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