Spanish Cuisine

Thursday, January 4th, 2007 at 12:00 am

spanish cuisineBeing a country that is rich in heritage and culture, it is no surprise that Spain possesses a colorful and great-tasting gastronomic delights.

Its history began with Phoenician, Greek, and Carthaginian coastal settlements. Later the Romans, and more importantly the Moors, each group brought with them elements of their own cooking that lingered and blended with Spain’s culinary heritage.

Even their explorations to the New World brought foreign food ingredients like tomato, potato, sweet potato, vanilla, chocolate, varieties of beans, zucchini, and peppers—all becoming important ingredients in Spanish cuisine.

The Spaniards are also fond of garlic, as well as all types of sweet and hot peppers, and their cured ham (the jamon serrano). The saffron, a golden-colored spice and considered as the most expensive, enhances many Spanish foods, particularly paella. Spain’s most famous wine, sherry, flavors entrees and desserts.

Spanish cuisine echoes the cooking styles of the Middle East and that of the Americas. Yet, it is essentially focused on family cooking that is comparatively simple to prepare and characterized by using fresh ingredients. Pork and baby lamb are predominantly used, although Spain is also known for preparing poultry, game, and fish entrees. Its wealth of dishes also features beans, rice, eggs, vegetables, and savory pies. The “tapas”—small appetizers in great variety—play vital role in meals throughout the day.

The tradition of tapa is as important for the conversation and company as for the delicious food. Every Spaniard has his favorite tasca, or tapa bars, where he goes regularly to meet his friends or business colleagues. Tapas vary from simple to complex, which can include cheese, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes, dips, canapes, and savory pastries.

Olive oil is indispensable in preparing many of the Spanish recipes. Chorizo is the best-loved sausage in the country, while blood sausage is also popular. Vegetables are not overly used, except for potatoes, which would often be seen in dishes friend with an entree. Salads are served as first courses and are invariably offered undressed with cruets of oils and vinegar.

Fish and bean soups can make a meal. Paellas provide colorful and festive dishes for a crowd. Fresh unshelled crustaceans are served in beachside cafes. Game birds also have a wide appeal in Spain.

Middle Eastern and Moorish influence is prominent in desserts, including the use of almonds, egg yolks, and hone. Orange and lemon zest also play a role in flavoring sweets. Ground almonds often replace flour in cake baking and beaten eggs whites are invariably the leavening agent in cakes.

Among the multitude of recipes that make up the varied cuisines of Spain, a few can be considered common to all or almost all of Spain’s regions, even though some of them have an origin known and associated with specific places.