Ask any Spaniard what they love about their country, and you’ll hear many variations of the same theme: the jamón. The wine. My abuela’s croquetas. The fresh seafood from my parents’ village on the coast. What do all these things have in common? It’s always food! And luckily, there are many simple Spanish dishes that you can easily make, even if you’re not handy in the kitchen.
Spanish cuisine includes a wide range of meat, seafood, rice, potatoes, and everything in between. Though paella is many visitors’ first thought, did you know that paella is actually only one single variation of a rice dish, originally only from the wetlands on the coast of Valencia? Spanish food is so much more than just paella!
Below, I’ve highlighted a very short selection of five of my favorite Spanish dishes… but only the easiest ones! No slaving over a hot stove here. Just five super simple, super tasty recipes that will transport you straight to the land of Don Quixote. How about a Spanish tapas feast for this year’s small-group, socially-distanced holiday gatherings? Read on!
The Most Simple Spanish Dish: Potato Chips & Mussels
Okay, this “recipe” is kind of cheating: it’s so simple that I really shouldn’t even call it a recipe. But I promise that once you try this dish it will become your new favorite party appetizer.
Many of the best Spanish dishes are known for their simplicity. It’s all about getting the best quality ingredients you can. That’s the rule here: no Ruffles or Lays potato chips. Splash out on something a little fancier — but still a basic flavor. Kettle cooked is always a great choice, and look for either original flavor or sea salt.
Next, the only other ingredient: canned mussels! When you think of canned food, please don’t think of Spam: Spanish conservas are a world apart, and in fact often more expensive (and more prized!) than even fresh seafood. If you’re lucky enough to buy your tins here in Spain, Balea and Ramón Franco are two of our best-loved brands. If you’re Stateside, keep an eye out for the Borges brand.
Finally — here’s the fun part — time to plate! A generous handful of chips on the plate, and use a fork to fish the mussels out of the brine in the tin and on top of the chips. Let your friends be impressed by what an international foodie you are, and enjoy!
(If you’d like to dive even farther into the wonderful world of Spanish conservas, I recommend Lauren’s wonderful post.)
A Refreshing & Simple Spanish Dish: Salmorejo Tomato Soup
Everyone knows and loves salmorejo’s cousin, gazpacho. But if you’ve never heard of salmorejo, prepare to be amazed. This delightfully creamy cold tomato soup will quickly become your new favorite — especially when you discover how absurdly easy it is to make this simple Spanish dish.
– 1 pound ripe tomatoes (any variety will work, but the better the quality, the better your result!)
– 1 medium baguette (or any kind of bread you have on hand — again, aim for nicer quality ingredients to get a nicer quality result)
– 1 clove garlic
– 3-4 tablespoons sherry vinegar (start with a little and taste test your way up)
– a generous pinch of salt
– 1 cup extra virgin Spanish olive oil (use the good stuff!)
– hard-boiled eggs and diced Serrano ham (for garnish)
Extra optional step (but recommended): blanch and peel your tomatoes, and cut out the cores. Then, add them to a blender with the bread, garlic, vinegar, and salt. Blend on high speed until smooth.
Next, through the hole in the top of the blender, slowly stream in the olive oil with the blender running at medium speed. Once the olive oil is all added, turn the blender back up to high speed and let it run for another couple of minutes. Then give it a couple more! It should take a little longer than you expect — that will get you the creamiest result.
Pour into bowls and top with the sliced egg and ham.
Simple Spanish Tapas: Gambas al Ajillo
Craving some simple Spanish tapas? Well, of course you can always get away with serving some great jamón y queso. But if you want to up your game just a bit, this is a Spanish dish that I truly fell in love with when I was a tour guide for Devour Madrid.
One of my favorite tour stops is a bar called Casa del Abuelo, famous for one thing: shrimp. Gambas al ajillo, chili-garlic shrimp, is the dish they’ve been making there since 1906, and with the same family running it ever since. The recipe never changes.
– ½ pound fresh peeled & deveined shrimp (frozen is fine, too, if that’s what you have! Just make sure they’re thoroughly defrosted)
– extra virgin Spanish olive oil
– garlic, finely chopped
– parsley, finely chopped
– crusty bread for serving
– small cayenne peppers
You’ll notice I haven’t given you any quantities — that’s because this recipe is meant to be tuned to your taste. I adore garlic, so I would happily use five or six cloves. You might want to dial that back a little bit. Similarly, the number of cayenne peppers can be tuned to your taste.
Grab a small, heavy-bottomed skillet — cast iron works, too. Put the olive oil and the peppers on high heat. The oil should generously cover the bottom of the skillet and come about ¼ inch up the sides. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and parsley. Let sizzle for a moment, then add in your shrimp, keeping them more or less in a single layer. Salt generously. Stir frequently.
Once the shrimp are nearly cooked through, pull them from the heat. Serve immediately, with lots of crusty bread for dipping in that gorgeous garlic oil.
Pisto Spanish Ratatouille
Pisto is Spain’s answer to ratatouille — but even simpler. It’s my kind of recipe: chop, stir, eat.
This particular variation is from my friend Arantxa, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who hosts private cooking classes in her gorgeous Madrid home! Arantxa makes some of the best food I’ve tried in Spain, and her pisto is no exception.
– 1 cup chopped onions
– 1 cup chopped green pepper (red is good, too, or a combination)
– 1 cup chopped tomato
– 2 cups chopped zucchini
These quantities are (once again) rough estimates so use what you have in the fridge.
Sauté the onion in a generous slug of olive oil over medium-low heat. Salt. Once the onion has gone transparent (roughly 7 minutes), add the pepper. Once the pepper begins to change color (again, some 7 minutes), add the zucchini and another generous pinch of salt. The zucchini will release quite a bit of liquid, so let that cook off for 10 minutes or so, and finally add the tomatoes.
Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens. Taste for salt and add a bit more if necessary. (Arantxa also says that if your tomatoes were very acidic, a spoonful of sugar can be a great addition at this point.)
Serve this simple Spanish dish with a fried egg on top and crusty bread for dipping!
Easy to Make Spanish Dessert: Burnt Basque Cheesecake
This is one of the easiest Spanish dessert recipes to make, so don’t be intimidated. I promise this recipe only takes 10 minutes of hands-on time! And there are only five ingredients! Then, it’s straight in the oven.
– 2 pounds cream cheese
– 7 eggs
– 1.5 cups of white sugar
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 1 heaping tablespoon of flour
(Told you it was simple!)
Preheat your oven to 410°F (210°C).
Line a 10” springform pan with parchment paper — you’ll need several sheets of it which you purposely want to overhang on all sides to later lever the cake out. Messy is okay here!
Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk or electric mixer (though beware of over-mixing). Pour into the pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until deeply brown, but still jiggly in the middle. Leave out to cool for an hour, then move to the fridge to cool for another hour or two. Slice and enjoy!
Hope you loved these simple Spanish dishes as much as we do. Will you be making any of them this holiday season? If you do, don’t forget to tag us. We love to see your shots!