For the nights you’re hosting friends that you’d like to impress, nothing is easier to prep than tapas. By definition, tapas are small plates generally served at a bar. They’re traditionally Spanish and can range from hot dishes to cold, hearty to light, vegetarian to meat lovers. They’re not appetizers but they’re not main courses either - they’re somewhere in between. By serving enough of them, guests will have plenty to eat as if they received a full meal but casually so that there isn’t any formal seating arrangement. It’s a great opportunity to allow guests to munch on the foods they prefer and naturally come together in the living room or kitchen.
Hosting a tapas night is perfect for the girlfriends you’ve known your entire life as well as the hopeful girlfriends you’re having over from a new job to get to know them better. They’re comforting, casual and unpretentious while still impressive. Preparing several different small plates doesn’t seem like an easy task. Whether you end up spending the entire day preparing for company or just an hour or so, it will be obvious that a lot of thought and consideration was put into hosting this get together and it will hopefully make everyone want to come back again another time!
Tapas restaurants are some of my favorites because it gives you the opportunity to taste all kinds of different things rather than being stuck to one meal. One of my favorite restaurants here in Chicago serves this delicious baked goat cheese with a tomato sauce. You dip toasty bread in it and that’s all. Super simple yet incredibly delicious. My point is, hosting a tapas night gives you the opportunity to provide guests with a versatile menu without being complicated. The three recipes I have for you today are far from pretentious and took me two hours to prepare in total. Two hours for three hearty tapas isn’t bad and I could have fit two more dishes within that time span if I wanted. Tapas provide options and in today’s world of picky eaters, food sensitivities and allergies, options are sometimes what parties need.
I am obsessed with empanadas. I always look for them at Latin American and Spanish restaurants and they get bonus points if there are a variety of options available. Empanadas seem like a lot of work but with the help of store-bought dough, they’re pretty simple. They also heat up well for leftovers the next few days. The trick with empanadas is to give them a filling that is packed with flavor and to get a nice golden crust. The golden part is traditionally achieved through deep frying but if you don’t have access to that kind of equipment (like me), brushing them with a little egg wash before popping them in the oven will have a similar effect but without the grease!
1 Package Store-Bought Pie Crust*
1lb. Ground Beef
1 Carrot, diced
½ small Onion, diced
½ Green Pepper, diced
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1 tsp. Cayenne Powder
½ tsp. Coriander
Pinch of Cinnamon <-- this gives the empanadas a little je ne sais quoi, that "what is that" flavor to intrigue guests
1 Egg, beaten
1 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2 - Place a saute pan over medium-high heat and brown the meat, breaking into small pieces as you go. Drain the beef by placing on a paper towel lined plate. Add the carrot, onion, green pepper, garlic and spices to the same pan. Cook until the veggies soften. Add the meat back and cook a minute or two so all the flavors can come together.
3 - Roll out (or unroll) the pie dough. Cut 4-inch circles using a cup or cookie cutter. Place 1-2 tbsp of the meat mixture in the center. Fold the dough over to create a mini “hand pie” and pinch the edges, or use a fork, to seal the dough. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling (whichever comes first).
4 - Brush the empanadas with egg wash (a beaten egg). Poke a hole at the top to allow ventilation. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes until the dough is golden and crisp. Serve.
*NOTE: some stores serve pre-cut empanada dough in the freezer or refrigerated aisles. If you can find these, feel free to use them as well. I used basic store-bought pie dough that comes rolled up.
Roasted Veggie Bocadillos
There are two different types of “sandwiches” in Spain: sandwiches American-style and bocadillos. What we call sandwiches are more like snacks but bocadillos are a little heartier yet still not necessarily meals. Bocadillos come without condiments or toppings. They’re meat or vegetables and bread, that's all. For a vegetarian option, I created miniature Roasted Veggie Bocadillos. A variety of veggies roast in the oven before spread onto sliced artisan rolls. The rolls provide a baguette-like texture and flavor which is how you’d traditionally find a bocadillo served.
1 Red Onion, halved and sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 Green Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 Zucchini, halved and cut into matchsticks
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper
6 Sandwich Rolls or 2 Baguettes cut into three sections and sliced down the middle
1 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil.
2 - Toss the veggies with olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes until the veggies are softened.
3 - Place the veggies on the sandwich rolls or sliced baguette. Serve warm.
Finally, the one dish I couldn’t leave out for a tapas night - patatas bravas. This potato lover makes sure to always order patatas bravas while eating at tapas restaurants so it made sense to include them in my own menu. The trick to crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside patatas bravas...boil the potatoes first. Frying should come in the final minutes of cooking. By boiling the potatoes, you’ve already softened them up most of the way. Frying them will give the potato a nice crispy crust to finish them off. Season the potatoes right after placing them in the oil and if you feel like they need a touch more salt, season again right after removing them from the oil. Patatas Bravas are traditionally served with a spicy tomato sauce. You can use your favorite hot sauce or whip up a quick recipe from the internet.
2-3 large Potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper
1 - Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Drop the potatoes and cook 10-12 minutes until soft but not yet cooked all the way.
2 - Drain the potatoes, pat dry with a towel. Fill a deep skillet with about 1-inch of vegetable oil. Add the potatoes in an even layer and immediately season with paprika, salt and pepper.
3 - Let cook about 6-8 minutes before stirring and flipping the potatoes to let cook on the other side. Once golden brown all around, remove the potatoes to a paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess grease. Remove to a bowl for serving.
Want more tapas? The Spruce shared their top 9 Spanish tapas from Patatas Bravas to stuffed mussels. Brit + Co also has a great list of easy tapas to prepare including Churros with Chocolate and Croquettes. Looking for more girl’s night ideas? Check out our recipes for Taco Night and Pizza Night!