With cold winter days come cravings for filling foods. Stews, chilies, and casseroles are often filled with potatoes, ground meat, and cheese. Why not add some sunshine, and a bit of health punch, by preparing tapas-style meals? In Spain, tapas are small plates of food that are served each time you order a drink. Most Spanish people go for tapas before dinner, since they eat dinner very late in the evening. But this interesting Spanish tradition can be a fun way to create a meal with lots of variety and add some new, rich flavors to a cold winter evening meal.
Tapas Time! Add Some Sunshine to Winter Meals With Spanish Cooking
Not at all like a Mexican tortilla, a Spanish tortilla is a thick potato and onion omelet, served cold. The eggs are an excellent source of protein, the olive oil offers the good monounsaturated fats, and the onions and potatoes provide Vitamins B6 and C, as well as fiber. Traditional recipes use up to a quarter cup of olive oil per serving, but this can easily be reduced to a tablespoon or two. Calories and cholesterol can also be reduced by using only egg whites instead of whole eggs.
2. Avocado, Shrimp, and Tomato Salad
As simple as it sounds, this is a deliciously creamy dish made of mashed-up avocado topped with shrimp and cherry or grape tomatoes, with a little fresh ground pepper to top it off. The avocado has more than 20 vitamins and minerals, including high levels of potassium, folate, and fiber, plus good monounsaturated fats; the tomatoes are high in Vitamins C, A, and Vitamins K, plus they contain lycopene (a carotenoid with many health benefits); and the shrimp offers protein and Vitamin B12.
The traditional version of this chick-pea-based dish is made with tripe (a cow’s stomach lining), but a healthier version that’s more appealing to North American palates can be made with extra-lean ground pork instead. Cook the pork thoroughly, then saute with garlic, onion, tomato sauce, and chick peas until you have a thick stew. Serve with green peppers on top. This chick peas and pork provide protein, and the onion and tomato sauce offer the benefits described for the dishes above. The garlic and pepper add a kick of Vitamins C and B6, plus fiber.
4. ChampiÑ‘ones al ajillo (Mushrooms with garlic)
“Al ajillo” can be a term to watch out for in restaurants. It means “with garlic,” but the garlic is often added by cooking with loads of olive oil. In this case, though, a splash of wine and some lemon juice reduce the amount of olive oil needed, even in traditional recipes. Just saute the mushrooms and garlic in a small amount of olive oil, then add the wine and lemon juice and simmer until the mushrooms are soft. Mushrooms are a good source of fiber and B vitamins.
5. Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts
This is a simple saute dish, and a great way of packing loads of nutrition into a small serving. Swiss chard is a good source of Vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, plus calcium, iron, and fiber; raisins offer potassium and fiber; and pine nuts offer protein and alpha-linolenic acid, which is good for your heart. But be careful with this dish – the raisins and pine nuts, while healthy, bump up the sugar and fat content, so keep the servings tapa-sized.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut cooking the same dishes over and over all winter long. But following the Spanish tradition of going “tapas-style” can be an easy way to work some intriguing new flavors into your winter menu. Since there are several dishes to make, and none of them are too complicated, a tapas-style meal can be a great way to get the whole family involved, from preparation, to serving, to eating. The key is only to eat a small serving of each dish, and to make some minor modifications to the traditional Spanish recipes to cut down on calories and fat. Tapas dishes also make great leftovers that can be re-purposed for family lunches later in the week. Salud!