Sunday, 2 June 2013

In search of vegetarian tapas

Corin, Santi, Maria, Christine, and Pepe at our 
vegetarian tapas party, May 27, 2013

Going out for tapas and pinchos is part of everyday life in Spain.  These culinary delights are miniature works of art; colorful and creative with seemingly endless possibilities for food combinations in a small space.  They're also delicious. There is one disadvantage:  They tend not to be very vegetarian-friendly.  

First, some terminology:  Tapas are very small snacks, often  served on a toothpick.  Many bars give them away free with a drink.  Pinchos are like tapas, but a bit bigger and more elaborate.  They cost about 2 euros each.  

pinchos at Casa Lita
Vegetarian also requires some explanation because there are various types, and in my family we are all different:  Corin and I are pescatarian; that is, we eat fish and seafood but not meat.  Christine is a ovo-lacto vegetarian; she doesn't eat meat, fish, or seafood, but does eat eggs and milk-based products like cheese and yogurt.  Mike is a vegan.  He eats no animal products at all.

For more on the different categories of vegetarianism, here's a good website.

Corin and I usually start by asking which tapas are made with seafood, but this approach can be problematic because many fish-based pinchos also include ham or bacon.  Since it's often hidden under the fish, we always have to ask for a detailed ingredient list.  This presents a challenge in noisy tapas bars, especially when the ingredients include words we don't know.  Adding another layer of complication is the issue of what 'counts' as meat, which seems to be a bit different here.  I've had friends and bartenders earnestly explain to me that morcilla (blood sausage) is vegetarian because 'there's no meat in it, only fat.' 

pinchos at Casa Lita
Despite these minor difficulties, I love pinchos.  They are a wonderful idea with unlimited creative potential.  They are also just the right size for a snack, with two or three of them being a perfect meal that blends a mixture of many textures and tastes.  

Casa Lita

When Christine came to Spain, it was a challenge to find pinchos for her. There is only so much tortilla de patata and bread/cheese combinations a person can eat!  But, like me, she loved the idea of pinchos and the possibilities they presented.  

Because of the appeal of pinchos combined with the difficulty of finding many that met our dietary requirements, we decided to go out to a few tapas bars, study the various designs, and then create our own vegetarian versions at home.  

the research continues at Machichaco el Machi

So, strictly for research purposes, we visited several tapas bars including Machichacho el Machi (left) and Casa Lita on the bay, both favorites with the locals. We then came up with some ideas and went to Corin's favorite shop, El Corte Ingles, to get supplies.  

We started with crackers and small pieces of bread, then added a variety of toppings.  Christine took these wonderful pictures of the final results:  our special pinchos, inspired by the tapas bars of Santander but adapted for vegetarians.

The only thing left to do was invite some friends; luckily, I have three who live on the very next street.  They brought wine, and, alors!  A vegetarian 
pincho party!  

OK for pescatarians:  red peppers, bonito, and caramelized onions

Caprese tapas:  Toast, pesto, mozzarella, and tomatoes

An English favorite:  Jacobs cream crackers, cheddar cheese, and Branston pickle

Goat's cheese with red peppers, caramelized onions, and chives

Avocado, tomato, and chives

Eggs with alioli, chives, and spears of asparagus

Selection of pinchos with a glass of Lambrusco

Thanks to Christine and Corin for all the creative input and helping with the preparations!  And thanks to our Spanish friends Maria, Pepe, and Santi, experienced tapas eaters and non-vegetarians, for coming to share them with us.  

If this inspires you to try other vegetarian cooking, here's a link to Christine's highly recommended vegetarian cooking blog, ciao veggie

Guests have just arrived...9 p.m., the eating time in Spain!

Taking pinchos home:  Santi and Maria


  1. ALL English cooks should be so lucky as to do a sabbatical on food in Spain!

  2. These look fabulous. You make it look super simple. Great flavor mix. Will have to try.

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    1. Thanks Mark! They really were simple, just a bit time consuming!

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