July 16, 2008
Little Plates, BIG Flavor
The mere mention of “tapas” can evoke a sense of exotic delight. The blend of color and mystique tantalizes the palate. These Spanish snacks, or small plates, hold true to their origins and the myriad influences that helped shape them: native chefs, local resources, and the contrasting climatic regions which bring nuance to the delicacies.

The word tapas translates as “to cover,” and though this is fact, historians have not agreed on how the name originated. One theory­—how Spanish farmers and workers were able to carry small amounts of food during their work time—directly relates to the word origin. These snacks allowed them to continue working between their main meals, “covering” their appetite.

Another possibility is that the word comes from the practice of using a slice of bread to cover wine and sherry glasses, keeping flies away and allowing the patrons to drink more. These slices of bread soon evolved to include a variety of toppings, prompting a third theory of how tapas came to be: The practice of covering the glasses afforded tavern owners the opportunity to serve rotten wine by masking the smell with a strong, odorous cheese. Another popular story attributed to tapas has to do with Castile’s King Alfonso the 10th, known as Alfonso the Wise. Alfonso fell ill and then recovered by drinking wine and nibbling small dishes, as his system couldn’t handle anything more than scant portions. After regaining his health, the king ordered the taverns in the country to serve food with drink. A law was passed that prohibited serving wine unless it was served with snacks.

The popularity of tapas soon spread throughout Spain, and each region adapted its tapas to incorporate local flavor.

Now tapas are common in both North and South America where the Spanish influence has been strong. We, in our fair Valley, have both the Basque influence and the wonderful eateries around town to thank for some real local delicacies. >>>



Yummy Grilled Shrimp

1 pound of large gulf shrimp
1 package of bacon
2-3 jalapeño peppers, julienned
Jalapeño cheese (you will use only about an ounce)

Peel and devein shrimp. Butterfly. Slice cheese into thin strips. Cut bacon strips in half. Put one slice of pepper and one slice of cheese into butterflied shrimp. Wrap with bacon and secure on a skewer. Heat up grill. Cook shrimp on grill.

Olives and Almonds

2 cups of good olives (I like black ones with this mix)
1 small red chile pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped mint or parsley
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Remove seeds from chile, finely dice, and place in bowl with olive oil. Mix parsley or mint with the garlic and stir into bowl. Leave to stand at least one hour—or overnight in the fridge. Drain the olives and place in a bowl. Cover with oil, lemon juice and zest. Serve. Will keep in a fridge for a month.

2½ cups shelled almonds
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix pepper and salt in a bowl. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the almonds and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes until the almonds are golden. Toss almonds into salt mixture until coated.

Serve warm. >>>


Recipe by Judy Lancaster­—my mom, my mentor, and the best cook I know.
2 cans of garbanzo beans
½ cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped mint or parsley (if doubling recipe, do not double this ingredient!)
1½-2 tablespoons sesame paste/tahini
1¼ teaspoon salt
(I use Zatarain’s spice)
¼ cup lemon juice
(if doubling, 3 tablespoons)
6-8 jalapeño pepper slices
1 tablespoon jalapeño juice
1-2 teaspoons garlic powder

Drain and thoroughly wash garbanzos. Then put in a processor or blender with all ingredients. Blend well and serve. Serve with pita chips—cut pita rounds into wedges, brush with olive oil. Add minced garlic and toast.

Stuffed Figs

½ cup soft goat cheese
20 fresh figs, washed and
sliced lengthwise
5 wide, thin slices proscuitto,
cut into long strips
20 basil leaves
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil

In a small saucepan, heat balsamic vinegar and cook until it is reduced by half. Set aside and let cool to room temp. Meanwhile, stuff figs with goat cheese and wrap with a basil leaf, then a proscuitto strip. Secure with a toothpick. Mix vinegar with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle this mixture over figs and serve.

Side of Asparagus

Two bunches of asparagus
Sea salt
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup sliced almonds

Heat a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Trim asparagus. Place the asparagus in the water and blanch for 5 minutes or until they turn a really good bright green. Throughly drain the asparagus and run cold water over the asparagus to stop them from cooking. Heat the butter in a frying pan and add the sliced almonds. Cook for 3 minutes then add asparagus and salt to the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes while coating the asparagus. Serve either warm or cold. >>>

Mini Baked Potatoes

20 small new or salad potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Garlic powder
½ cup of sour cream
¼ cup crumbled Stilton
(or another good blue cheese)
Fresh chives, chopped to garnish.

Preheat oven to 350˚, wash potatoes and coat them with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and garlic powder and spread out evenly on a baking sheet. Cook for 40-50 minutes or until the potatoes are golden and cooked. While cooking—combine sour cream and Stilton. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut a cross into each and open them up a bit. Top with a dollop of the cheese mixture and serve hot or at room temp. 

Lamb Kabobs with Peanut Sauce

1 pound of lamb fillet, cut into cubes
Peanut oil for brushing the meat
Sesame seeds
Sliced red or orange peppers for garnish

5 tablespoons oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 small chile, seeded and chopped
Sprinkle of ginger
Sprinkle of cumin

Mix together all ingredients for marinade and coat lamb for 30 minutes. Thread lamb on skewers and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Preheat grill.

Grill 5 minutes until cooked to desired doneness (when temperature is measured with a meat thermometer, after lamb is off the grill and has rested 3-5 minutes­—medium rare temperature is 130-140˚). Serve hot or cold with the peanut sauce and a garnish of red and orange pepper strips.

Peanut Sauce
½ cup chunky peanut butter
½ cup peanut oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup soy or tamari sauce
¼ cup lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 cilantro sprigs
2 teaspoons dried red chile pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

Blend together well and serve over lamb kabobs. This can be made ahead and will save in the fridge for two weeks. 

This article appears in the Summer 2008 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.