How To Make Tapas

A crash course in the hottest dining trend in Dallas-tapas-straight from Chef Seiji Wakabayashi of Nandina.






























Ta Da! Tapas

The latest culinary trend to take over Dallas is also the perfect party food: bite-sized morsels for all.


Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “summer party fare”? If your answer was “hamburgers and hot dogs,” have we got a treat for you—and your guests. Tapas are a sophisticated, yet casual, alternative for your summer get-togethers. Traditionally, tapas are bar food (how much more casual can you get?). Smaller portions meant to be passed and shared by all, they’re an instant icebreaker, encouraging a relaxed, convivial atmosphere and constant conversation.

The word “tapa”—literally “cover,” as barkeeps placed a small snack over a glass of beer or wine to keep the flies out and entice patrons to stay—may be Spanish in origin, but this small-plate concept is popping up all over Dallas, even in some of our best Asian restaurants. At Nandina, award-winning Chef Seiji Wakabayashi, aka Chef Waka, serves up tapas worth keeping all for yourself, if you weren’t so afraid of missing another taste treat. Think miso-marinated Kobe beef and Chilean sea bass with a ginger glaze.

We’ve gathered five of Chef Waka’s recipes—and his best tips—to get you started. So pick up a couple of bottles of good wine and drop the kids off at the babysitter’s. You’re about to host the perfect summer dinner party.

Chilean Sea Bass with Ginger-Tamari Glaze

(makes 1 small plate)


            4          ounces Chilean sea bass                       

            2          tablespoons pickled red cabbage                     

            1          tablespoon Ginger-Tamari glaze

                        (recipe follows)                        


Ginger-Tamari Glaze

            2          cups red wine

            1/2       cup sugar

            2          tablespoons ginger, sliced

            1          cup Tamari soy sauce


Add all glaze ingredients to saucepan. Heat on low for two hours. Brush fish with glaze and grill until just done, about five minutes. Add cabbage to plate, and top with fish. Drizzle glaze around the plate.



Spring Roll with Lemongrass-Peanut Sauce

(makes 1 roll)


Spring Roll                            

            2          tablespoons iceberg lettuce, julienned   

            1          tablespoon carrot, julienned                 

            2-4       cilantro leaves              

            1          small tomato, cut into strips      

            1          12-inch-round rice paper

            2          tablespoons lemongrass-peanut sauce

                        (recipe follows)


Lemongrass-Peanut Sauce

            1/2       cup peanut butter

            1          cup coconut milk

            2          tablespoons red curry paste

            1          stick lemongrass

            1/2       cup Thai fish sauce

                        Sugar, to taste


Mix sauce ingredients over medium heat for 25-30 minutes. Soak rice paper for 1 minute. Add all ingredients to rice paper. Roll. Plate and serve.


Chicken Satay

(makes 1 small plate)


            5          strips of white-meat chicken (half a breast)

            5          9-inch bamboo skewers

            3          tablespoons Lemongrass-peanut sauce

                        (see previous recipe)

                        Vegetables (your choice), julienned,

                        for garnish

                        Crushed, roasted peanuts


Soak skewers in water for at least half an hour. Thread chicken onto skewers; grill approximately 2 minutes. Add vegetables and skewers to plate. Add sauce liberally. Garnish with crushed peanuts.


Shrimp Cake with Spicy Aioli

(makes 3 small cakes)


            2          cups cooked shrimp, chopped

            1          teaspoon ginger, chopped

            2          tablespoons green onion, chopped

            1/8       teaspoon salt

            1          teaspoon soy sauce

            3          heaping tablespoons bread crumbs

            1          cup spicy aioli (recipe follows)


Spicy Aioli

            1          cup mayonnaise

            3          tablespoons Sirracha

            1/2       teaspoon soy sauce


Mix aioli ingredients well. Set aside. Mix shrimp, ginger, green onion, salt, and soy sauce. Form into cakes and coat with bread crumbs. Fry until golden brown. Plate cakes and top with aioli.



Tuna Tartare with Guacamole and Wasabi Sour Cream >>

(makes 2 small plates)


            6          ounces sashimi-grade tuna, small dice

            2          tablespoons whole-grain mustard                     

            1          teaspoon lemon zest

            2          teaspoons shallots, finely chopped

            1          teaspoon soy sauce

            1          teaspoon chives, finely chopped

            2          tablespoons grape seed oil



            1          avocado, diced

            1/2       tomato, diced

            1/2       jalapeño, finely chopped

            1          tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

            1/2       lemon, juiced

            1/2       teaspoon salt


Wasabi Sour Cream

            1          cup sour cream

            1/2       lemon, juiced

            1          tablespoon wasabi powder

            1          pinch salt

            4          tablespoons coriander seed (for garnish)


Gently combine all ingredients for guacamole. Set aside. Combine all ingredients for wasabi sour cream. Set aside. Combine mustard, zest, shallots, soy sauce, chives, and oil. Brush over fish. Drizzle wasabi sour cream over plate. Add guacamole to center of plate. Place tuna on top of guacamole. Garnish perimeter of plate with coriander seeds. (You can also add a bit of Tobiko caviar and herbs to the tops of the fish as an extra garnish.)

NOTE: Buy only sashimi-grade fish for this dish. It is best to use the fish the same day, but if you must store it overnight, wrap it in a paper towel and plastic wrap.


Chef Waka’s Tapas Tips

Think small. Six guests are ideal. Leave larger parties to the pros.

Set a very simple, uncluttered table. Good linens and votive candles are all you need in the way of decoration. Remember that you’ll be bringing multiple plates to the table throughout the meal. Leave plenty of room.

Consider investing in more plates. Not only will you need one plate per tapa, but you’ll also have to allow one or two plates per guest. Remove guests’ plates as they become dirty. Vary the shape, size, and color of the plates to add to the visual appeal of each dish.

Keep it casual. When you’re making tapas at home for several people, serve dinner in the kitchen so you can all chat while new plates are prepared.

Serve the tapas in a logical order. Some items make more sense at the beginning of the meal: sushi, spring rolls, soups, or salads. In general, serve cold and lighter dishes first and heavier ones later.

Have several varieties of wine on hand. Serve like dishes at the same time so they can be paired with one wine. Serve Riesling with spicy dishes. Pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc works well with sushi, spring rolls, Asian ceviche, etc. (A chardonnay is your best bet for the recipes offered here.)

Serve three to five tapas per person. The plates should come out two or three at a time. Pacing is important. Feel free to cut the tapas into individual portions before you bring them to the table. (Always be mindful of appearance.)

Increase your estimated prep time. The beauty of serving tapas is that you can offer variety, but making multiple dishes will require a bit more of your time.

Don’t over-season. No one flavor should overpower the others or the natural flavor of the meat, fish, etc.

Monitor cooking time. No one likes their dinner to be dry, and overcooking herbs and vegetables affects their potency and texture.

Relax and have fun. Guests will take their cue from you. And remember that tapas started out as bar food, not nouvelle cuisine.


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