Tapas come in all kinds of flavors, some served warm and others cold. For days when you really don’t want to cook, these simple summer Spanish tapas are perfect: no cooking, only a few minutes to prep and lots of great flavors.
I don’t know about you, but there are some days when it’s just feels too hot or I’m too sapped of energy to cook. We have had a few of them recently. Sometimes, I’ll plan ahead a little and use the slow cooker (pork carnitas tacos are a current favorite) or we’ll grill eg chicken satay or steak with chimichurri sauce. Other days we fall back on pasta with arugula pesto or some other sauce. But uncooked meals can also be a great alternative.
There’s a saying about Madrid’s weather:
“nueve meses de invierno, tres meses de infierno”
– nine months of winter, three months of fire. While I didn’t live in Madrid during the height of summer, it was still pretty hot some days, and it gets much hotter in the South. Spain knows how to create meals that work for hot weather, as these tasty uncooked tapas dishes show. While tapas are often thought of as a simple snack alongside a drink, it’s often more about sharing and eating gradually – you can easily make a meal out of them. You can mix and match a range of dishes, but here I’ve gone for a few favorites that provide a range of flavors that all come together to make a delicious, easy meal.
What are tapas?
There are various stories about the exact origin of tapas – some argue it was when a bartender used a piece of bread as a ‘tapa’ (lid) to keep flies out of customers’ beer and they evolved to have toppings. Then the toppings became the star, as the chef showcased the menu with little taster alongside your drink. Sadly not as many places give you a free snack these days, but you can get some great dishes to buy. Most bars sell some cold and some warm tapas, and cold are particularly good for warm weather.
Some of these Spanish tapas are so easy I’d hardly call them recipes, but they still make great little dishes. It might look like a lot of ingredients and different things to put together, but nothing takes much preparation. Plus to me, half the fun of tapas is trying a few things.
Pan tomate con jamon – Bread with tomato and ham
Pan tomate (or pa amb tomaquet, in Catalan, where it originates) is a classic in Spanish tapas. You’ll often get it on the side whatever you order, particularly in Catalunya where I first had it. As the name suggests, it’s bread with tomato, but it’s so much better than just that thanks to some good oil and garlic. Traditionally in Catalunya, you rub toasted bread with a garlic clove, then rub it with the cut side of a tomato and drizzle on olive oil, but in other parts of Spain, it’s common to make a tomato, garlic and oil blend to then spread over the bread, toasted or untoasted.
It’s so simple but has a great flavor and is great to then top with other things, Adding serrano ham is one of the most common, but you can also get various pizza-like llescas (Catalan bread pizza) that start with the pan tomate base. If you can’t find serrano ham, then prosciutto is a close alternative.
Manchego y membrillo – Manchego cheese and quince paste
Manchego is a classic Spanish cheese and a common way to serve it is with membrillo, a quince paste. I can get both Manchego and membrillo in my local Wholefoods but if you can’t get them, you could use another good-quality flavorful hard cheese (ideally aged sheep’s milk to be in similar style) and honey instead. The two together are a lovely pairing, either alone or on top of bread. Spain doesn’t tend to do that broad a range of desserts and so cheese, particularly with membrillo, is a common menu item instead. If cheese is your thing, also take a look at my Spanish cheese plate where you’ll see tips on different Spanish cheeses and what else to add.
Ensalada de naranja y aguacate – Orange and avocado salad
Many Spanish salads are incredibly simple, as you can see is the case here. Simple slices of oranges, avocado, red onion and some black olives lightly dressed with oil and vinegar. Orange and avocado are common crops in the South and you’ll find olives in many areas of Spain. Many Spanish dishes are all about using good quality ingredients and letting them shine and this is certainly one of them.
Ensaladilla rusa – Russian salad/potato salad
Somewhere along the way the Spanish have adopted what they call Russian salad by adapting a potato salad, which was probably more commonly made with ham originally, as their own. It can be simply potato, mayonnaise and peas but it’s commonly a mix of carrots and peas and tuna in there as well, along with some red onion, oil and vinegar. I know this isn’t strictly no-cook, but it’s a great way to use up leftover cooked potatoes. It’s a dish that goes with pretty much anything and was something we’d often get as part of a selection of tapas when I lived in Spain.
Gazpacho – Chilled tomato/vegetable soup
I shared a recipe for gazpacho previously but it seemed only right to include it here. It’s also very simple – just blend up some tomato, cucumber, green pepper, garlic, olive oil and season with a little vinegar. You can add a bit bread to thicken it as well, then serve chilled.
None of these dishes take more than a few minutes to make so they are perfect for warm days. So don’t despair if you don’t feel like cooking: these simple Spanish tapas are the perfect solution for summer. Lots of great flavor with little effort.
A collection of tasty small plates that come together for a great Spanish tapas meal.
- 1/2 baguette or similar bread
- 3 oz serrano ham 85g, approx, 1 packet, or prosciutto
- 1 tomato
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 dash salt or a little more to taste
- 9 oz potatoes 255g, cooked, approx
- 8.5 oz peas and carrots 240g (1 can)
- 5 oz tuna 140g (1 can, in water)
- 1/2 red onion small
- 4 tbsp mayonaise
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 oranges
- 1 avocado
- 1/8 red onion a few slices
- 2 tbsp black olives approx
- drizzle olive oil and red wine or sherry vinegar
- 2 oz Manchego cheese 60g, approx
- 1 oz membrillo 30g, approx (quince paste)
First blend the tomato, garlic, olive oil and salt in a blender to make the spread for the bread. Set aside while you make everything else. You can use the blender again without the need to clean it to make the gazpacho since the ingredients are similar.
Once everything else is ready, slice up your bread, spread on a little of the tomato-garlic-oil mixture then lay on some of the ham.
Make the Russian salad by peeling the cooked potato and dicing into relatively small pieces (approx 1/3in/1cm) then placing in a bowl.
Drain and rinse the peas and carrots and drain the tuna. Add both to the bowl. Finely dice the onion then add this as well. Add the mayonnaise, oil and vinegar and mix all together, being careful not to break up the potato too much.
Peel the oranges and cut into medium slices across the segments (so like stars). Cut the avocado in half, peel then cut it in slices. Arrange both on a plate and lay a few slices of red onion and some olives over the top then drizzle on a little olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Cut some slices of the manchego cheese and lay on a plate then top each slice with a piece of the membrillo.
Enjoy all the delicious flavors in any order you choose!
If you don’t mind cooking, these other Spanish tapas dishes would be a great addition:
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