cool slightly.
Beat the eggs in a bowl, then add the cooked potatoes, onions, olives, and salt. Mix well. To the heated oil, add the mixture, then reduce the heat to a low flame. Stir the omelette gently until no longer runny, then cook through until almost set. Flip the whole omelette, with spatulas or a plate, and slightly brown the other side. Cut into slices to serve.
Spain does not shy away from bringing together very strong flavours with its ingredients, especially when working with the bare minimum number for a dish. Imagine salty and slightly pungent anchovies stuffed inside olives. Aggressive? Yes. Delicious? Definitely.
One tapas format that delivers well on this idea is pintxos. Hailing from the Basque region, pintxos are one-bite appetizers where a few ingredients are speared together with a toothpick or a skewer. As these are easy to pick up with one hand while the other hand is occupied with a drink, this is a common sight in their bars. And mostly it’s up to the cook’s imagination which things to mix-and-match. But to start with, a Basque classic is the Gilda: an unabashedly punchy but impressive mouthful.
12 Oil-packed Anchovy Filets
12 Guindilla Peppers in vinegar, or Italian peperoncino*, stems trimmed
12 toothpicks or skewers
Fold a guindilla pepper in half and push it onto one skewer or toothpick, followed by an anchovy, and lastly, an olive so it caps off the skewer. Repeat with the remaining skewers and ingredients.
The love of Spanish olives has endured for 2,000 years, and given that time, it’s no surprise how some delicious recipes have been passed around and have become a regional mainstay. In southern Europe, the heartland for growing olive trees for oil and eating, eating the olives out of hand with a round of drinks was not enough, and so tapenade was born.
This lush and gleaming olive spread is perfect for smothering hunks of fresh and crusty rustic bread, which balances out the fruity earthiness of the olives and makes for a hefty bite. Our advice: take the time to pit whole black olives for this spread, as you have better control over the coarseness of the mixture once pulsed in the food processor. The aim is to get a spreadable consistency with some chunkiness, and never over-blend into mush territory. If bread is not your thing, this is still wonderful as a dip for a platter of crisp vegetables.
(Makes 1 ½ cups of spread)
1 Tbsp. Fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Lemon zest
1 Tbsp. Capers, drained
2 Garlic Cloves
3 pcs. Oil-packed anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp. Dried thyme
1/8 tsp. Coarsely ground black pepper
*Crusty bread or vegetables for serving
Remove the pits from the whole black olives. In a food processor, briefly pulse the meat of the olives along with the rest of the ingredients for the spread, making sure that the mixture is still slightly coarse. Toast the bread before serving with the spread on the side.
It doesn’t take much to bring the flavours of Spain into your table; the simplest arrangements help make key ingredients shine. Be it with drinks, for snacks, and as unforgettable appetisers, with these gateway recipes you’ll soon find yourself looking for more ways to try Spanish food.
 Adapted from: https://food52.com/recipes/26785-garlicky-gilda-pintxo
 Adapted from: https://www.thespruceeats.com/tapenade-recipe-1375246