I can’t turn down tapas. Call me late at night–a rainy, cold one even–after a long day of work and invite me out for tapas and the only reason I’d turn you down is if I already took my makeup off. (I should be fine with a night out sans-makeup but my skin is blotchy, my pores as big as the sun on some days and your best efforts would not free me from this insecurity.) Other than that, I’m there. We’re going. And it’s going to be great. Try to get into a decent tapas bar with short notice and you’ll see that I’m not alone–tapas is popular.
People generally cite two reasons for loving tapas:
1. “You get to sample everything!”
2. “That’s the way I like to eat. Family-style, sharing things. It’s not so formal.”
Fine reasons and I generally feel the same. But those are not my reasons for loving tapas.
1. “You’re supposed to linger and drinking is part of the deal. Eating late is expected.”
2. “That’s my kind of food.”
I have yet to visit Spain but people who have come back talking about how everyone lingers at restaurants, everyone eats late “so late–10pm!”. They drink with their snacks, of course. And other lovely European sensibilities. That tapas culture is built into the tapas spots that have popped up west of the ocean. The bars, counters and to a degree, the restaurants that offer tapas-inspired menus generally have thoughtful, well-edited wine lists–the best have sherry pairings. That should be a given at any restaurants but we both know it’s actually rare. Good wine with friends and with dinner is one of my favourite parts of dinner out, so this alone would be enough. But then, the food itself. From salted, Marcona almonds to airy, fried croquettes, potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce to blistered, padron peppers, I love it all. This is fairly straightforward fare, but highly flavourful. And not light on the fat either. In fact, heat, salt, fat, booze? Tapas is my spirit animal.
Inspired by the above, this dish. I fried some potatoes, added chickpeas and slicked it all in a very smoky, sexy-red oil. On a hot day, a bitter soda is fine, a sherry is better. Linger a while. Keep the plates passing around. Start late, stay very late.
Spanish-Style Potatoes and Chickpeas
1/4 c olive oil, divided
1 large handful fresh cilantro, trimmed, washed and well dried, some leaves reserved for garnish
1 medium onion, diced
Ground black pepper
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, finely diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp hot paprika (or mild if you prefer)
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained and blotted dry (about 2 cups)
Crushed chilies or cayenne powder (optional)
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick skillet, wok or other well-seasoned pan over medium high heat. Add cilantro and stir-fry, standing back as the oil will splatter. When bright green and crisp, remove from heat. Add onions to the pan, season with salt and pepper and stir-fry until softened and golden, remove but keep separate from cilantro. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, add potatoes, season with salt and pepper and fry, stirring occasionally, until cooked and browned (about 10 minutes). Move the potatoes to the sides of the pan and add the remaining oil and both paprikas to the centre. Allow the spices to toast for 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas to the centre, season with salt and pepper, and mix in the centre to coat with oil. Add the onions back and mix everything in the pan. Stir and cook for a minute, then taste and adjust seasoning. If you’d like to the dish to be spicier or oilier, add chilies and oil. Cook for 3 minutes more and serve hot or at room temperature. Scatter with reserved fresh cilantro and fried cilantro when serving.