Spanish cuisine is vibrant and exciting and is typified by the use of good quality ingredients. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the food markets at the Boqueria in Barcelona, watch how shoppers know how to pick the best seasonal produce, touching and smelling the produce before they buy.
The rich, deep flavors of Spanish food may seem difficult to produce but the key is to buy the best ingredients you can afford and prepare them simply. When considering your choice of authentic Spanish dishes for a special meal or dinner party menu, choose one or to key ingredients that are in season and can be easily prepared. While tapas is authentically Spanish, preparation can be time-consuming, especially if you have lots pf guests and want to serve a variety.
Generally speaking, I find it best to decide on a main course and then decide on a starter, though that can change if I find some particular ingredient that seems great value or is something I don’t often see in my local market.
I want to spend time with my guests so I like to choose dishes that can be prepared in advance or that can be served at table from one or two pots. Add to that a couple of vegetarian side dishes and a rice dish and you have a great spread with minimum fuss. While Spanish food is pretty heavy on meat and fish, there are some great meat-free side dishes that can be served and that are so good you don’t have to provide a separate vegetarian dish for guests who don’t eat meat.
Main course ideas
Paella this dish has so many variations that you can practically invent your own and it has the added benefit that it looks great when you bring it to table. Paella can include ingredients such as chicken, rabbit, seafood and chorizo sausage but always is built on a dish of rice cooked slowly in a good stock until it has absorbed the liquid. It’s a one pan dish so it cuts down the work and diners can help themselves.
Pollo a la Catalana a flavorsome chicken stew from the region of Catalonia in which browned chicken is simmered in a sauce containing prunes, pine nuts, tomatoes and white wine. Another excellent one pot option that can be served at table with rice or potatoes and a side dish.
Cordero Asado a classic Spanish dish of roast lamb, usually roasted whole until the skin crackles and the meat simply falls away from the bone. This is great for parties because its easy to serve and your guests will be delighted by the wonderful aromas from the slowly turning meat.
You should never be short of ideas for the opening course of a Spanish meal; one easy option is to make a tapas dish you like but serve it in slightly larger portions than you normally would. Other options would be to simply serve portions of quality Spanish delicacies such as Serrano ham, bacalao delicious salt cod, cured sausages or manchego cheese. A selection of breads with olive oil and marinated olives is appealing and easy to prepare.
Another impressive and authentic option is to serve a classic chilled soup; Spanish chilled soups provide a light way of starting a meal but really pack in lots of flavor. Being a chilled soup it’s prepared in advance so you have relax a little.
Gazpacho a lovely fresh chilled soup that has become a staple of Mexican food. Far from being just a cold tomato soup, there are endless variations of gazpacho. However, the most commonly served one today contains tomato, cucumber, peppers and garlic.
Salmorejo this is another chilled soup and is made from tomatoes and bread, flavored with garlic, oil and vinegar. It is usually garnished with diced Serrano ham or chopped hard-boiled egg.
The side dishes you choose will depend in some part on the main course you have chosen. Rice is a typical accompaniment to many main courses, sometimes served plain, sometimes with peas, or tomatoes running through it, or maybe cooked in a well-flavored stock.
Potatoes are another good choice and there are plenty of authentic ways to serve them. My choice would be “patatas bravas” where the potatoes are roasted and served with a piquant tomato salsa, or peasant style with onions and peppers.
Garbanzos this is the Spanish word for chickpeas and Spanish cuisine offers a huge number of ways of serving them. Best of all is a slow cooked sticky dish of chickpeas with spinach that glistens with lovely olive oil.
Whatever you choose be sure to consider how you out your menu together. Keep starters light because main courses do tend to be quite hearty, especially if served with rice.
Finally, do consider a dessert; authentic Spanish desserts are generally pretty sweet and are a good way to finish a meal. You might choose “crema Catalana” the Spanish version of “creme brulee”, flan the Spanish version of “creme caramel” or rich creamy ice cream with thick, Pedro Ximenez sherry poured over for a truly Spanish flourish! Delicious!