Recipes - Other

Spanish tapas – the tradition & recipes

Spain is famous for its culture, history, Mediterranean climate and afternoon siestas. It’s less well known as the home of tapas. And with so-called ‘tapas’ now appearing on menus across Australia it seems to me at least that we’ve taken and run with the term tapas, often with little respect to the authentic Spanish tradition. Here I’d thought I’d cover a little background so you can recognise the real deal. I’ve also included 3 very easy recipes you can try at home.

A Spanish institution

Tapas is the collective name for small, tasty and creative appetizers, traditionally served with a copa (glass) of wine, beer or fino (Spanish sherry). The distinctive tapas flavour results from common ingredients such as garlic, paprika, chillies, parsley and olive oil.

The name tapas has its origins in the Spanish word for lid – ‘tapa’. Historically the name came about because innkeepers would serve a glass of wine covered with a slice of ham, bread or cheese. This was to prevent insects and dust falling into the glass, to help soak up the alcohol and to encourage customers to drink more!

Walk into any bar in Spain and it’s likely that they’ll have tapas on display ready for you to indulge.

Tapas, history, recipes, spanish, how to, easyThe good news? Tapas aren’t a substitute for a meal. In Spain dinner is usually served after 9pm. Between finishing work and dinner Spaniards will often ‘bar-hop’ and enjoy tapas as snacks. Many tapas are served on cocktail sticks and the number of empty sticks determines the bill – the sticks are used to keep track of how much you’ve consumed. And, in some regions of Spain you receive free tapas when you order drinks.

Types of tapas & recipes

Here are some common types of tapas:

  • Vegetables – The tapas touch can make even the most ordinary vegetable mouth-watering. Think of marinated aubergine, roasted peppers, stuffed tomatoes and garlic mushrooms. Potatoes are widely served, often with home-made garlic mayonnaise.
  • Meat – It’s common to see chorizo and Serrano ham (jamón) as the base of meat based tapas, but there are also lots of chicken, pork, lamb and beef dishes.
  • Seafood – Sardines, prawns, anchovies tuna and salmon all make great seafood tapas when combined with flavourings such as garlic, olive oil and parsley.
  • Eggs and cheese – Eggs and cheese are both widely used as the basis for delicious tapas and recipes are often fool proof. For example figs with crumbled blue cheese or a Spanish omelette (tortilla) made by combining fried onion and potatoes with egg.

Recipe: Marinated olives 

Marinated olives, recipe, garlic, chilli, herbs, Silician, Kalamata

Prepare at least 3 hours before serving (the longer the better – they’re at their best even after 2 weeks).


  • Two cups of unpitted olives – a mix of Sicilian and Kalamata work well but you can stick with one type
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tsp each of fennel and coriander seeds, ground in a pestle & mortar
  • Few sprigs of few rosemary or thyme (or a combination of both)
  • Few strips of orange rind (or lemon rind as an alternative)
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Prepare the olives. Using a sharp knife cut a slit in each olive lengthways through to the stone. This allows the marinade to penetrate. If you’re pushed for time and your olives will marinate for more than a few days you can skip this step.
  2. Combine everything in a large bowl. Add the garlic, herbs, lemon (or orange) rind, ground spices and chilli flakes (if you’re using them). Mix and then cover with a generous pour of olive oil. If you’re marinating for more than a day then completely cover the olives with oil (they marinate well for a few weeks).
  3. MarinateStore the mixture in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Give the jar a gentle shake occasionally to re-distribute the ingredients. Remove an hour before serving so the olives reach room temperature.

Serve the olives with cocktail sticks and a small bowl for the stones.

Marinated olives, recipe, garlic, chilli, herbs, Silician, KalamataRecipe: Garlic mushrooms

  • 500g of mushrooms (button mushrooms work well)
  • 3 tbsp coconut or olive oil
  • Handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Splash of dry white wine (optional)
  • A knob of butter (optional)
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Prepare the mushrooms. Brush off any dirt and trim the caps. Cut large mushrooms into bit sized chunks. Leave button mushrooms whole.
  2. Cook the mushrooms. Heat a large frying pan with the oil and then cook the garlic on a medium heat for up to a minute (don’t let it burn). Turn up the heat and add the mushrooms, stirring constantly to coat them in oil. If you’re adding wine throw in a splash now. Then turn down the heat and sauté for a few minutes until the mushrooms are cooked to your liking. If you’re using butter add it now and stir through.
  3. Season. Add the salt, pepper and chopped parsley and stir.

Serve on cocktail sticks.

TapasRecipe: Spicy prawns

  • 20 raw prawns
  • 3 tbsp coconut or olive oil
  • 50ml dry sherry or dry white wine
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  1. Prepare the prawns. Remove the heads and the dark vein along the back. Leave the tails in place. Rinse and dry.
  2. Cook the prawns. Heat the oil in a frying pan and then add the prawns for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the flavour.  Pour in the sherry or wine and add the salt and cayenne pepper.

Serve on cocktail sticks.

By Feast Wisely


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