There are five giant meals in all before the season is over: Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day lunch, New Year’s Eve dinner, New Year’s Day lunch and Three Kings Day lunch. Each goes a bit like this:
1. Appetizer - Huge buffet of Tapas
2. First Course - Soup
3. Second Course - Roasted fish/meat
4. Dessert - Christmas sweets
As the family gathers for the meal, a bounty of small dishes, spreads and finger foods covers the table. The tapas (small dishes) and aperitivos (appetizers) range from patés spread over crackers to tuna tartare. This phase of the meal almost always includes various seafood dishes, most commonly shrimp, prawns or langoustines.
Tetilla Cheese Puffs with Sesame Seeds
Smooth Tetilla cheese from the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia is the star of these lightly fried cheese puffs. With a hint of smoky paprika and a sweet drizzle of local honey, they tend to disappear quickly!
You won’t find cheese puffs very often in Spain, but at Christmas no holds are barred. This is a time when people break out new recipes and creative creations to add some flare to the traditional dishes.
No Spanish Christmas table is complete without shrimp. While these little sea creatures go by many names in Spain, some of the most popular varieties are langostinos (prawn or jumbo shrimp) and gambas (deepwater rose shrimp).
During the holidays shrimp are served in many different ways. They are mixed into salads, chopped into savory tartlets, tucked into mini-sandwiches and stacked whole onto plates under a sprinkle of salt.
Cured Iberian ham is a must at Spanish Christmas dinners. More of this delectable cured ham is sold in December than in every other month of the year! While the good stuff is served in paper thin slices to be savored all by itself, the less knightly hams often make their way into a variety of traditional tapas.
After a trove of tapas, things start getting serious. The small plates are whisked away to be replaced by a dish requiring proper utensils. Most often the first course is a light, brothy soup or a salad.
The parade of seafood does not stop at tapas. Many of the most traditional first courses at a Spanish holiday meal consist of some type of seafood soup. Common ingredients include shrimp, clams, and mussels along with fish like hake or monk.
In Catalonia the Christmas soup always comes with a specific type of pasta shell called a galet. During the holidays giant plastic sculptures of the shells are part of the Christmas decorations in many cities in the region. Galets Soup gets its rich flavor from the meat that is boiled with the soup.
It’s a good thing that Christmas meals in Spain are hours-long affairs, otherwise I’d never be hungry enough by the time the second course came! The rest of the meal seems like child’s play compared to most second course dishes. Roasting is the name of the game whether it be lamb, fish, turkey or suckling pig.
Slow-Roasted Andalusian-Style Lamb and Potatoes
Neighborhood butcher shops are bustling places during the Christmas season as families bustle in to order and pick up their meat for roasting. More often than not, that meat is lamb. While suckling pig and even some beef recipes may make it to the table, the dish I most often hear about at Spanish Christmas dinners is roasted lamb.
First comes what you might think: flan, pudding, cake or tarts. Next is the spread of traditional Christmas sweets like turrón (nougat and almond bars), polverones (powdery almond cookies), fig bars and candied fruits. Last comes the liqueurs like brandy or orujo (moonshine-like liqueur distilled from grape skins often flavored with herbs or made into a creamy Bailey’s like liqueur). Your Spanish Christmas recipes are not complete without these sweet additions!
Lemon Olive Oil cake
An incredibly moist cake that would go perfectly with a post-lunch coffee. The olive oil in the recipe really comes through, meaning you should use the good stuff!
Rice pudding (Arroz con Leche)
Simple, delicious and not too heavy, arroz con leche is a perfect Christmas dessert. A hint of cinnamon makes this cold, creamy rice pudding extra delicious.