Small Plates Or Tapas, Let’s Party

In today’s restaurant scene, you can’t help but notice the growing number of restaurants that feature small plates, tapas, meze or antipasti on their menu. Bistros, wine bars, and gastropubs often suggest that you make a meal from several small, savory plates and forego an entrée altogether. If you are with another couple, your waiter may encourage your table to share several dishes…perhaps ordering two, three or four small plates per person to pass around family style.

Sampling beautifully composed, delicious little morsels of food that have bold flavors, surprising food combinations, or ingredients you might not have tried before, is a great way to judge the kitchen’s talent. Ordering a selection of small plates at a restaurant can often lead to a fun night of good food, good wine and stimulating food conversations.

Small Plate Of Mediterranean Lamb Meatballs  On A Bed Of Takziki With Warm Almonds And Olives
A Small Plate Of Keftedes (Greek Meatballs)  On A Bed Of Tzatziki With Warm Olives And Almonds

You don’t have to limit this experience to a restaurant. Why not plan a party with small plates of food shared with a few of your friends. Select a country such as Spain, China, Mexico or Greece and serve several little plates based around the country’s cuisine. It is a wonderful way to introduce your “not so adventurous” friends to new foods and flavors. Whereas they might not want a full portion of something they haven’t heard of, your friends will more than likely be willing to try a small bite or two.

If you are thinking about serving Mediterranean food at your party, you might want to consider a small plate of  keftedes, which are lamb meatballs seasoned with mint and oregano, served on a bed of tzatziki sauce alongside warm marinated olives and almonds.  It would be a wonderful introduction into Greek food that some of your guests might not have experienced.

Keftedes (Greek Meatballs)

These recipes, as part of a small plate will serve four, adjust the recipes accordingly.

  • 1/2 – 3/4 lb. ground lamb (beef or pork may be substituted)
  • 1/2  small onion, diced small or grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use fresh)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped mint
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil for sautéing the meatballs

Mix all the ingredients (except the oil) together until combined and form into meatballs about 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch in size. Heat the oil over medium high heat, add the meatballs and cook until golden. (They may also be baked in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, depending on size, or until done).

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 1 c. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

Lightly salt the diced cucumber. Let drain in a sieve for about 5 minutes, discard the liquid. Warm the olive oil and minced garlic (I do this to mellow the flavor of the garlic but it is not necessary) then let cool. Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for 30 minutes while the flavors meld. Taste for additional seasoning.

 Warm Marinated Olives and Almonds

Take a selection of olives (about 2 cups) such as Gaeta, Niçois, Kalamata or Picholine and rinse to remove some of the salt, then drain well. Skip this step if using oil cured olives.  Warm 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a small sauté pan, add 1 peeled garlic clove that has been flattened , 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, 1 tsp. each of chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, and the zest of a lemon. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Add the olives (can be prepared ahead of time up to this point, refrigerated and then brought to room temperature before continuing). Add a cup of almonds and toss well. Heat for about 5 minutes until the mixture is warm and fragrant.

****

The recipes above can also be served as a regular dinner. Increase the size of the meatballs and serve them with orzo, rice pilaf or couscous. Add stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush or a salad and you will have a lovely Greek dinner. However, for a change of pace, I suggest serving them at your next party. I believe that nibbling one’s way through several small plates of food will make for a fun evening for both you and your friends.

Now tell me, do you enjoy sharing little taste bites among friends at a restaurant? Do you like to start with an appetizer, go on to a main entrée, then end the meal with a dessert? Have you ever been to a tapas party? I would love to know your thoughts.

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I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

168 thoughts on “Small Plates Or Tapas, Let’s Party

    1. Hi Maureen, I like the idea of small plates as you get to try lots of delicious little morsels. I hope you and your guests will enjoy the recipes…thank you.

  1. When I read your post’s title immediately thought of Chinese dim sum.
    I love small plates, frequently make a meal from several small plates or order multiple appetizers instead of an entrée.

