The dog days of summer are upon us, the air is still and hot, but the garden is full of food. We’ll celebrate this time of the year through a series of vegetarian tapas dishes. Tapas is the bar food of Spain, served alike in swanky urban establishments and rural watering holes throughout the country. The origin of this word is traced back to the Spanish verb tapar which means ‘to cover.’ While there are a number of different theories that explain this linkage, the most common revolve around the ancient use of a slice of bread or ham as a lid to cover a wine glass to keep out fruit flies. These food lids were then eaten while the wine was consumed, and eventually evolved into more sophisticated dishes that would help ‘cover’ the stomach and decrease the rapidness that alcohol was absorbed into the blood stream, keeping drunkenness in check. An oft-repeated claim is that the Spanish love of tapas can be traced back to Alfonso the Wise, a 10th Century Castile king who due to an illness had to eat a small quantity of food with his wine between meals. Once he had recovered, King Alfonso decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in the kingdom unless accompanied by food.
Because lunch is usually served in Spain in the mid-afternoon, with the evening meal not taking place until 9 to 11 PM, at the end of the work day people tend to crowd into local bars to have a glass of wine, a sangria, a beer, a sherry, or various fruit juices and to have some small nibbles to get them through until dinner. This Spanish ‘happy hour’ brings together people from all walks of life. People usually consume tapas while standing or milling about in small groups, and in fact the verb used to describe the eating of tapas is usually picar (pecking) rather than comer (eating). And, as important as the food and drink are, the conversations that develop during this informal meal are even more appreciated.
There are a large number of tapas dishes with there being a strong tradition of vegetable-based offerings. It is common for at least a dozen different types to be served each evening, with patrons nibbling through them all over the course of a drink or two. Because tapas are sometimes served free with the purchase of a drink, and because they are usually made on site, they must be at the same time inexpensive and easily assembled with only rudimentary kitchen equipment. For this reason, the dishes on a particular evening are often chosen based on what foods are in harvest and cheaply available and which require only a modicum of kitchen skill to produce.
Tapas dishes are thus a wonderful way to enjoy your garden’s summer bounty, as they are both cheap and easy to make. As the sun creeps towards the western horizon each afternoon, visit your garden and harvest its abundant, fresh produce. Then bring it back to the kitchen to be used in simple, satisfying dishes which can be enjoyed with friends and family in the cooling early evening air.
We’ve selected 14 of our favorite vegetarian tapas recipes to share with you this month. We tried to cut back on this number so that the blog entries would fit within the month, but in the end we just couldn’t. So, the tapas recipes will spill over into September and will finish up just before the fall equinox. The recipes we present have been largely adapted from three sources: Tapas and other Spanish Plates to Share (2010) by Ryland, Peters & Small Press (ISBN 1849750564 ); Tapas: Traditional and Contemporary Tapas Dishes (2004) by Parragon Publishing (ISBN 1405480122); and Jacki Passmore’s Complete Spanish Cookbook (1993) published by Charles E. Tuttle Press, Rutland, Vermont (ISBN 0804818231).