THIS week Celebrity Chef from Ready Steady Cook and Fellow Master Chef Steven Saunders, proprietor of The Little Geranium in La Cala cooks us an oriental tapas lunch!
The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”
In pre-19th century Spain tapas were served by bodegas (small guest houses) offering meals and rooms for travellers. Since few innkeepers could write and few travellers read, inns offered their guests a sample of the dishes available, as a “tapa” selling a glass of beer or wine covered by a something. Each time they ordered something different would come, so they wouldn’t have to use a menu.
Another popular explanation says that King Alfonso XIII stopped by a tavern in Cadiz where he ordered a cup of wine. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king, to protect the wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, ordered another wine “with the cover.
It is also claimed that tapas originated in the south of Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition as a means of publicly identifying Jews who had converted to Christianity. Since tapas often consist of ham or other non-kosher foodstuffs, the reluctance of the converses (converted Jews) to eat whatever tapas dish was offered to them could be taken as an admission that they had not abandoned their Jewish faith, thus tapas were a tool of the Spanish Inquisition!
And so tapas are an important part of Spanish culture and have become a huge part of the Spanish culinary culture for hundreds of years, as significant to Spanish cuisine as Paella is. Having now lived in Andalucía for about 5 years, happily I must add, I have had a variety of good bad and indifferent tapas. The good was mainly in Cadiz with some Spanish friends Paula and Vincent who showed us what tapas should be. The bad is the deep-fried, bought in, reheated and kept lukewarm tapas for example with hard deep fried potatoes served with packet mayonnaise, supposed to be bravas. This is not what tapas should be! At the Geranium I put a twist on tapas and serve the dishes with an Asian influence. This results in dishes like sushi, satay chicken, Thai beef, crispy duck salad, Vietnamese curry and tempura asparagus and prawns, to name just a few. The reaction over the years has been so positive that we now are frequently fully booked for lunch. It’s like we have two restaurants in one! Lunch is more casual with stylish oriental styled tapas and dinner is ramped up to offer our clients a dining experience, tasting menus, wine pairing, and a bit of dining theatre at the table. At lunch Michele often gets frustrated and asks why clients still choose a starter/ main course with our tapas? She is correct that the dishes are designed to be sharing, put in the centre of the table and enjoy it, but we can’t stop our clients wanting to eat it as they wish albeit they miss out on trying the multiplicity of flavours.
Tapas has become as important to our business as dinner is over the years, attracting many regular clients who have become friends and many famous clients that head our way when they land in Malaga! Tapas don’t have to be Spanish Influenced. I like them when they are Spanish but only when using great ingredients like in Cadiz where I eat fantastic fresh tuna and fresh sardines. My personal working experience in places like Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan have meant that I have created a different take on tapas, also because there are so many Spanish tapas restaurants in our area. It’s a tasty lighter way to eat and leaves me with flavour sensations and not feeling over full. Tapas is also a great idea for entertaining at home, prepare a few of your favourites and just let your friends get on with it. It’s a less formal way of eating and adds more fun to any occasion. Here are a few ideas!
Sushi (recipe below)
Chicken satay (recipe below)
Vietnamese vegetable curry (recipe was in a previous edition of EWN, let me know if you are missing it)
Crispy duck salad with peanuts (also in a previous EWN, let me know if you need it)
Thai beef salad (Recipe in previous EWN as above)
Mini tempura fish with hand cut fries (recipe to follow next week)
Iberian chestnut fed pork, peppercorn and truffle (recipe to follow next week)
Sushi (for 4)
For the rice
300g sushi rice
100ml rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 teaspoons of salt
To cook the rice
Firstly wash of (rinse) the rice at least 8 times to remove starch. When water runs clear it is ready to use. Cover the rice with cold water about 4-5cm above the rice and bring slowly to boil and let bubble on low heat not boil away for about 20 mins until tender. Whilst cooking boil the rice vinegar in a separate small pan, add the sugar and salt and stir until it dissolves and reserve.
Now drain the cooked rice and add the sugar /vinegar liquid and stir well in to season the rice. Pour onto a greased tray and allow to cool.
For the sushi
25g bag nori (dried seaweed) sheets
A variety of fillings fresh fish, smoked fish, avocado, etc can be used
Mix 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and 2 teaspoons of wasabi paste together to make the wasabi mayo.
To serve with the sushi
Wasabi (Hot Japanese mustard so use carefully!)
Good quality Japanese soy sauce (Tamari)
Lay a nori sheet on the bamboo mat, shiny-side down. Dip your hands in water, then pat handfuls of rice on top in a ½ cm thick layer in a rectangle.
Spread over some wasabi mayonnaise on top of the rice.
Add the filling. Add anything you like but I love cooked prawns and avocado or smoked salmon or seared rare tuna.
Roll it up. Lift the edge of the mat over the rice, applying a little pressure to keep everything in a tight roll.
Stick down the sides like a stamp. When you get to the bit without any rice, brush with a little water and continue to roll into a tight roll.
Remove the mat and roll tightly in cling film and let rest in the fridge.
To serve simply cut through the cling film with a sharp knife. Serve with wasabi and soy sauce and some pickled ginger and chopsticks!
Serves: – 4
1 tablespoon peanut oil or light olive oil
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 small red chilli (finely chopped, seeds removed)
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (to finish)
1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
1 tablespoon sweet dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons whole toasted peanuts
1 whole lime
1 can coconut milk
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic, onion and chilli over a low heat until onion is soft.
Add the peanuts and toast until brown but do not burn them. Add sugar and stir in.
Add a little coconut milk bit by bit and cook on a high heat
Add the soy sauce and juice from 1 lime, reduce heat to simmer
After 20 mins cooking on low heat, take half the sauce and blend in your food processor until smooth. Now add that back to the other half of sauce in the pan and stir in. That gives you a smooth and crunchy sauce all in one that makes it a bit thicker and a bit more special.
Taste and correct seasoning, finish with the chilli flakes
For the chicken simply marinade pieces of chicken breast in olive or peanut oil with paprika and lemon juice. Leave for at least 2 hours. Cook chicken pieces on a hot griddle or in a griddle pan until cooked through. Insert wooden skewers and serve with a little of the sauce and some oriental salad. See photo.
Email Steven any questions or queries!
The Little Geranium, Winner of Best Contemporary International Restaurant 2019-Costa Del Sol