For those of you who aren’t familiar with tapas, these are snacks or appetizers eaten in Spain. It’s kind of like meze in the Mediterranean or the Middle East. When I’ve been in Spain and had tapas, it’s usually been in a bar while having drinks. You can either order specific ones or I’ve been to places where waiters just walk around with trays full of different types of appetizers that you can just grab…for free.
I really like this style of eating where you can have a range of things to snack on so there’s variety. And of course the selection of tapas I’ve had, both hot and cold, are delicious. So if I’m in a city that happens to have a tapas restaurant, I usually check it out. The best one I’ve been to by far in the US (ok I’ve only been to a total of 5 but out of those) is Cafe Iberico in Chicago. The food is delicious. You get the types of tapas you would in Spain. And they have pretty good sangria.
I am no longer in Chicago, so I tried to find a traditional tapas place in Los Angeles. Boy was that tough! I found places that said they had tapas, but when I read the menu, the dishes offered were not the traditional ones I recognized. They also had really small portions, high prices and way too shi-shi ingredients. Disappointed, I decided I would have to try to make my own.
I tried to find simple vegetarian dishes to make. I’m kind of over the tortilla española so I was not going to make that. Instead I made 4 other dishes. Two were based on things I had eaten at Cafe Iberico: baked goat cheese with tomato sauce (queso de cabra con tomate) and sauteed mushrooms in a garlic sauce (champiñones a la plancha). The other were two things I ate at a tapas restaurant in Los Angeles called Cobras & Matadors (shi-shi yes, but they do have good food). These were socca cakes and also sauteed spinach with raisins, nuts and harissa.
Now for some of these dishes, I just made up the recipe based on how it tasted, looked and what I thought was in it. I’m sure there are recipes somewhere, but of course, being me (meaning I am lazy), why would I look those up? I also don’t have measurements for some of the things added. They were just added to taste.
Baked goat cheese in tomato sauce (Queso de Cabra con Tomate)
This one was really easy. I didn’t even make the sauce from scratch. I went to Trader Joe’s and got their goat cheese. It comes in a log so I shaped it into a circle. I put it in the middle of my terracotta baking dish (dish looks like these-it’s what I’ve seen tapas served in). I opened a jar of Trader Giotto’s tomato and basil tomato sauce and poured it around the goat cheese. I baked it in the oven at 350° for 30 minutes. I got the time and cooking temperature from this recipe for the same dish on the Whole Foods website.
I cut up a baguette and brushed on melted butter with crushed fresh garlic on the slices. I baked the bread in the oven at 350° until it was lightly toasted. Delicious to scoop up the cheese and tomato sauce with!
Sauteed Garlic Mushrooms (Champiñones a la Plancha)
I couldn’t find a recipe for these that matched what I had had at Cafe Iberico a few years back. Those mushrooms had been sauteed but were served in a dish with a garlicky sauce-almost broth like. I remember it well because I used to love to dip bread in it while eating the mushrooms. So I looked at a couple recipes and combined them to make this dish.
1 lb. button mushrooms
1 lb. crimini mushrooms
3 cloves of garlic (can add more or less depending on taste)
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth if you prefer)
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and cut the mushrooms. If it’s too many mushrooms, you can cut up less. Just remember that they really reduce when heated so I always end up cutting up and adding more while cooking. Heat the olive oil in the pan and sauté the garlic. Add the mushrooms and sauté on medium heat until brown. Add the broth. Add and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low-medium heat until it reduces to about 1/2 to 1/3 the liquid. And you are done!
Sauteed Spinach with golden raisins, pine nuts and harissa
Now I am not one who likes spicy food, but this dish was really tasty when I had it at Cobras & Matadors. Also it introduced me to harissa, which I had never heard of before reading it on the menu. It turns out harissa is a chili paste/sauce eaten in North Africa based on the piri piri pepper. In L.A. I found it at a Middle Eastern food market. For this recipe I completely winged it.
a bag of spinach
golden raisins or sultanas
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
Toast the pine nuts in the oven until they turn golden brown. I placed them on a baking sheet and toasted them for 5-10 minutes at 350° making sure I turned them. Take them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.
In a pan, heat up olive oil on medium heat and add some harissa. The amount you add depends on how hot you want it to be. I add a teeny amount because I don’t want it to be spicy (tip of a teaspoon). Mix the harissa with the olive oil. Sauté the spinach turning it (with tongs is easier I find) until cooked. Remove from heat. Toss in pine nuts and raisins (as many as you want) and serve.
I don’t know if this is exactly how they make it at Cobra & Matadors but it sure came out good. And if you want, you can always throw the pine nuts into the harissa/oil mix to make them spicy too.
Socca cakes are small pancakes made from chick-pea flour and according to the internet, are sold as street food in Southern France. Whatever they are, they are delicious. I had the ones with goat cheese and honey at Cobras & Matadors-highly recommend it. I decided to make some to go with the dishes I had made. I figure they would go well with either the goat cheese, mushrooms or spinach and that I could pile that on top of the cakes. I found a recipe on line that I slightly modified. Here is the original recipe.
I used Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Fava flour I found at Whole Foods. I didn’t add the Agave Nectar that was in the recipe and just added a pinch of sugar. I wanted my cakes to be savory so I cut out the sweet and added garlic salt (or garlic powder). I just kept adding it to the flour mixture until it tasted the way I wanted. Then I just cooked the socca cakes as if I was making pancakes.
Socca cakes are good with a variety of foods piled on top. One thing I tried was putting creamed spinach on them. This was really delicious!
So it seems that for now, until I can find a tapas restaurant in L.A. I’m happy with, I’ll have to make my own. Or…maybe I can convince the owners of Cafe Iberico to open up something on the West Coast?