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Menu Idea: Tapas Tonight

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In my house, warm weather, when nobody feels like looking or standing over a stove, calls for something quick and easy to eat. If the last thing that you can imagine doing is turning on the stove and you’re craving something easy to nosh on that doesn’t take a lot of time to assemble, try tapas.

Tapas are Spanish-style appetizers or small bites that are really fun to eat. It’s one of my favorite things to enjoy at a restaurant—and going to restaurants that serve tapas is probably one of the things I’ve missed the most lately about “normal” life—where typically 2-4 per person makes for a good main course meal. And it’s more fun when you have a variety to share with your partner or a group: some seafood, cheese and fruit; some hot and some cold.

Try these ideas a spread of Mediterranean-style tapas that you can make at home for a quick lunch or dinner.

Cold and no-cook tapas

Marcona almonds are a nice alternative to roasted almonds for a tapas board.

Marcona almonds—think of these as regular, roasted almonds’ much tastier cousin. I’ve purchased these in cheese shops as well as higher-end grocery stores or specialty food stores in the past. They may come packed with a little oil at the bottom of the container and sprinkled with salt. I like to add fresh ground black pepper to mine, sometimes a pinch of smoked paprika for a little extra smokiness. If you get them unsalted, though, be sure to sprinkle them generously with sea salt. You can try some truffle sea salt if you feel fancy.

Caprese skewers—everyone loves food on a stick, right?! Caprese salad is one of my favorite things to make and eat. These are a simple, fun to eat version of the classic salad. I like them with a creamy pesto dipping sauce, which is versatile because…

Fresh vegetables—The pesto dip also is super with crudités, too. Carrot sticks, zucchini slices, and baby bell peppers served whole or cut in half and seeded are a few of my perennial favorites.

Cornichons or other pickled vegetables—Mix up your spread with fresh and pickled vegetables, which offer a nice contrast of fresh and preserved flavors. Cornichons are baby pickles that are just so snappy, I always have them in my fridge and love them much more than regular pickles. Maille has flavored varieties, like a spicy pepper one, as well as plain that are equally delicious. Another good option is pickled carrots or cauliflower.

Cured meats—If you’re into this sort of thing, a good-quality spiced salame, pepperoni or prosciutto can be a good choice to compliment your cheeses and brine-y things. Make sure to have some grainy mustard with them, too: it adds a savory, vinegar saltiness that just boosts the flavor.

Assorted cheeses—It’s always nice to have a few kinds of cheese to serve with meats and pickled veggies. Depending on your spread, you could choose one cheese or a few—maybe a wedge of creamy brie or a ball of burrata served with a red pepper jam, fig jam or another condiment as well as some crackers.

Hot tapas

Sun-dried tomato strudels—These strudels come together quickly with store-bought puff pastry and a few other ingredients.

A small step for big flavor: Warm your olives up and add some citrus zest or fresh herbs.

Mixed olives—If you want to serve your olives cold, of course they’re delicious that way, too. To go the extra mile (maybe just a “half mile” since this is really easy), warm the olives up with a little olive oil in a skillet. Add some fresh chopped, a thick piece of orange or lemon peel, and heat until fragrant. There’s a Greek or Sicilian mix I generally go for at the grocery store that has kalamata and picholine. Kalamata you probably already know as the briney, black or purple olives that are used in Greek salads. Picholine are smaller, sweet green olives.

Devils on Horseback—AKA: stuffed dates with blue cheese, which are sweet-salty-creamy bites of deliciousness. To make them vegetarian, you can use veggie bacon or just omit it entirely.

Grilled shrimp skewers—There are gazillions of recipes out there for grilled shrimp and shrimp scampi individually but this is the best of both worlds, in my opinion: grilled shrimp with garlic butter. They are a perfect bite by themselves or served on top of some toasted crostini… and, to continue what’s apparently becoming an unintended theme of this article, another food served on a stick! 🙂

Soak bamboo skewers in water, which helps prevent them from burning too quickly on the grill, or use metal skewers. If using bamboo skewers, I find that two skewers help the shrimp to be more “sturdy” when grilling and easier to flip. To do this, poke one skewer through the top, meaty part of the shrimp, and a second towards the bottom of the shrimp and repeat until you have the desired amount that you want on each skewer. I like to splurge for jumbo shrimp from time to time, especially when it comes to grilled shrimp for a tapas spread and shrimp cocktail, so 4-5 shrimp generally fit per skewer if they’re larger or 6-7 if smaller.

Brush shrimp with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill until pink, usually just a couple of minutes per side over a grill set to 400 degrees F. While the shrimp are cooking, you can make a quick garlic butter by melting a stick of unsalted butter in a small saucepan. (If you have a side burner on your grill, that’s extra convenient to make this while also keeping an eye on the shrimp, but the same can be done inside on your cooktop.) As the butter starts to bubble, add 2 tablespoons smashed or chopped garlic, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional), and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Some chopped, fresh herbs, like parsley, are nice but optional. Dunk or slather (your choice – or do both 😉 the shrimp in the sauce as well as a squeeze of lemon after they’re cooked.

Mini desserts

Mini cannoli or macarons—for a little something sweet to have along with a cordial, tea or espresso, you can find these in most speciality grocery stores now. Sometimes the cannoli come with the shells empty and a separate bag of filling, which is a lot of fun since tapas tend to be a hands-on, “interactive” dinner.

Mini tartlets—pre-formed fillo dough shells can be found in most grocery stores freezer sections. You can fill them with any number of things: cherry pie filling, chocolate pudding, lemon curd, or just some whipped cream and fresh berries can be nice, too.

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  1. […] Grilled Garlic Shrimp—This is a great option for pescatarians if everyone else was planning on eating grilled burgers and hot dogs, without resorting to veggie burgers or veggie dogs, or for anyone that just wants something different. Serve with grilled vegetable kebabs. Cook the proteins and vegetables on separate kebabs since they will finish cooking at different rates; that way, the shrimp won’t overcook while the zucchini, for example, is still cooking. […]

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