    1. Exactly Norma, dim sum is a perfect example…especially fun when you can share with a group at a Chinese restaurant. I agree, I often order several appetizers instead of an entrée.

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment, Tin Man…I’m happy you enjoyed the post and recipes. Tapas parties really are a fun way to get people to try new foods.

  2. Since my “test” went through, I’ll forge ahead with a comment. I love the idea of small plates. Your recipe looks delicious–all the tastes we like.

    Best,
    Bonnie

  3. Hi Bonnie, I’m happy that your comment came through…sorry you have been having problems. Small plates are fun, I’m glad to know that you like the recipes, thank you.

  4. Small plates are divine because they are all about abundance ! Variety is the spice of life and that’s what small plates exude: variety and existential ‘spice’. That said, they can end in disaster if the person preparing them doesn’t take loving care … they are a lot of work! It takes more time to make many little things than to make larger quantities of just one or two. And because that is somehow ‘implied’ in the serving of small plates, that makes eating them all the more enjoyable … there is a party feel to them!

    1. Hi Jo, I’m glad that you like the idea of small plates. A tasty assortment of beautifully prepared small bites…truly “the spice of life”. Some of my favorite times have been spent sharing small plates with friends while we try to figure out how the chef created such an amazing dish.

    1. Good luck with that and don’t forget ‘Croquetas’: they have always been my favourite, epecially made with Serrano ham or smoked bacon as a substitude. I hope it all goes well for you all. 🙂

    2. Hi Larry, Your blogger parties are well known for good food…a tapas party should be great fun. I’m glad you like the recipes. 🙂

  5. I love tapas just like I love dim sum. As they say. . . “Good things come in small packages.” Small packages plus the big friendly conversation that goes with it. That makes life beautiful. Thank you, Karen and I hope you are having a wonderful week!

    1. Hi Ray, Sharing small bites of good food with friends is special and I agree with you about the old saying about small packages. 🙂 Thank you for your wish, I hope your week is going well too.

  6. Yes, I do love these little dishes when at a restaurant. There is an Italian restaurant in our area that has two courses of them before dinner. I love what they bring out each time, it is such a surprise because it always changes. I like your meatball recipe too.

    1. Hi Donna, Your Italian restaurant sounds nice, especially with the little dishes being a surprise. I’m happy to know that you like the meatball recipe, thank you!

    1. Hi Vicki, It sounds like we could have fun sharing a meal…especially on one of your trips. I’m glad you like the recipes, they are simple and very tasty.

  7. I love tapas, meze and dim sum. Tapas and meze were created as appetizers and dim sum is generally a day/lunchtime meal with tea. However, all of them taste good, so why not anytime and lots of little shared things allows for more variety 🙂

    1. I like you thinking, Mad Dog. Perhaps we could to a tasting day on a weekend…starting with a light dim sum meal and then tapas later in the evening. 😀

      1. I like the sound of that!
        The amazing thing about tapas is that in the South of Spain (where they originated), they are still given away free when you buy a drink in a bar. So if you drink enough, you can eat for free. However, the free ones do tend be on small plates, whereas, there will normally be some more exciting tapas on offer that require payment.

      2. Sounds like a plan to me. Perhaps someday, my husband and I could join you on a tapas tastings. You and my husband have very similar tastes. 🙂

    1. Thank you Jovina, for your nice compliment. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and recipes. I agree with you about this being a fun way to entertain a small group of friends.

  8. We often do the plate sharing style when we visit a few choice Asian restaurants of varying cuisines. It has helped me try more new foods than I would’ve ordered for myself if left to my own devices.

    1. Hi Plumdirt, I agree with you about plate sharing. Friends have ordered dishes I wouldn’t have but after trying a bite, I know I would order them for myself.

    1. I agree with you, Didi, this is an enjoyable way of eating. The Keftedes were delicious with all the fresh herbs. Thank you so much for your nice compliment.

