Mon 30 May 2011
My friends Janet, Veronica and Giselle at Bottega Louie – one of our favorite restaurants in LA – sharing a pizza and some starters for dinner.
I’ll always remember the first time I went to a tapas restaurant in Ireland with my new-found Irish friends. It was a little place in Drogheda (which is sadly now out of business) and as soon as I opened the menu and saw favorites like garlic mushrooms, chili prawns and spicy potatoes I knew I was in for a treat.
Or so I thought.
“I’m getting the prawns and the salad,” said one friend. “What are you going to get?”
What do you mean what am I going to get? Tapas is all about sharing, I told her. It’s the Spanish culinary tradition of snacks or little bites served on small plates, and the idea is to get a bunch of dishes to share with friends.
“OK, well you can have a bite of my prawns. So what are you going to order?” she deadpanned.
Through further explanation of the beauty of tapas (That way we can all try a lot of dishes on the menu, I reasoned), my friends seemed to grasp the concept and we each chose two dishes on the menu to order. But when the plates were set on the table, each friend quickly grabbed her two orders and tucked right in and offered me a bite of her food before promptly finishing off the rest.
It’s odd that the idea of sharing plates of food seems a bit lost in Irish culinary culture. At Chinese and Indian restaurants in Ireland, patrons order their own dish – which is completely at odds with how Americans eat both cuisines. At a sit-down Chinese or Indian restaurant in the U.S., it’s typical to order a few dishes and a big bowl of steamed rice and share everything; a little chow mein, a little kung-pow chicken and an egg roll with some rice for each person. Here, it’s common for Susan to order a chow mein as her main while Earnan orders the kung-pow chicken for himself. It’s absolutely weird for me to eat an entire plate of what I consider a community-style dish like chow mein, but here it’s perceived as strange to do otherwise.
Remember the famous line from a well-known Friends episode, Joey doesn’t share food!? Sometimes the reaction I get from some Irish friends about dividing up a few plates is hilariously similar. I’m not sure why that is, but Mountaineering Man likes to joke that it has to do with the Great Famine.
“It wasn’t that long ago that people were punching each other over one potato,” he says, with a devilish smirk. “Maybe that’s why we don’t like to share food!”
While sometimes I just want what I want all to myself, most of the time I’d rather share a few plates so that I can try more than one dish. Back in Los Angeles my sister and I would frequently plant ourselves at the bar in a restaurant, order 3-4 appetizers and some wine and nibble all night. It’s a relaxed way to try a few different dishes and just the way I prefer to eat!
This popular Spanish dish is featured on several tapas menus in LA and showcases Ireland’s most beloved veg, the potato! While my recipe is for a full-sized tortilla, you can make them smaller for a proper tapas dish by cutting the recipe down. It’s really a dish for leftovers; the only required ingredients are potatoes, eggs and onions – the rest is up to you. I’ve had tortilla with tomatoes, cured meats and a variety of veg.
4-7 teaspoons of olive oil (will depend on the size of your pan)
4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
10 thin slices of chorizo
3 eggs, beaten
Handful of grated cheese – whatever type you like!
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan, heat up one teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat. Working in batches, put in one layer of onion, potato and bell pepper and cook for about 5-7 minutes or until they are all tender. Place onto a plate and repeat step one (1 teaspoon of oil, potato, onion, bell pepper) until all the potato and veg are cooked. Set aside.
Heat up another teaspoon of olive oil in the same pan over medium heat. Now place one layer of potato, bell pepper and onion in the pan, followed by a layer of chorizo slices. Repeat until all the potato, veg and chorizo are in the pan. Pour the eggs over the whole lot and cook. Do not mess with it – let the egg cook on the bottom, which should take about 5 minutes or so. There shouldn’t be too much runny egg on the top at this stage, though the top will not be cooked yet.
Now here’s the hard part about making Spanish Tortilla: You need to flip it over! But here’s the easy way. Get a plate as large as your pan. Gently use a spatula to loosen the edges of the egg/potato and slide the whole thing onto the plate – cooked side down so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Now place the pan over the plate and quickly and confidently flip it back into the pan so that the uncooked side is now down in the pan; if you are unsure of how to do it, check out this step-by-step process. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes and then sprinkle the cheese on top of the tortilla and cook until it melts – about 2 minutes. Slice and serve!