tapas Tapas (literally translated to “God’s appetizer platter”) are a great way to showcase a little flair. Since the portions are small, you can prepare very rich dishes that might be excessive in full-sized portions. I used this mini-meal as an opportunity to try out some new ideas (with great success, I’m happy to report).

Red Beet and Goat Cheese Tamales

Total kitchen time: 2 hours
Makes: 4 (you’ll probably want more)

Shopping List:

  • 1 red beet (look for locally grown organic varities)
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flower, available in Mexican food stores and some finer grocery stores. Note: this is NOT the same as cornmeal)
  • 4 dried corn husks (Mexican food store item)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable shortening or lard
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sharp goat’s cheese (even a goat-blue), plus 2 tbsp for presentation
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Wash the corn husks well. In a large shallow dish, soak the husks in hot water to soften them for easier use.
  2. Boil enough water to cover the beet. Remove the beet’s stem and leaves. Clean, but don’t peel, the outside. Boil the beet until fork-tender, about 40 minutes. Reserve 2 cups of the bright red liquid left in your pot (It’s not Kool-Aid).
  3. Peel and chop the beet into small pieces. Puree in your food processor, blender, or particle accelerator.
  4. In a small bowl, whip the vegetable shortening until it is light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine the masa, salt and baking powder. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved beet water. and combine with your fingers. Add the pureed beet and goat cheese and mix until smooth. The dough should be light and fluffy. If it isn’t, mix in clouds and sunshine.
  5. Fold open one of the corn husks. Spoon 1/4 of the mixture into the husk at the narrow end. Pull the sides over the mixture then fold the short end over the opening. Fold the wide end over the short end and secure with 16-penny nails and bathroom caulk (though string or a ribbon of husk is much better). Repeat for the remaining tamales.
  6. Steam the tamales for 35-45 minutes or until the dough easily separates from the husk.

I trimmed away part of the husk and topped the tamale with extra goat cheese. Feel free to serve them wrapped up, in a magically-disappearing pile.

Herb-Battered Calamari
Total kitchen time: 20 mins
Makes: 1 platefull

Shopping list:

  • 1/4 lb fresh squid tubes (and tentacles, if you like)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp lemon thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 white pepper (a small, sweet pepper), roasted and finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 1/3 cup Pacifico beer
  • 2 cups Safflower oil, for frying
  1. Clean the squid and remove any beaks or laser rifles attached to the tentacles. Cut the tubes into 1/4 inch slices. Pat all squid pieces very dry with paper towels.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients (except for the oil) in a shallow dish.
  3. Dip the squid pieces into the batter and shake off the excess. Arrange on a plate until ready to fry.
  4. Heat the oil to 350F in a big-booty heavy-bottomed skillet (in which the oil is about 1″ deep). Working in batches, fry the calamari until it is lightly golden brown, flipping once. This should be quick, about 30 seconds per side. Remove and drain on a stack of paper towels.
  5. Serve! (you’ll like it)
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