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Throw a terrific tapas party: Tips and recipes from celebrity chef Dave Lieberman

Tapas are chic, simple and the new trend for tasty get-togethers. Dave Lieberman, Food Network’s hot, young celebrity chef and cookbook author shares his top tips to throw your next party – Spanish style – plus irresistible tapas recipes (with low-carb notes) that will make your dining and entertaining fun and fuss-free.


What are tapas?

Originating in Spain and now growing in popularity throughout bars and restaurants in the US, tapas are appetizers that usually accompany aperitifs or cocktails (sangria is a given). In addition, with the health-conscious desire for smaller portions, tapas can also be eaten as an entire meal.

According to Chef Lieberman, tapas had a utilitarian beginning. He explains, “Tapas started out as pieces of bread used to cover people’s drinks from flies in the warm, Spanish weather. Then, people started getting creative with the breads and putting things on them and serving little nibbles with them.” Patrons of bars and restaurants became accustomed to the nibbles and the concept of tapas was born.

Ranging from simple items such as olives or cubes of ham and cheese to more elaborate preparations like bite-sized cubes of omelet, cooked shrimp and little meatballs, tapas are the ultimate finger food. Best yet, throwing a tapas party is hostess-friendly – you will not only have time to mingle with your guests, you will also have time to sink your teeth into your flavorful bite-sized Spanish fare.

Throw a terrific tapas get-together

One of the advantages to throwing a tapas party is simplicity. “Tapas are simple to prepare because they traditionally depend on just a few really flavorful fresh ingredients prepared the right way,” says Chef Lieberman. “Many tapas are meant to be served cold, so cooking is kept to a minimum.”

In addition, tapas can be casually served, easing up the pressure put on a hostess. Chef Lieberman explains, “Tapas can also be set out and scattered around an entertaining space and just left for guests to help themselves.”

The tapas party menu

Tapas are ideal for a gathering because they offer a delicious array of finger foods that your guests can sample without getting stuffed. And, more importantly, with the variety of interesting foods and drinks, tapas parties are, put simply, fun!

To plan your tapas tasting, Chef Lieberman suggests a simple menu so you don’t spend all night in the kitchen. He says, “Focus on creating five to six tapas dishes that are easy and quick to fix and can be prepared ahead of time.” For example, three cold tapas and one or two warm tapas. Plan 6 to 8 bites per guest if you are hosting a cocktail party (1-1/2 hour party) or 12 to 15 bites per guest for a tapas dinner party (3 hour party).

Chef Lieberman adds, “Put out some olives, plenty of good olive oil from Spain for drizzling and dipping, and some quaffable Spanish wine or sangria.”

Once you set out small serving plates, napkins and wine glasses, you get to relax and join the party!

Chef Lieberman’s Tapas Recipes

Fried Cauliflower with Pimenton Aioli

Makes 8 to 10 servings

For the cauliflower:
2 dried bay leaves
1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt
Black peppercorns
1 large head cauliflower, core removed, broken down into florets
About 2 cups tempura batter (for low-carb, make a batter with club soda and CarbQuick)
Extra virgin olive oil from Spain

For the aioli:
1 tablespoon pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
1 fresh egg yolk
Couple pinches of salt
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil from Spain

1. Fill a large pot with water, add bay leaves, salt and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Let mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Add cauliflower florets and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Strain cauliflower and place on paper towels to cool and air dry.

2. Fill a medium-sized, heavy saucepan with 2 to 3 inches of olive oil. Heat oil to approximately 375 degrees F.

3. Dip cooked cauliflower florets in tempura batter and drop into the hot oil. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the cauliflower turns golden brown. Remove cauliflower and place on paper towels to drain any excess oil.

4. To make aioli, toast pimenton in a small skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Blend pimentón together with the egg yolk, salt and lemon juice by whisking or in a food processor. Slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, blending continuously, to emulsify the aioli. Serve cauliflower with aioli.

Note: Green beans, zucchini, broccoli or summer squash can be substituted for the cauliflower.

Lemon Poached Shrimp With Spicy Gazpacho

Makes 10 to 12 servings

For the shrimp:
3 quarts water
1 lemon, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined

For the gazpacho:
1 cup soft insides of rustic bread loaf
1 pound vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped
1/2 medium white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 Thai chili, seeded, chopped
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil from Spain
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish:
1/4 cup each finely diced red bell pepper and cucumber
Olive oil from Spain

1. For the shrimp, combine water, lemon, thyme, bay leaf, salt and peppercorns in a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and discard lemon and seasonings. Add shrimp to pot and poach for 2 to 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a large bowl of ice water. Drain and refrigerate shrimp until ready to serve.

2. For the gazpacho, soak bread in water for 10 minutes. Drain, squeeze out excess water and set aside. In a food processor, puree tomatoes, cucumber, onion, peppers, garlic and chili. Add the bread, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and process until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.

3. To serve, place a couple of shrimp in a shallow bowl and pour gazpacho around them. Sprinkle with diced red pepper and cucumber. Drizzle with olive oil.

Fresh Chorizo & Piquillo Pepper Bites With Shaved Manchego Cheese

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 pound fresh chorizo sausage
1/4 pound Manchego cheese
6 to 8 piquillo peppers, drained, cut into 1-inch squares
Olive oil from Spain

1. Prick fresh chorizo sausages in several places with the point of a knife. Grill sausages over medium-high heat until medium rare, about 3 minutes on each side. Set aside to drain on a paper towel. When sausages are cool enough to handle, slice diagonally into 1/2-inch thick pieces.

2. Add olive oil to a saute pan and sear Chorizo slices on both sides until well-browned and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes for each side. Drain on paper towels.

3. Using a vegetable peeler, shave cheese into very thin pieces. Top each piece of chorizo with a shaving of cheese and a square piece of Piquillo pepper. Skewer with a toothpick. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Dave Lieberman’s White Sangria

Makes 8 to 10 servings If you are watching calories and carbs, you can always have a small glass and sip savoringly.

2 (750-ml) bottles white wine, chilled
1 cup brandy
2 navel oranges, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
1/4 cup superfine sugar (for low-carb, use your favorite sugar substitute)

Simply pour the wine and brandy over the fruit and sugar in a large serving bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. To serve, place a ladle in the sangria so people can serve themselves. Have a full bucket of ice by the side of the bowl.

Want more party-perfect recipes? Try a few of these:

And for more of Chef Lieberman’s delish dishes, pick up his two cookbooks: Young and Hungry: More than 100 Recipes for Cooking Fresh and Affordable Food for Everyone and Dave’s Dinners: A Fresh Approach to Home-Cooked Meals. You can also check him out on Food Network’s Good Deal with Dave Lieberman and Dave Does, the Food Network’s first web-based series.

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