  9. I’ve always loved tapas, and the small plate movement in many restaurants is definitely attractive. I’ve often found the appetizers to be more interesting than the main course in many restaurants, so why not just order a bunch of small plates and graze? Great looking Keftedes — I haven’t had these in ages. I need to make them again. Or, because I’m lucky enough to be a 10 minute walk from a great Greek restaurant that offers tons of small plates, including Keftedes — just talk a walk and order them. 🙂 Fun post — thanks.

    1. Hi John, I’m like you, I typically think the appetizers sound more interesting than the entrees in many restaurants. You are lucky of have a good Greek restaurant within walking distance for Keftedes. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and recipe, thank you.

      1. Going to try it when I find the ingredients. Where I live when you ask for some of them you get a blank stare from the people who run the store. I now either send for what I want off the web or go out of Town/State. (And they want us to shop locally! NOT!)

    1. Hi Darryl, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and recipes. Knowing that you like lamb meatballs, I think you would enjoy Keftedes. Thank you for your nice compliment.

  10. Wonderful post, Karen. I find small plates to be fun…trying new cuisine and not having to worry that I’ve made a mistake if I simply don’t like it. And it’s a good way to try new foods and combinations, as you said. Our best time was at a lovely Mexican Restaurant in D.C., I wish I could remember everything we tried!!

    Jane xx

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment, Jane…I’m happy to know that you enjoyed the post. Small plates are indeed a nice way to try dishes you are not quite sure of…most of the time being adventuresome pays off in a good way. I love Mexican food and I bet your experience at the restaurant in D.C. was great.

  11. Tapas are very popular here in Spain and I love it. I have tried so many different things. Often sharing with friends. It is such a great idea and glad it is catching on in North America.

  12. Hello Karen,Thanks for the recipe, I’ll be trying this version, sounds great for buffet/finger style party food, or an informal meal with friends. Those small meat balls remind of a dish called Frigadella served in Denmark which I always order when I’m there, I’ll be back visiting my son & his family again next month, can’t wait. Our Christmas visit was a short one.

    1. Hi Barbara, It was a pleasure to share my recipe…I hope you will enjoy the Keftedes. I know you are looking forward to returning to Denmark for another visit with your son and his family. 🙂

  13. Well I think you know that we love this kind of dining! In Spain most of our local restaurants will offer the same dish in 3 portion sizes – tapa, half portion or full portion – a great way to try lots of things! Love the meatballs and I think it’s great that pretty much every cusine lends itself to this style of serving 🙂

    1. Hi Tanya, Mad Dog and I know how much you and Big Man like this style of dining and think that one day we will let you be our tapas guide. 😀 I didn’t know about the three portion sizes, that’s nice. I’m glad you like the recipe, thank you.

    1. Hi David, I have to agree with you on both counts. Thank goodness for dishwashers…plus my husband always helps with the dishes. 🙂

  14. Very nice. I love tapas & we’ve got one in Worcester that is amazing. I’m more of a nibbler so I love the idea of just having small portions and sharing lots of different things with everyone.

    Those meatballs look wonderful but that sauce must really make them amazing.

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment, Diane…I’m glad you like the recipe. I believe the sauce really adds to the overall flavor of the meatballs. If you ever get to Portsmouth, try the small plates at Moxy. Chef Matt Louis has been nominated for best chef in the Northeast.

  15. I love tapas/meze and I adore olives – they are absolutely one of my favourite foods. When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my mother in Greece and I have fond memories of Greek food: mouthwatering filo-pastry spanakopita, dolmades, fava beans in tomato sauce, halva… I would love to go back to Greece soon! Your tzatziki recipe sounds lovely – I look forward to making it. 🙂

    1. Hi Grace, I’m happy to know you like the tzatziki recipe…thank you. I’m with you, Greek food is terrific. Hopefully, you get a chance to return to Greece in the near future.

    1. Hi Sam, You are right about the plate making a good dinner. We added baba ghanoush, a Greek salad and pita and had a delicious meal.

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment and wish, Conor. I’ve been well but life has been very hectic. I’ve spent more days away from home so far this year than I’ve been at home.

