Spanish appetizers, also known as tapas, comprise dozens of different dishes with hundreds of variations. A great spread of Spanish appetizers celebrates the wonderful native foods of sunny Spain, as well displaying the influence from other nearby culinary traditions. Some of the most popular types of Spanish appetizers include soups, pies and egg-based dishes, prepared vegetables, and dishes that feature ham.
The soups of Spain are quite unique, and make wonderful appetizers when served in shot glasses or porcelain spoons. One of the most popular types of Spanish soup is gazpacho, a tomato-based blend with a spicy kick that is served cold. For a milder version, white gazpacho is concocted from yogurt, almonds, cucumbers, and herbs, and often served chilled over grapes or small tomatoes. Another favorite appetizer soup is paella, which is a large rice dish filled with seafood, vegetables, or meat.
Egg and cheese dishes and small pies are good, hearty appetizers that can even take the place of a full meal. Possibly the most famous Spanish egg dish is the tortilla de patatas or Spanish omelet, a frittata-like concoction of eggs, herbs, butter and freshly fried potatoes. Empanadas, which are small, half-moon shaped pastries stuffed with meat, fish, or cheese, can be baked in large batches and will surely please even the hungriest crowd. Manchego cheese, a hard Spanish cheese served in thin slices, is also a staple of a tapas feast, served alone or with bread and olives.
Vegetables in various preparations help make Spanish appetizers healthy as well as delicious. No tapas plate is complete without a few fat Spanish olives, which feature a fruity, light flavor and firm texture. Olives may be served in oil, or mixed with chilies and herbs for a distinct flavor. Pickled vegetables, such as red peppers and garlic, are frequently served as a zesty snack. Other popular vegetables include fried potato wedges with tomato sauce, marinated mushrooms, and deep fried asparagus or eggplant.
While Spanish cuisine features many meat and seafood dishes, the alluring taste of ham finds its way into many different Spanish appetizers. Ham on toast, ham with almonds, and a variety of ham, fruit, and cheese bruschettas help add heartiness to an appetizer plate. Ham is often incorporated into dishes such as empanadas or omelets, or may simply be served on its own. Other popular seafood and meat dishes include fried squid, white wine stewed clams, and Spanish meatballs. Paella, which is a large rice dish filled with seafood, vegetables, or meat, is a favorite appetizer or meal.