Ah, Spain. Siesta’s, sunshine… And delicious food too! We love tapas, and small plates are something that the Spanish do exceptionally well. So it makes sense that they would be good at creating appetizers. There are so many to choose from, but we love to share, so we have assembled a list of 17 easy Spanish appetizers for you to peruse and hopefully try. Gracias! De Nata!
1. Spanish Pisto
Certain things flourish in the sunshine. Fresh fruit, juicy tomatoes, and a happy mood. What better way to recreate it than making a warm and vibrant Spanish-style ratatouille? This dish is vibrant, filling, colorful, and full of flavor. Once you have cooked it, you wouldn’t believe the number of vegetables that have gone into it. It is literally all of your 5-a-day in a single bowl! This recipe contains delights such as plump tomatoes, green peppers, onions, eggplant, and garlic. We like to go properly traditional and add a few chunks of manchego and a fried egg just to top it off!
2. Patatas Bravas
Patatas Bravas is about as Spanish as it gets. Cubes of golden and crispy potatoes, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, combined with a burst of red and vibrant tangy tomato sauce. If you really want to push the boat out, you could also whip up some homemade garlic mayonnaise (sorry, aioli). Don’t make the beginner’s mistake of using a can of tomatoes blended. The sauce needs to be so much more than that. We add garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, hot sauce, and a softened onion before blending to perfection in our recipe.
3. Bean and Tomato Dip
If you’ve ever had Mexican, you’ll already be familiar with the concept of bean dip. But this isn’t dark refried beans. Oh, no. For this recipe to be scrumptious, you must include butter beans. They are normally pretty easy to get hold of. Now, butter beans on their own sound pretty boring, right?
So, you’re going to want to add some classic Spanish flavors. Hows about a few blushing tomatoes, a little garlic, some red wine (well… red wine vinegar at least), and perhaps just a hint of parsley? This isn’t a dip in the true sense of the word… No beans are blended in the making of this recipe, so it is actually pretty chunky and hearty.
4. Gambas a la Plancha
If you aren’t a Spanish speaker, Gambas means ‘shrimp’, and la Plancha means ‘iron’… Alright, so the traditional translation doesn’t quite do it justice. It basically means pan-fried shrimp.
This dish can be made with peeled shrimp, but for a dish that looks truly Spanish, cook them with their shells on. It’s actually pretty easy to make, which is surprising as it looks like something you’d see in a fancy restaurant. A splash of lemon juice and a little oil (don’t forget the seasoning), and that’s about it. You’ll see this eaten as an appetizer on the coast.
You’ll also see Spaniards fighting over who gets the heads, which are full of flavor. Apparently, shrimp heads aren’t our favorite part of this dish.
5. Rice Stuffed Tomatoes
If you’ve ever had stuffed peppers, then this is a similar concept. Who would have thought that tomatoes could be so filling? We love to serve this dish during the height of summer, and it makes a real spectacle at a barbecue. The tomato acts as a bowl for the rice, combined with a tasty broth alongside ingredients such as garlic and onions. When the tomatoes are roasted, they take on a sort of sweetness and break down slightly to become all soft. The juices also flow into the rice contained within the tomato. It’s really delicious.
6. Fried Cauliflower
How can something so tasty be so good for you? We know that in a survey, 9/10 people didn’t say that cauliflower was their favorite food. But then they’ve obviously never tasted this recipe. This is a simple dish to make. As the cauliflower cooks, it turns quite soft and perhaps just a little bit sweet. It is topped with a mixture of breadcrumbs and a hint of paprika before being deep-fried. It is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. We love to serve this with a strong garlic aioli dip that seems to work really well with the richness of the toasted breadcrumb exterior.
7. Tortilla de Patatas
A lot of Spanish food could be described as ‘rustic’… And it doesn’t get much more rustic than this. Essentially, tortilla de patatas is a mix of eggs and potatoes. You’ll hear this described as a ‘spanish omelet,’ but we don’t think this does the dish justice. For a start, onions are included. Second, if you cook it right, it isn’t flat and lifeless like an omelet but should be pillowy and puffy.
We fry potatoes until they are golden brown, add some onions (and a little salt and pepper), then pour in a few well-beaten eggs. Want a top tip? Once the egg begins to set, don’t flip it like an omelet, that’s what amateurs do. Instead, place the pan under a blistering hot broiler until the tortilla puffs up and turns golden brown on top! Make a big portion and save half to eat cold the next day for lunch!
8. Garlic Mushrooms Spanish Style
You’ve undoubtedly had garlic mushrooms before. Were they served in a sort of cream sauce? This is a little different and would make the ideal dish if you are trying to steer clear of dairy. This gorgeous recipe is served in a thick layer of olive oil, garlic, and fiery cayenne pepper. Want a top tip with your mushrooms? Don’t wash them by submerging them in water. They act like little sponges and won’t cook well. Instead, give them a little wipe with a damp piece of kitchen towel. If you are struggling to brown your mushrooms, a teaspoon of butter will get them a nice golden color.
