The Mediterranean region may have the most varied and all around delicious cuisine on this planet. I’ve been experimenting with the national Spanish pass time of tapas: Those “small bite” plates of pure delicioso that are part of the culture of Spain. It’s … well … bar food. Wonderful, surprising, tasty, bar food. This means the dishes are easy to prepare, quickly made, and served exquisitely, usually with a good sampling of wines. One sits, dances, converses, and samples tapas ranging from slices of Jamón and chorizos to cooked plates of seafood, meats, poultry and interesting preparations of things like duck and shellfish. Sometimes going from bar-to-bar through a long evening with friends. Tapas bars have become fashionable in many cities all over the US and elsewhere. Often, they serve mediocre to good Spanish wines that are somewhat moderately priced, by the glass or the bottle – but – those “little bites” can be both very little and very pricy.
There is good news: for the foodie “paleo” devotee, outside of the high-priced tapas bar, tapas is easy on the budget, is genuinely delicious, and … it is composed of small plates by design. Start with a little bowl of nuts (almonds are essential to the tapas table), with or without salt, roasted or raw, a few really good olives, and add a plate of thinly sliced Jamón or some smoked fish. Add a bowl of crudités (chopped raw veggies), with or without a dipping sauce; some spicy Garlic Shrimp or a plate of the classic Patatas a lo pobre “poor man’s potatoes“. Select a bottle of something really tasty and a glass, serve everything arranged on beautiful small plates and there you have it: dinner. The wonderful secret is this: in all of the samplings I’ve tried (devoured greedily), over half of the recipes are ready-made paleo-perfect. (There will follow a listing of cook books from my collection – stay tuned).
Spicy Garlic Shrimp
Preheat oven to 400
Shrimp: rule of thumb: 4 or 5 per diner.
Vary amounts below according to how much shrimp (and how large) you are using. Many fish mongers sell the larger varieties as “prawns”. Always start with fresh, wild varieties, never “pre-cooked”, frozen or canned. Do not use “salad shrimp”. This recipe works well with any fresh crustacean. Be very careful about over-cooking and watch closely.
- 1/2 tsp. of pepper flakes
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
- a tsp. of dried thyme
- a little salt & pepper
- chopped parsley to garnish
- a little sherry
In a heavy sauce pan or in small Spanish cazuela, place three tablespoons of a good extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 tsp. of pepper flakes, 4 cloves of minced garlic, a tsp. of dried thyme, a little salt & pepper, and put into a hot oven until it’s hot and bubbly.
Meantime, wash enough shrimp to make your meal. You do not have to remove the heads, shell or de-vein the shrimp unless you prefer them that way. Place in a small container with a little sherry, set aside as the cazuela heats. You may add salt and pepper at this stage.
Remove the cazuela from the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, add the thyme, shrimp with the sherry, stir it up so that the oil and pepper flakes cover the shrimp and return to the oven. Watch it closely and the very second all of the shrimp are pink, remove, garnish with the parsley, and serve with a few lemon wedges on the side.
A nice variation is to thinly slice a little Serrano ham and toss into the mix when you add the shrimp.
Cuban Mojo Sauce for crudités
The secret to delightful crudités is to serve them beautifully arranged in finger-sized pieces cut in interesting ways. Take a look at some books by chefs for tips on cutting. Here’s a site for inspiration: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/tip/preparing-crudites.html
Suggestions: asparagus tips, “baby” and/or young carrots, radishes, jicama, cucumbers, sun-chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), mushrooms, fresh edible-pod peas … anything that’s fresh and tasty raw will do. Be careful about tomatoes, they can make a mess…
This sauce keeps up to a month in the refrigerator and it’s good for everything from dipping crudités to serving over a plate of poached salmon. I even have a (non-paleo devotee) who swears by it over popcorn. This link is pretty comprehensive: Taste of Cuba.com
My “quick & easy” variation:
- Squeeze the juice from 3 not-especially-ripe juice oranges (or use Florida “bitter oranges” if you can find them) add the juice of one lemon and one lime.
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (a good variety)
- mince 6-8 cloves of garlic (or enough to choke that proverbial horse, whichever is greater)
- tsp ground cumin – or – if you only have whole cumin, roast it briefly in the oven and use whole
- 3-5 tblsps. smoked paprika
- salt & pepper to taste
Heat an iron skillet to piping hot, turn off the heat. Add the olive oil, fry the garlic, but do not brown – quickly add the cumin, paprika, and juice while briskly stirring with a whisk. Take care! The hot oil may splatter! Serve hot or cool in small containers for dipping your veggies into.