Tapas are bar food in Spain and it should be said that this bar food is a distinct cut above that which you will find in most other countries. By its very nature, it is usually finger food, more like robust canapés, perhaps. It is probably tourists who equate tapas with Spanish cuisine. But if you want to emulate the Spanish holiday experience and have an evening of tapas and sangria, will this book help you? Well, yes but not unequivocally so.
This is an English book which means there are some issues with ingredients. There is a distinct shortage of quail eggs, wild mushrooms and truffles where I live. I wouldn’t even know where to buy fresh anchovies and they might look askance at Countdown’s butchery if I asked to have my rabbit boned out. In fact, I am pretty sure they don’t sell rabbit, fresh or frozen. But that is not such a major problem because this book is structured with the basic recipes and at the end of each chapter, variants on the recipes are included. That is how it gets to a massive 500 recipes.
It is a different style of cooking and eating and the major shortcoming of the book is in not giving guidelines to a suitable range of tapas to serve for an occasion. In fact many of the recipes might pass for dinner and if you are going to be serving a range of maybe ten or a dozen tapas for an evening, you want some pretty simple, delicious options to balance out the more complex and hearty dishes. Forward planning is important because you will need a wide range of ingredients to cook a selection of tapas. It is not for spur of the moment entertaining and cooking is required so it won’t suit those who are more inclined to just assemble food. That is what sets it apart from hors d’oeuvres.
Chapters cover light tapas, mixed tapas, the full range of seafood and meats, a vegetarian chapter and even desserts. Basically, I think this is a cheap and cheerful little book giving a wide range of Spanish dishes adapted to English tastes. You will probably need to practice and get some experience before tackling a tapas evening.
500 Tapas by Maria Segura (New Holland; ISBN: 978 1 74257 211 6) reviewed by Abbie Jury.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.