Cookbook Challenge: “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America”
This is a cookbook that I’ve had for quite a long time, but felt a little intimidated to fully dive in. I tried one recipe from it before and used the wrong sausage and it ruined the whole recipe. It seems hard to screw up a recipe with any kind of sausage, but believe me, it’s possible. I scooped this one up at a book fair because I have eaten at the tapas restaurant, Jaleo, in Bethesda, Maryland started by chef/owner Jose Andres. It was an impressive experience and the amount of work that went into feeding our table of nine was no small feat. For anyone who doesn’t know, tapas are little plates of food, or appetizers, meant to be shared, similar to Chinese dim sum. Generally, tapas are something that might be enjoyed over several hours while drinking wine or sangria with friends. Since I have a few favorite tapas restaurants that I already enjoy, I decided to pick recipes from this book that were more like hearty meals and less like little bites. Spanish tapas are typically prepared with the strong flavors of olives, hard cheeses, chorizo sausage, anchovies, peppers and cured hams. The bolder, pungent tapas are often served on their own, but would usually be balanced out by ordering other tapas with more delicate, mild flavors such as bread, figs, leeks and potatoes.
My first choice for a recipe from this tapas cookbook is titled Spring Green Peas with Romesco Sauce and Mint (or guisantes tiernos al romesco). The featured tips from the chef called, ‘Jose’s Tips’, explain that you can use other things in place of the peas. I happened to have some baby lima beans on hand and it reminded me of my childhood when my bestfriend and I would share a can of vegetable soup and fight over who got the lima beans. I know it sounds odd, but at least our moms didn’t have to beg us to eat our vegetables.
The ingredient list for this looked small until I realized that I had to make a separate Romesco sauce to serve the lima beans over. The Romesco sauce is quite good and is a basic roasted vegetable sauce with tomatoes, garlic and chili pepers. You can make large batches of it and freeze the extra for future use. The sauce is really what makes the dish, so you probably can’t leave it out. The fresh mint gives it some pep and I chose to chop up the mint leaves and mix into the pan after I removed it from the heat. I also simmered my lima beans in vegetable broth because they needed longer to cook than peas would. This was a nice side dish, but a little more work than I expect to do with a side. If I had the Romesco sauce pre-made I would probably consider making this dish again because I love lima beans.
*As far as the cookbook goes:
This book is a journey through Spain. There is nothing watered-down or subtle about it. It gets bonus points for authenticity and for the engaging photos that artfully grace every page. Each recipe features a box at the bottom of the page called ‘Jose’s Tips’, and I recommend reading them before preparing the dish. Jose’s Tips are muy bueno and may save you a trip to an expensive gourmet grocery store or hours of extra work. The negative parts about the book are few, but this is probably the type of cookbook that most people buy after dining at a great tapas restaurant. That being said, it would be painstaking and labor-intensive to try to recreate a tapas-style meal for friends or family, even with this excellent book. I have tried to do this before, and it ends up being a very salty, olive-y experience that leaves some people still hungry. You would have to make 6-8 different tapas to recreate a tapas restaurant experience and it’s hard to figure out what everyone likes. I prefer to leave it to the experts- I’ll sip my red wine and chat with friends while letting someone else do all of the work.
If you feel like tapas should be on your menu or you just want to try something that makes you feel like a bullfighter, check out the book on Amazon.