  16. These meatballs sound like a delicious combination of flavours.

    I’ve been a fan of Chinese dim sum dishes, which feature small dishes, for years, but I’ve never been lucky enough to find a real Spanish tapas restaurant locally. The concept can, of course, translate to many nationalities, and these lamb meatballs would be a great dish as part of a nice assortment of Greek dishes. The local Lebanese restaurants offer these combination apps platters which I’ve enjoyed on several occasions.

  17. Methinks we all think alike and just love to try a ‘little bit of this and a littler bit of that’ 🙂 ! I can go back about 30 years when I remember a Brisbane restaurant opening its doors and offering ‘first courses’ only: pretty similar idea and it became hugely popular then. And a very early entrant to the scene must be the ‘cold table’ or smorgasbord of my childhood in Northern Europe at party time: often 20-30 special tidbits to sample whilst vodka flowed 🙂 !!

    1. Agree with ‘gardeninacity’: meant to say ‘zakuski’ myself’ but thought that might be an unfamiliar term with some 🙂 ! I’ll happily leave any N or NE ‘table of delights’ as long as the zakuski are good 🙂 !

      1. Hi Eha, The term small plates might be new but you are correct, the idea has been around for years throughout the cuisines of many countries.

    1. Thank you B, I’m happy that you like the recipes. I’m with you about liking to be able to sample lots of different bites when dining.

    1. Hi Gerlinde, Thank you so much for letting me know that you tried and enjoyed the tzatziki. I always appreciate knowing when a reader has tried one of my recipes and like it. 🙂

  18. I love this trend as well. We took our middle son to a tapas restaurant for his 5th birthday and he was in foodie heaven! It is so nice to be able to try a wide variety of foods without getting full.

  19. This is my kind of food. My favorite meal is an assortment of small bites. I could totally be a wedding crasher for the cocktail hour alone. Love these meatballs.

    1. You gave me such a chuckle Karen…but come to think about it, I might be your partner in crime. 😀 Thank you for the compliment, I’m glad you like the meatballs.

  20. Our annual employee party served “small plates” for dinner, catered. It was a hit and it was so great to enjoy so many different flavors! Your meatballs are making me drool, what a great recipe.

    1. Thank you for your nice compliment, Kathryn…I’m happy to know that you like the meatball recipe. Your employee party sounds like it was a lot of fun.

    1. Hi Jason, I can just imagine how good the mezes in Turkey were. Thank you for letting me know about zakuski. I’m happy to know that you liked my recipes and appreciate your nice compliment, thank you.

  21. I must be old fashioned. I’ve been to small plate restaurants, and I’ve eaten at tapas bars in Spain. You’re definitely right – it’s a good way to see if the chef knows what he’s doing. But if I really like this shrimp in a tomato sauce, I want it on a BIG plate, and ALL to myself!!!!!

    1. You are so funny, Mimi. Your aren’t old fashioned, you just are a foodie that wants what she wants. I’m the same way when it come to sharing a dessert. 😀

    1. Hi Lorraine, I’m with you, I love tasting lots of different things. Thank you for your compliment, I’m glad you like the meatballs.

  22. I have been dying to get hold of a good marinated olives recipe – thanks so much for having one! The plates look great and you know, back when Holli and I were on our own, going out to eat was a huge treat that we seldom got to experience. When we did go out, we always got 2 appetizers so we could REALLY enjoy the experience. Once I got farther in my career and we could afford full on entrees we still preferred to get apps……….and now, with my grandson in tow, we often get three or so apps so he can try different foods, which is an amazing thing to watch in itself. Now, it’s a trend. I’m such a trendy girl! 🙂

    1. Hi Kelli, I’m happy to supply you with a marinated olive recipe…everyone seems to enjoy them. I know what you mean about ordering two appetizers. We are out of town and that is what I had tonight for dinner, BTW, you are indeed a trendy girl. 😀

  23. Even our Whole Foods grocery has a little section for in-store dining that features wine and tapas. Such appeal! I like to serve small plates and almost always do when entertaining, but more as a prelude to the main course. As much as I enjoy tapas I don’t know why I wouldn’t be glad to consider a tapas-only party. That’s a great meatball, Karen. I will definitely give that a try!

