Spanish Tapas

I’ve never been to Spain (a grave oversight on my part, I’ll admit) but I was asked last year to cater a small vegan Spanish-themed wedding reception. The groom was a Spanish teacher, and the couple had very fond memories of their travels in Spain, so we decided to do a small tapas buffet. I did some research online to come up with traditional tapas recipes. I “veganized” several, some of which I’m sharing with you this month.

The term “tapas” comes from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”. The story is that a bar owner started putting small slices on ham on top of his customers’ sherry glasses as a way to keep the flies out of their drinks. He noticed that patrons who ate the salty ham ordered more drinks, and a tradition was born.

People in Spain use their bars as places to meet, flirt, exchange news and gossip, and get to know their neighbors. With an eager clientele to please, bar owners came up with more and more “little somethings”, and now tapas are a major part of Spain’s cuisine. Bars all over the country set out a tapas buffet every evening. Most people don’t view them as a full meal, just as a pre-dinner snack or appetizer. Of course, this is in a country where dinner is very late by our standards, usually around 10 or 11 p.m. Between the late dinner hour, the flirting, and the drinking, it’s no wonder they feel the need for a little something to tide them over in the early evening!

Many of these recipes were vegan or nearly so already. Only one required real work – the Spinach Empanada recipe. It originally called for tuna or dried shrimp and diced, hard-boiled eggs. I substituted miso for the salty fish and crumbled firm tofu for the eggs. The results – delicious!

Olives, almonds, tomatoes, garlic….what’s not to love? Next time you have friends over for drinks or dinner, set out a few tapas and see if the evening doesn’t seem a bit more festive than usual!

Fried, Salted Almonds

Recipe By: Lisa Bennett (traditional)
Serves 8
Preparation Time: 10 minutes

extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound blanched almonds, whole
sea salt

Heat 1/4-inch of olive oil in a skillet until hot but not smoking. Fry almonds until they are golden brown, taking care not to burn them. Drain the almonds on paper towels, add salt to taste, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Notes: If you can find Marcona almonds, they are more authentic. They are almost round and flat, with a richer, more bittersweet flavor than standard almonds.

Spiced Marinated Mushrooms

Recipe By:
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus overnight to marinate

1 pound white (button) mushrooms, wiped clean and stems trimmed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoon. Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup or sweetener of choice
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Place mushrooms in sealable plastic or glass container. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in mixing bowl.

Pour over mushrooms and toss to evenly coat.

Seal and store in the refrigerator overnight. Serve cold or room temperature with plenty of colorful toothpicks.

Notes: You can substitute 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (white, yellow, or scallion) for shallots if you prefer.

These are also great in a salad.

Almond-Stuffed “Bacon”-Wrapped Dates

Recipe By: Lisa Bennett, adapted from
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

4 ounces blanched whole almonds
1 pound dates
1/2 pound tempeh Fakin Bacon
olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Put an almond into each date. Wrap a piece of Fakin Bacon around each date and secure it with a toothpick. Brush Fakin Bacon with olive oil. Place dates on cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until Fakin Bacon is lightly browned. Don’t over-bake them, however. The Fakin Bacon won’t get as crisp as regular bacon, even with the olive oil.

Serve warm.
Notes: This sweet and smoky/salty combination of flavors is a little bit of heaven.

I tried both Smart Bacon and Fakin’ Bacon brands in this recipe, and the Fakin’ Bacon won hands-down for both flavor and texture.

Eggplants from Almagro

Recipe By: Lisa Bennett (adapted from
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus time to cool

6 small eggplant, cleaned, with ends removed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
6 cloves garlic
olive oil for frying

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups water to a boil and add eggplants. Add other ingredients except for garlic and olive oil, and let the eggplants boil. In the meantime, heat a small amount of olive oil in a small frying pan and lightly fry the garlic cloves. Add them to the water that the eggplants are cooking in. Lower the heat until the eggplants are on a slow simmer. Cook gently, taking care not to let the eggplants break, until they are very tender and their sauce is reduced. Remove from heat. Let eggplants cool before serving. Taste for salt and vinegar and adjust if necessary.
Notes: These are delicious served at room temperature or chilled, with some crusty bread.

I have adapted this recipe from a site with charmingly mangled English translations of extremely vague recipes. This balance of flavors worked for our tastes, but feel free to play with the proportions.

Spinach Empandas

Recipe By: Lisa Bennett, adapted from The Heritage of Spanish Cooking
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 1 hr

1 1/2 pounds spinach, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 1/2 ounces tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons miso (any kind except sweet white)
1/2 cup pine nuts (or slivered almonds)
1/2 lb tofu (any type), crumbled
sea salt

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy milk
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon beer (optional, or use extra water)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
soy milk (2-3 tablespoons, just to brush on top of pies)
Pastry brush

Filling: Boil the spinach for 10 minutes. Drain. Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the garlic on low heat, followed by the tomatoes.

When the tomato mixture has thickened, add the spinach, miso and the pine nuts. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the crumbled tofu and some salt.

Dough: While the mixture is cooking, prepare the dough. Put the flour in a bowl and add the oil, soymilk, lemon juice, beer, baking soda and salt. Mix by hand until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll the dough out into a thin sheet. Cut into 3-inch rounds. Place a tablespoon of filling on each round. Fold over and seal, making a narrow rim.

Transfer the turnovers to a lightly oiled or parchment-covered baking sheet and brush each one with soy milk. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees F and bake the turnovers for 20 – 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.

Notes: Small individual pies like this are sometimes called empanadillas (“little pies”).

If you like, you can make just six pies and serve them as a main dish. You might have to increase the baking time