9. Green Beans with Paprika and Garlic
So far, quite a few of the dishes might have seemed a little heavy. Patatas bravas is nice, but it also really filling. For a lighter alternative, which adds a splash of color, why not try eating your greens. We are, of course, talking about green beans. This is really easy to make, and you can taste the goodness. Just cook the beans until they are al dente, then refresh in cold water. Add a few chopped garlic cloves to a pan of olive oil and fry until lightly golden before adding your beans to coat them in that garlic oil. A squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of pepper (and a naughty glass of white wine on the side), and you’ve got a light meal that tastes fantastic!
10. Spanish Meatballs
Go to any Spanish tapas restaurant worth it is salt, and you should find a plate of these, provided you aren’t too late, and they have already been eaten. These are a little rich, and you’ll have to watch your waistline if you are eating them a lot… They contain a mixture of beef, pork, and a large helping of Spanish manchego cheese as a binding agent. To top it all off, they are finished in a rich tomato sauce similar to that served with patatas bravas. We’ll fight you for the last one.
11. Pan con Tomate
Pan is Spanish for bread… Can you guess what else goes into this dish? If you said tomatoes, of course, you’d be right. This is actually a super simple recipe that looks suspiciously similar to Italian bruschetta. In fact, it contains pretty much all the same ingredients, except for the basil. Instead, we like to use fresh chopped parsley. This is a variation in another way, whereas bruschetta has chunks of tomato. You make a rough and ready passata-style tomato topping by grating your tomato. The entire dish is finished off with a hint of garlic and a generous helping of olive oil.
12. Croquetas de Jamon
Out of every dish on this list, this might just be our favorite. It is a little fiddly to make, but the end result is so worth it. We start by making a roux. This is combined with delicious flavored milk… This is achieved by poaching an onion for a few minutes in the milk. From there, we combine it with the roux to make a thick paste that is chilled along with cubes of serrano ham before being rolled into thin sausages. This is then breaded and fried. As it cooks, the hot oil melts the interior, you end up with a crispy and slightly gooey breaded bechamel and ham dipper… If you only try one dish of this list, make it this one. We promise you won’t regret it.
13. Manchego and Orange Preserve
One of the beautiful things about Spanish cooking is its simplicity (not including croquetas de jamon). It relies on the ingredients to carry the dish instead of the cooks’ technique. An easy-to-make dish that looks good and is super tasty? That sounds good to us. Manchego is a dense cheese served throughout Spain. You’ll often find it cut into thick wedges and eaten ‘as is’.
This dish is infused with fragrant garlic oil and is served alongside a tangy and slightly sweet orange preserve. Extra prizes awarded for authenticity if you use fresh Seville oranges! The acid in the orange really works well to cut through the richness of the manchego.
14. Bean and Red Pepper Salad
Beans and red peppers sound kinda Mexican? Well, where do you think their influence came from? This is also a perfect dish if you have vegan guests over for dinner. If you tried out the bean dip recipe above, this makes an ideal recipe to use up all of those leftover beans. Cannellini beans would also work really well. This is one of those dishes that it pays to make ahead. Not to save time, but because it tastes even better the next day. The oil and vinegar soak into the beans and makes a kind of rich oily pepper sauce. The longer you leave it, the nicer it is.
Who wants to eat a bowl of hot soup in the Madrid sunshine. Anyone? No, us neither, but it seems a waste of tomatoes. The answer? Gazpacho. This chilled summer soup is bursting with sweet and vibrant flavors. You can serve it ‘as is’ or flower the dish up with one or two flavorful additions. The Andalucian version is topped with a thin layer of raw white onions and a little grated cucumber. Be sure to give it a nice spiral of oil just before serving for the ultimate presentation.
16. Ensaladilla Rusa (Russian Peasant Salad)
Make a lot of this, and you’ll not need to cook again for a week. It is unbelievably filling! The basis of this dish is potatoes. These are combined with oil, mayonnaise, chopped olives, and perhaps a crumbled hard-boiled egg or two. This is then mixed into a sort of potato salad that is great as a side dish, or alternatively as a meal in its own right. Don’t serve a huge portion of this if you are using it as an appetizer, or your guests won’t be able to eat their main course.
17. Gambas Pil Pil
We thought that we’d finish with a classic. Gambas pil pil is shrimp in spiced oil. It is really simple to make, and if you have any cast iron dishes at home, nows the time to use them, as they are traditionally served in the pan they are cooked in. Simply heat a (really) generous portion of olive oil until smoking hot. Add a few chopped chillis and shards of garlic, and flash fry for a minute. Then add your shrimp and stir fry until they turn a deep pink. Serve immediately along with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.
As we said above, Spanish food is all about using simple, quality ingredients do the talking. Most of the above dishes in our list of 17 Spanish appetizers are really easy to make. Most take less than half an hour. Have we missed any off our list? Let us know in the comments below.