    1. Hi Debra, We don’t have a Whole Foods in our area but I’ve been in one during our travels. I didn’t realize that you could have wine and tapas…how fun. Thank you for your compliment about the meatballs, I believe that you would enjoy them.

  24. Great idea! I’ve hosted a tapas party and our guests really enjoy it. Can’t wait to see how you entertain once you move back to FL 🙂 We just entertained with a Key West theme after surviving our coldest February since the 1800’s.

    1. Hi Debbie, I’m happy to know that you are looking forward to how we entertain when we move south to Florida. Making new friends and entertaining will be a top priority. Your Key West theme sounds like a great way to celebrate surviving this winter, it has been horrible in New Hampshire as well.

  25. This is absolutely my favorite way to eat! Small bite sample sizes really end up being filling! I got the authentic experience in Spain while vacationing, and since have gone to a couple of restaurants that specialize in tapas. Looking forward to trying this at home!

    1. I’m with you Sandra, I love lots of little bites of different foods. I’m happy that you like the recipes, thank you. I hope you will enjoy them.

  26. I love this small plate idea, a great way to sample and have variety in a meal – lovely. i will try some of these recipes as well, they sound wonderful! Thank you.

    1. Hi MC, Thank you for stopping by for a visit and your nice comment. I’m happy to know that you want to try the recipes, I hope you will enjoy them as much as my husband and I did.

  27. A lot of restaurants here in Sydney are starting to have a ‘small plates’ section on their menu. It’s a great way to get to sample a lot of what’s on offer. If I’m having a party, I usually serve a lot of food like this as it’s a lot more manageable for people who might also have a glass in hand xx

    1. Hi Charlie, You are right about the manageability of small bites when at a party…balancing a plate and a glass can be challenging.

  28. Mark and I often eat tapas/small plates for our dinners. It is nice to have so many flavors, and it is also fun when we have company. I love the meatballs recipe – haven’t made these before! Thanks, Karen!

  29. I love sharing food like platters, something about tasting and sampling lots of different flavours. And of course accompanied by a glass of something nice! A lovely recipe Karen

    1. Hi Claire, It seems that we think alike when it comes to sampling lots of different flavors. Thank you for your compliment about the meatball recipe. 🙂

  30. Tapas is a huge trend here in Hong Kong. A really fun way to share and enjoy an evening out or in. your little lamb balls with sauce look so moist and delicious. I am sure they will be a huge crowd pleaser. It is always so nice visiting you here on your blog. I am looking for some dinner ideas and hoping that some of your recipes from your archives will spark some ideas. Wishing you a super week. Take Care, BAM

    1. Hi Bobbie, It is interesting to learn that tapas have become a large trend in Hong Kong. Perhaps not too surprising though as dim sum is such a part of the culture there. I hope you found a recipe in my archives that gave you some meal ideas. 😀

  31. We used to have a small plate restaurant in our neighborhood that we frequented for several years, then it just shutdown. Oh how we miss it. Love the idea of doing a tapas style, small plate dinner! Our friends would love it. Your meatballs and olives would be a huge hit!

    1. Hi MJ, I’m glad you like the idea of a small plate party and that you think your friends would enjoy the meatballs and olives. Thank you.

  32. Tapas are a great way to eat. There is nothing like a variety of small food to choose from. However, they are a lot more work to prepare of course.

    1. Hi Suzanne, You are correct that a variety of dishes involves more work but it makes for a fun dining experience for a small group of friends.

  33. When I lived in the States my cooking club would plan evenings like this once a month. I loved them. 🙂 So many delicious bites. 🙂

  34. I do enjoy the small plates movement. Though we are not drinkers, the mezze have been a part of Middle Eastern cuisine for a long time so I kind of grew up with it.
    I love going to the Middle Eastern restaurants, especially those with kind of a cafeteria set up, there’s a fabulous ome in Houston, where you can pick and choose so many of them. They must have a dozen salads and dips.
    Min and any herbs in meatballs is the best! These keftedes look wonderful! My mouth is watering.. Marinated olives are another thing I find irresistible.

