Small dish, big hit

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Tapas has been the buzzword of ethnic cuisine of late. This form of dining is characterized by small portions of appetizer-esque dishes. Dishes are cooked with olive oil rather than butter, resulting in a healthier, more Mediterranean-tasting fare. Garlic is often a main ingredient.

The concept for tapas originated in southern Spain. The Spanish word derives from the verb “to cover” and literally means “top” or “lid.”

“In the old days, the popular drink of the age was sherry,” says Hossein Jamali, owner of Tapas Valencia in Bloomingdale, Ill., and Meson Sabika in Naperville, Ill. “Before air conditioning, the heat required them (to leave the windows open), and the fruit flies were attracted to the sweetness of the sherry.

“Tavern owners would put a piece of bread over the rim of the glass to serve as a lid, and patrons started munching on it,” he says.

“Pretty soon, that was paired with a little chunk of cheese ... and then a slice of ham ... and maybe some potato salad on top,” Jamali said. “It got to the point where proprietors would compete and try to differentiate themselves by developing a reputation for a specialty.”

While the menu has evolved, Jamali says the smaller portion sizes have survived.

For beverages, sangria — a drink made from wine or champagne mixed and fortified with other liquors and fresh fruit — is a staple.

Another staple is sherry, says Eddie Miguel, general manager of Emilio’s Tapas La Rioja in Wheaton, Ill.

He recommends Dry Fino Sherries such as Laina, La Jitano and Tio Pepe.

“Those should start up your palate, and the dryness gets you salivating and charged up for a nice cold dish,” Miguel says.

Socializing and sharing is the name of the game at tapas restaurants. The dining style has barhopping roots, so the ambiance is casual, and eating off the same plate is expected. The idea is to order many small dishes, pass them around, dole out small helpings and combine the tastings for a full meal.

“At a tapas place, you’re going to get a bite of six or seven different things with a variety of flavors for pretty much the same price. It’s more fun than being stuck with your one pasta or chicken dish,” Miguel says.

As for ordering, it’s best to do it in waves rather than choosing all dishes from the get-go. Jamali and Miguel suggest sampling the cold and hot menus to get a nice mixture.


Homemade sangria

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 large lemon

1 large orange

1 small apple, cored and thinly sliced

1 (750 ml.) bottle dry red wine (recommended: Rioja)

1/2 cup Grand Marnier

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Thinly slice 1/2 of the lemon and 1/2 of the orange. Combine in large pitcher. Juice the other halves of the lemon and orange and add juice and rinds to the pitcher. Add the apple, wine, Grand Marnier and chilled syrup to the pitcher and stir until well mixed. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours. Serve straight up or on the rocks.

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