Spain has had an enormous influence

Spain has had an enormous influence

When many Americans hear the word Spanish, they likely think of Spanish-speaking peoples of the Caribbean, chiefly Mexico. Even immigrants from Spain seem to have difficulty here being recognized as a person from Europe, rather than Mexico or another Latin nation.

Spain has had an enormous influence in the Hispanosphere stretching throughout the Caribbean, landing there in 1519, claiming what is now Mexico as New Spain and sparking several waves of Spanish immigration to the region for the next 500 years.

Once the conquistadors landed in Mexico, the Aztec empire was wiped out, and today much of the population of Mexico claims ancestry of both European Spaniards and indigenous peoples.

In terms of food, Spain’s influence on Mexican cuisine is heavy, yet Spanish food remains a thing unto itself. Corn is a plant that comes from the New World, so its precolonial presence figures heavily in Mexico while Spain gives us empanadas, Paella and tapas.

I have learned that in Spain the motto is “eat when you drink, and drink when you eat.” Tapas fits this bill nicely, as it is finger food — small courses enjoyed over a period of time while the drink rounds carry on.

Most countries have a version of this kind of heightened snacking, but tapas sounds far more interesting than snack table.

Here in the U.S., I suppose the equivalent is a few bowls of Doritos, potato chips, pretzels and dips. Tapas might be marinated fish, olives and nuts, skewered morsels of assorted proteins and vegetables, called banderillas, small bowls of a few spiced shrimp, or palm-sized meat pies or tarts called empanadas.

The drinks to go with tapas are very much a part of Spanish culture and quite different from the tequila of her colonial-era holdings in the Caribbean. The Greeks have their ouzo, the Italians their grappa and the Spanish their anis.

Banderillas literally means “stuck on a thorn” and is a simple introduction to Spanish tapas. You can vary this in any way you like, using small bits of cured meats, hard cheeses or tuna in place of the anchovies used here, being careful to choose things with plenty of flavor. If you read this recipe and decide to go with bits of ham and baby Swiss, just skip it and break out the bag of pretzels.

Coca is a Spanish version of the bread with toppings found all over the world. Take care with the salt, remembering anchovies are quite salty. This version is close to the French version, pissaladiére.


12 small capers

12 canned anchovy fillets in oil, drained

12 pitted cured black olives

12 cornichons or small gherkins

12 pickled white pearl onions

Place a caper on your work surface. Lay the wider end of the anchovy filet by the caper, then roll the filet around it. Skewer this caper-centered spiral on a short wooden skewer, then add the olive, pickle and onion after.


3.5 cups bread flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 package dried yeast (2.5 teaspoons)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup milk, mixed

3 large onions, thinly sliced

2-ounce can anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

2 teaspoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1 teaspoon dried chili flakes

Salt and pepper

Using a food processor, add the flour, salt and yeast to the bowl, pulsing until mixed. Add 4 tablespoons of the oil and some of the milk and water, and pulse again. Add the remaining liquid and process until a dough forms. Turn out into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Heat the remaining olive oil in a pan and cook the onions until soft and beginning to turn yellow. After rising, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle. Transfer to a baking sheet. Scatter the anchovies, onions, raisins, pine nuts and chili flakes over the dough and season with a little salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes, until the edges are brown.