How to Host a Summer Tapas Party

The Perfect Festivity for a Hot Summer Evening

Girlfriends Enjoying an Outdoor Dinner Party
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Summer parties, and the accompanying food, should be all about simplicity. That means choosing recipes that are quick to prepare and don't require extended cook times. Enter, the tapas party—an outdoor gathering centered on small, Spanish-influenced plates and lively cocktails. The small plate offerings are perfect for a relaxed party and light summer appetites. Plus, many of the dishes can be made in advance, require few ingredients and little cooking, and can be served cold.

It's a perfect party theme for both hosts and guests, as enjoying time outside is the main attraction. 

Setting the Stage

First things first. Since tapas originated in Spanish bars, you don’t need to set a fancy, formal table. Instead, decorate your buffet table with a simple Mediterranean-colored runner on which the different tapas plates are presented (shades of red, orange, and yellow look nice). Clear the chairs and set them away from the table on an outside patio to suggest socializing while eating. You can even provide small side tables, or stools, at an outdoor or indoor bar. Recycled glass plates and tumblers suggest true Spanish flair and are a simple way to top off the presentation.

Since parsley, rosemary, thyme, and oregano are staple ingredients in Spanish cuisine, small potted herbs can serve as fragrant tabletop arrangements. Add a few jars filled with small fresh chile peppers for extra color.

And serve your bite-sized food on terracotta pieces, mixed with Fiestaware or other colorful platters. 

Queuing the Music

Give some thought to your music playlist for added ambiance, as music adds mood to the setting. Choose songs from classic Latin favorites like Tito Puente or mix in contemporary pop songs from Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, or Shakira.

Or, if your sound system is connected to Directtv or SiriusXM radio, tune it to a Latin pop or Latin jazz station to keep the vibe of the evening light and your guests lively.

Mixing the Beverages

Sangria—traditionally, red wine mixed with peaches, nectarines, and pineapple—is a classic summer beverage that's often served with tapas. Create a spin on this original by using Spanish (or French—nobody will know) rosé wine mixed with strawberries, raspberries, lemon, and seltzer water. Fill large glass pitchers with this party cocktail on ice and let guests help themselves—freeing you from bartending duty, while also keeping your liquor costs in check. You can also serve cava, a sparkling Spanish wine similar to champagne. Or create a cava spritzer with a light fruit juice of your choice (peach juice works well) and San Pellegrino. ​

Creating the Main Fare

Plan on serving a variety of tapas dishes to peak interest and add color to the presentation. Choose fare with minimal ingredients, that is quick to assemble, and can be prepped in advance. Last minute grill items work well, too, since you can be outside mingling while attending to the finishing touches.

Ensaladilla Rusa is a popular dish in Spanish bars and a staple to most tapas spreads.

Named after a Russian main dish, the Spanish enjoy their version as tapas or as a side to a main. Serve it in small ramekins that house individual portions laid out on a tray.

Who can resist the sweet and salty combination of melon and ham? The Italians prefer cantaloupe and prosciutto. But in Spain, Melon con Jamon Serrano is found on nearly every summertime table. Prepare this wonderful tapa when melons reach their mid-summer sweetness.

Goat Cheese with Paprika, Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Capers served on bread makes a perfect finger-food for a party that revolves around socializing. Served on crusty bread, the smoky, salty tastes will be just what your guests are craving on a hot summer evening.

Eggplants are a common Mediterranean ingredient used in mid-summer in Spain. The combination of eggplants, tomatoes, capers, onions, and garlic in this eggplant tapa create a recipe that’s rich in flavor, while still light enough for summer appetites.

For guests searching for a "main course" at a tapas party, this is the ticket.

Garlic Shrimp Tapa is popular in Spain for good reason. Prep your ingredients ahead of time for this dish, and then quickly sauté everything as your guests look on in awe. The smell of frying garlic will heighten their appetite and eagerness to try this traditional tapas fare.

Marinate your olives for at least one hour before serving Olives a la Madrilene. This simple dish not only makes a great tapa, but it can also accompany a main dish as a side. Serve it alongside a crusty baguette that guests can tear off and dip into the marinade.  

Eggs for dinner? You bet. The potatoes in this Spanish Omelet recipe add substance to a small dish. Serve it cut into wedges or squares so that everyone gets a bite.