Sometimes appetizers are a monkey wrench in the American style of eating. Tired cheese, disagreeable meatballs and mundane chip and dip combinations often precede our festive meals, perhaps more harmful than hospitable.
The Spanish approach to appetizers, tapas, makes more sense.
In Madrid, where tapas bars and cafes abound, the variety is imaginative and the quantity is amazing. Mushrooms, quail and tiny omelets share the bar tops with scallops, cauliflower and many flavored olives and almonds. There are sometimes 30 varieties from which to choose, providing a delectable passage through the evening. The desire for a more structured meal can be lost.
Traditionally, tapas are served in separate bowls, along with toothpicks or small forks. The tapa-eater plays them like a checkerboard, with wine, sherry or sangria as an accompaniment.
Translating tapas to the American lifestyle is not difficult. Many tapas can easily be prepared ahead with attractive and economical combinations of ingredients. They can provide an alternative to standard buffets and dinners, cocktail parties or any occasion where the main idea is to be confortable, nibble and talk.
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour
1/2 cup beer
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 cup lean ham, chopped
Salad oil for frying
Beat egg with salt and pepper to taste. Add flour and beer and beat until smooth. Add hard-cooked eggs and ham to batter. Heat 1 inch of oil to 375 degrees, drop batter in by heaping teaspoonsful. Fry until golden (2 to 3 minutes). Lightly salt and serve warm.
Note: The batter may be made ahead and refrigerated.
ARTICHOKES SALSA VERDE
1 can (8 1/2 ounces) artichoke hearts
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon tarragon
Drain artichokes and place in serving dish. Combine remaining ingredients separately and pour over artichokes. Refrigerate for 2 hours and serve chilled.
1 pound scallions, cleaned with some green left on
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
Dash each of nutmeg and cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Bring all ingredients except scallions to a boil in medium saucepan, stir well then simmer until slightly thickened. Pour hot over scallions and refrigerate 2 hours. Toss gently and serve cold.
2 cans (2-ounce size) flat, unstuffed anchovies
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
Drain oil from cans and mix with remaining ingredients. Arrange anchovies in serving dish and pour marinade over. Refrigerate 4 hours and serve cold.
(4 to 6 servings)
1 cup green olives
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Crush olives slightly with a large spoon. Toss with remaining ingredients and pour into serving dish. Refrigerate-4 hours and serve cold.
1 pound fresh smelt or other small fish, cleaned
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup salad oil
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced in thin rings
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaft
Fry fish in combined oils until cooked through. Check often for sticking. Drain and arrange gently in a glass serving dish. In remaining oil, saute onion, carrot and garlic for 2 minutes. Reduce heat, add remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes. Pour over fish and refrigerate 24 hours. Serve cold. CAPTION: Picture, Tapas bars and cafes are common throughout Spanish cities and villages.