Lunch in Spain is a bit different from what we're used to in America. The large midday meal, called la comida, has several courses and usually includes five or six choices in each course. At home, Spaniards traditionally do not eat “fancy” dishes on a daily basis, but still enjoy a soup or pasta dish, salad, a meat and/or a fish dish, and a dessert, such as fruit and/or cheese.
Appetizers, or entrantes as they are called in Spain, are simple dishes to start the meal, such as a plate of cheese, Spanish Serrano ham, or another of the cured meats and cheeses that are so popular in Spain. Although we think of tapas as appetizers, tapas are not called entrantes, even though some of the same dishes are eaten.
Pan con tomate (tomato bread) is a humble dish often presented at the beginning of la comida. Crusty bread is toasted, rubbed with a clove of garlic and ripe tomato, and drizzled with olive oil. Bringing the tastes of sweet and salty together is melon con jamon, an easy-to-make dish of skewered honeydew and Serrano ham.
Primer Plato or Primero: First Course
This course can be many different dishes—a soup, such as sopa de pescado y marisco (fish and shellfish soup), or a vegetable dish like grilled asparagus, or artichokes sautéed with ham, mushrooms, etc. A traditional Castilian recipe, sopa de ajo (garlic soup) is a peasant-style dish made with day-old bread, ham, and garlic, of course, and each bowl is topped with a poached egg. Bring a bit of the Mediterranean to your table with Spanish grilled eggplant with tomato vinaigrette, a make-ahead dish with capers, basil, and garlic.
The next course may be fish or shellfish, such as clams or shrimp with sauce or rice, or grilled or baked fish. The Spanish love all types of seafood and expect it to be fresh no matter how far away they are from the coast. Try rape al limon, fish in lemon sauce, or pescado frito con salsa de cebolla, simple dish of fish with onion sauce. Bacalao con tomate—codfish with tomato sauce—is also a nice choice. You can put together the fan favorite paella de marisco, a delicious seafood paella.
In this course, any one of a variety of meats might be eaten, such as beef fillets (filetes), filet mignon (solomillo), steak (entrecot), roast lamb (cordero asado), pork loin (lomo de cerdo), or roast suckling pig (cochillo asado). In high-end restaurants, you may see game birds such as quail (codorniz) or partridge (perdiz) on the menu.
In the winter months, it is common to serve a comforting casserole or stew, such as fabada Asturiana, a bean and sausage casserole from northern Spain, or caldereta de cordero, a lamb casserole. Cocido Madrileno is a stew named after Madrid where it originated and is comprised of several parts of the pig, beef, chicken, sausage, garbanzo beans, vegetables, and pasta. A simple recipe to try is estofado de conejo, rabbit stew in tomato sauce.
It may be hard to think about dessert after all this food, but considering the tempting options, you'll want to make room! Typically, you will be offered fresh, seasonal fruit such as peaches in red wine, flan (custard with caramel sauce), several types of ice cream cakes, or ice cream on its own. At the same time, espresso coffee will also be offered.