    1. Hi Nazneen, I’m glad that you like the recipes for the keftedes and olives…thank you for your nice compliment. I wish I could have tried the restaurant you mentioned when we were in Houston recently…it sounds very interesting.

    1. Hi Cheri, It appears that we all like variety when it comes to our dining habits. I glad that you like sharing small plates like we do when we dine out with friends.

  35. Hi Elizabeth, I’m glad that you like recipe for the meatballs, my husband and I thought they were very flavorful. Thank you for your nice compliment.

  36. You know you had me at “meze” yes my friend? You have done my heritage proud by your amazing recipe, pictures and descriptions!! I am so, so proud to call you my friend!! ♥
    Sharing on my now again, “new FB page”. I closed my page earlier (could kick myself for starting from the beginning”, but alas, it is what it is!! Off to share!! ♥

    1. Thank you for your sweet compliment, Didi. I was wondering what you would think about my recipes and I’m happy that you like them, my friend. I very much appreciate that you are sharing my post on your FB page, that is very kind. 😀

  37. Hi Karen, I love your collection of recipes! In Greece we love eating mezethes as first course and then follow the main. Keftedes we usually make them with veal meat instead of lamb. If you add a glass of ouzo spirit next to all these mezethes you made, then it is the perfect Greek meal!

    1. Hi Katerina, Another of my Greek friends liking my recipes…thank you so much. 😀 I do remember your Keftedes and your story about ouzo.

  38. I’m glad that you like the Greek meatballs, Jessica. Thank you for your nice compliment…they are indeed very flavorful. I agree with you about being able to eat a variety of foods without feeling too full when you share small plates.

  39. Since I like tasting a variety of things, small plates are perfect for me and lend opportunity for interesting variety of tastes.

  40. Hi Linda, It seems that all my readers feel the same way…we like lots of variety and small plates let us experiment with different flavors.

  41. I thought I already commented here. Guess not. I love your tapas and think they are perfect for a meal. Seems like small plates of food work better these days. I am beyond wanting an all you can eat buffet if I ever was for it in the first place. Small plates of delicious food win out.

  42. Hi Karen, This is my favorite way to dine–shared small plates—you get to enjoy a greater variety of tastes. I read (or heard) somewhere that after three bites, our palates “flatten out” we don’t taste the food as pronounced. Hence the tapas way of dining keeps the palate enlivened!
    Love the Greek meatball recipe with lamb!

  43. I enjoy small plates. I love variety and this is one to enjoy it. Traveling through Spain this past summer really exposed me to the concept. I love it! Its a wonderful way to enjoy a meal.

    Velva

  44. Your meatballs sound delish. I like the idea of tapas. I think it is more satisfying and I think I eat less because it hits all the tastebuds.

  45. Having such amazing tapas is like vacation in Greece on a plate.
    The combination is a beautiful combination of Medterranean textures and flavors.

  46. What a great idea Karen! We love going out for tapas, but I never thought to make them for a dinner at home. Love it! I hope you have been well! I wanted to quickly pop in and say hi since I had a moment. Looking forward to reading more about the move. 🙂

  47. I first discovered ‘tapas’ on a trip to Mexico where they were a specialty. I then found a ‘tapas’ restaurant in Florida in the early 90s and introduced my family to them. As much as we love tapas, we’ve found that tapas restaurants are be sadly over-priced for what you get, despite their creativity and flavor fulness. Maybe because they used to be so trendy. I think that Italian antipasti is so much more affordable and still offers the variety! A great way to entertain, especially for offering smaller portions that so many of us prefer today. Great post, Karen!

  48. I could live on tapa type foods and small plates. It is what I order when I have the opportunity at almost any restaurant I go to. There is something just perfect about the amount of food this type of eating offers. I get full, but never feel full. Thanks for this great post karen.

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