Tapa Time!

Story and photography by katie crenshaw

Tapas are Spanish derived small plates of food served with drinks. These small plates are meant for unhurried tasting and sipping over great conversation and camaraderie. The social interaction is equally as important as the food and drinks prepared when tasting these small plates. Tapas are so much of a part of the Spanish culture that they use a verb called tapear which means to go from bar to bar for drinks and eating tapas. The dishes can be any hot or cold food from a couple of olives or a slice of cheese, to more complex plates such as an empanada or paella. The tapas concept is to share several small tastings to sample a bit of everything.

Let’s take an entertaining inspiration from our beloved Spaniards and forget making dinner reservations at a restaurant. Instead, stir up this Pomegranate Red Wine Sangria and invite your friends over for Mussels with Sofrito, Moroccan-Style Roasted Potatoes, Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Manchego and Spanish Garlic Shrimp.  Each of these lovely tapas dishes are packed with earthy, rustic, bold flavors just like you would find in Spain. Add in a plate of marinated olives, a couple of your favorite types of cheese, a fresh loaf of hearty bread and you have yourself a party. Now is the time to chill, relax, grab your fork in one hand and your wine glass in the other. Eat a little of this and sip on a little of that.  Laugh, talk and listen. Take time to savor your food and enjoy good company. ¡Salud!

This Pomegranate Red Wine Sangria is light, fruit, refreshing and not overly sweet. Acquire an inexpensive red wine that offers fruity flavors and aromas. Avoid the expensive, older, complex wines because they are often too delicate for mixing. If you prefer a sweeter sangria, use a sweeter wine.

Pomegranate Red Wine Sangria


¼ cup sugar

¼ cup water

1 bottle dry red wine

½ cup brandy

1 cup pomegranate juice

2 cups club soda

1 whole apple, sliced

1 cup blueberries

1 whole orange, sliced

1 cup strawberries, sliced


Cook sugar and water over medium heat until it reaches a boil to create simple syrup.

Cook and stir simple syrup until sugar is fully dissolved. Set aside to allow to completely cool.

Combine and mix red wine, brandy, cooled simple syrup and pomegranate juice in a large pitcher.

Add apples, oranges and strawberries to the Sangria mix.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for best results, refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, add club soda to Sangria. 

Gambas Al Ajillo, which translates into Shrimp with Garlic, is a very popular classic Spanish Tapas Dish. The simple layering process allows each flavor to build on each other climaxing to an incredibly delectable shrimp dish. A slice of French bread on the side would be great for sopping up the spicy olive oil butter sauce. Warning! You may want to double this recipe. It disappears very fast.

Spanish Garlic Shrimp

1 pound of shrimp

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tbl butter

6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 1/2 tsp paprika

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp cayenne

½ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp sugar

½ tsp red chili flakes

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Combine paprika, nutmeg, chili powder, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

If using frozen shrimp, defrost shrimp completely in cold water before using. Peel and devein shrimp. You may keep or remove the tails.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and butter. Add coarsely chopped garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. 

Add shrimp to olive oil and butter mixture.  Sauté shrimp on each side for one minute.  

Evenly add seasoning mix, red chile flakes, and half of the chopped parsley to shrimp and sauté until completely cooked. 

Remove from heat. Top with remaining parsley and serve.

Sofrito is the “Latino Cook’s secret weapon.” It combines cilantro, garlic, onion, peppers and tomatoes to create a fundamental base for many Spanish dishes.  Pairing the Sofrito with the mussels develop a flavorsome aromatic dish that begs for seconds. 

*Cooking Note: You can make Sofrito a day ahead of time.

Mussels with Sofrito


2 medium bell peppers (For a sweeter flavor, use red peppers. For a savory flavor, use green.)

1 bunch of cilantro (about a cup)

1 small onion

4 large cloves of garlic, peels removed

2 medium tomatoes 

¼ cup olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

½ cup dry white wine

2 lbs fresh mussels, rinsed and cleaned


Clean cilantro. Cut off and discard any thick stems. Coarsely chop cilantro.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Remove seeds from peppers, and coarsely chop.

Peel onion and chop.

Dump all of the chopped vegetables into a food processor. Add salt and pepper. Pulse until there are no remaining large pieces of vegetables to create your sofrito sauce. 

In a large pot, sauté Sofrito on medium heat in olive oil until most of the liquid has evaporated (about five minutes).

Add white wine to Sofrito and mix well.

Add mussels to Sofrito and wine mixture. Stir and mix mussels in sauce well, allowing mussels to absorb the sauce. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for four minutes.

Remove lid to check on mussels. Stir and cover. Cook two additional minutes. 

Remove pot from heat. Place mussels and sauce in a serving dish. Discard any unopened mussels.

These Moroccan-Style Roasted Potatoes have a sweet and soft inside with a savory, salty crunch on the outside. The trick to preparing these potatoes flawlessly is parboiling, steaming and then roasting them. After taking your first bite, you will quickly discover the extra steps are worth the additional effort.

*Cooking Note: You do not add tapenade to potatoes immediately when roasting because the garlic will burn.

Moroccan-Style Roasted Potatoes 


4 medium sized potatoes

¼ cup sundried tomatoes in oil

4 tbsp capers

¼ cup green olives

1/3 cup Parmesan

2 garlic cloves, peeled

½ lemon

½ cup olive oil


Rinse and clean potatoes. 

Boil whole potatoes six to seven minutes to parboil (partially boil) them. 

Remove from heat. Drain pot. Leave in pot and cover with a lid to steam dry for three additional minutes.

Place sundried tomatoes, capers, green olives, Parmesan, garlic cloves, lemon and ¼ cup of olive oil in food processor or blender and pulse into a finely chopped tapenade. Set aside. 

Cut each potato into 6 wedge slices.

Evenly coat potato wedges with ¼ cup olive oil for roasting.

Roast at 350 for 25 minutes. 

Take potatoes out of oven and toss evenly in tapenade. Place potatoes back in oven and roast an additional 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Everything tastes better with bacon, and dates are no exception. These sweet dates are stuffed with the rich, buttery Manchego cheese and then wrapped with salty, crispy bacon to create a perfectly delicious combination. 

Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Manchego


12 medium sized dates

6 oz Manchego Cheese

6 slices bacon

12 toothpicks


Preheat oven to 400.

Partially cook bacon, stopping before it becomes crispy.

Chop Manchego cheese into 12 small blocks, sized to stuff in dates.

Remove seed from dates.

Stuff dates with Manchego.

Wrap dates with bacons, securing with toothpicks.

Cook in oven for 10 minutes or until bacon becomes fully crispy.

Serve with or without toothpicks.

Sangria and tapas are the perfect accompaniment for your next party at home or girl’s night in get-together binge watching Sex and the City. We can toast to that!