Per­fect Mix

Three chefs get ex­per­i­men­tal with their idea of the most ap­petis­ing ta­pas and whip up recipes to get any party started


Ap­pe­tis­ers of­ten set the tone for the qual­ity of the rest of the meal, mak­ing good be­gin­nings is a very im­por­tant as­pect of sa­ti­at­ing your taste buds. And there is no bet­ter way to spell in­dul­gence than a lav­ish ta­pas spread. Ta­pas can be touted as the per­fect ap­pe­tiser mix, served in small por­tions and usu­ally had with wine or sherry. When you think “mus­sels” you may not in­stantly think “chick­peas” but the two are joined in a taste­ful union in this de­li­cious, bistro-style dish called ta­pas. These sa­vory nib­bles make ter­rific hors d’oeu­vres as well as small-plate buf­fets to be en­joyed with friends over drinks.

Ta­pas orig­i­nated in Spain dur­ing the reign of King Al­fonso XI of Castile. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, the king, a heavy drinker re­cov­ered from a wine in­duced stu­por with the help of tapa—small por­tions of snacks. He then made it a law that no tav­ern would serve drinks un­less ac­com­pa­nied by tapa. And so, ta­pas be­came the prac­tice of serv­ing small bites that can be shared, warm or cold over drinks. There­fore es­tab­lish­ing the eat when you drink, drink when you eat phi­los­o­phy. In true Span­ish style, it’s all about clas­sic flavours and un­hur­ried con­ver­sa­tions.

Ta­nia Ghosh, Chef-in-charge, The Park, Kolkata; Pankaj Bhadouria, Food Ex­pert and Ra­jku­mari, Chef, The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata share their ex­pe­ri­ences of ex­per­i­ment­ing with tan­ta­lis­ing flavours. From clas­sic ta­pas, such as Span­ish omelette, to the most in­no­va­tive ones, like Green Asparagus with Salmon, they of­fer us de­li­cious recipes which are an amal­ga­ma­tion of lo­cal as well as in­ter­na­tional ingredients pre­sented with flair

Ghosh, a grad­u­ate from the In­sti­tute of Ho­tel Man­age­ment ( IHM) Ban­ga­lore is a self pro­fessed foodie. “Although in school I wanted to be an ar­chae­ol­o­gist, but my in­ter­est in try­ing out dif­fer­ent cuisines made me pur­sue this pro­fes­sion,” says Ghosh. Her mantra in life­has al­ways been live to eat rather than the con­ven­tional eat to live and that suits her just fine

“Ta­pas are thought to have orig­i­nally con­sisted of a slice of cheese or ham placed over a drink to keep out flies,” says Ghosh. The meal tim­ings in Spain and In­dia are al­most the same. So ta­pas be­comes a bridge be­tween lunch and din­ner and peo­ple look for­ward to it be­fore get­ting to the main course.

Ta­pas bars are be­com­ing pop­u­lar among the masses in a big way in In­dia. Peo­ple rel­ish ta­pas food com­pris­ing of Span­ish cheeses in­clud­ing but­tery Mancheto, sausages, olives, fresh orange wedges and grapes. The em­pha­sis is on sauces that am­plify the scope of tra­di­tional ta­pas prepa­ra­tions, mak­ing them more ex­otic, ex­cit­ing, and com­pelling as a whole. Ghosh says, “Tapa are not meant to

be a meal. One tapa per per­son and a dif­fer­ent one with each drink is the idea.” One of the most pop­u­lar ta­pas dish is Gam­bas al Ajillo (gar­lic prawns) which is quick and easy to pre­pare. “It is usu­ally of­fered as an ap­pe­tizer or served as a ‘tapa’ in many restau­rants, but I like to ac­com­pany it with rice or pasta along with a green salad and make a full meal of it,” she adds.

Bhadouria started as a teacher but her pas­sion for food made her try her luck at Masterchef In­dia which she won. She feels that ta­pas is all about new, in­ter­est­ing and in­no­va­tive ideas. Con­ven­tional ta­pas are usu­ally deep fried and baked. Ev­ery­body is look­ing for ideas for cock­tail snacks at this time of year. The prob­lem with tra­di­tional party plat­ters is that they’re of­ten not the health­i­est. As a mat­ter of fact there are plenty of healthy op­tions for foods you can eat with one hand while bal­anc­ing a drink in the other like crisp spiced pota­toes, stuffed toma­toes or a span­ish potato salad. She says, “Veg­e­tar­ian ta­pas are time con­sum­ing but are health­ier and tastier than their non-veg­e­tar­ian coun­ter­parts.” So Bhadouria stresses on serv­ing ta­pas com­pris­ing of veg­eta­bles, salads, stuffed toma­toes and pota­toes. Baked stuffed toma­toes is a low fat ap­pe­tiser com­pris­ing of cot­tage cheese and onion. Stuffed toma­toes can be served as a siz­zler as well as a starter. It can also be pre­pared in a spicy gravy and can be served on a bed of rice for a full meal. “I like adding a new di­men­sion to all my dishes even if it is an evening snack like ta­pas,” says Bhadouria who loves cook­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing as well.

Ta­pas can be cooked and kept for sev­eral days to­gether mak­ing it a boon for work­ing women. They also taste won­der­ful at room tem­per­a­ture so there is no need to con­stantly re­heat them.

“Oily slices of salt cod and fried cro­quettes from the sherry re­gion of Cadiz are most pop­u­lar with the Span­ish,” says Bhadouria. Nowa­days, some ta­pas dis­plays are so ex­pan­sive,

they could eas­ily com­prise a full meal like small por­tions of seafood, salads, meat filled pas­tries, chunks of cheese, sausages and salads.

In the Mediter­ranean diet, it is typ­i­cal to be­gin the food with suc­cu­lent starters to open up the ap­petite. Ta­pas are usu­ally pre­pared on a bar­beque or a grill. Ra­jku­mari of The Oberoi says, “Ta­pas can be en­joyed at any fun filled and lively place with drinks.” The most pop­u­lar ta­pas ap­pe­tiz­ers among In­di­ans are slices of minced chops, pork ribs, chopped veg­eta­bles and fruit plat­ters.

“I cook ribs and other typ­i­cal bar­be­cue cuts at a low tem­per­a­ture to con­serve the meat’s mois­ture,” she says. Pork ribs should be cooked for at least four hours so that the tough con­nec­tive tis­sue can be dis­solved into suc­cu­lent gelatin. Re­mem­ber that the lower the meat’s tem­per­a­ture, the less mois­ture the meat will loose. If you are a fan of juicy ribs then start plan­ning in ad­vance as it takes around two to three days for it to be­come moist, chew­able and syrupy. Ra­jku­mari says, “I like to wrap the meat and its sea­son­ings in a foil to re­duce the aroma loss and pre­vent the meat edges from dry­ing out.” She fur­ther adds that the cap­tured juices make a de­li­cious sauce. Ribs can also be con­cocted with mop­ping liq­uids and sauces for an in­dis­tinct, gener­i­cally fruity and a spicy flavour and can be en­joyed with breads.

Bar­be­cu­ing with friends is for en­joy­ment more than the meat. The kitchen can’t match the out­doors for cel­e­brat­ing the plea­sures of win­ters and dry ribs. To get the best from your grill, study it and see how much meat it can ac­tu­ally heat gen­tly and evenly. Al­ways re­mem­ber to put the ribs ac­cord­ing to the size of the bar­beque grill or the oven.

This win­ter bid good­bye to the bor­ing nuts and the fruit plat­ter and in­dulge and chal­lenge your taste buds to the tan­ta­lis­ing won­der that is ta­pas.


The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata

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