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Pantry Staples

7 Spanish Staples to Add to Your Pantry

Spanish food does not rely on spices and herbs as much as neighboring cuisines do. Instead, the following pantry items form the backbone of Spanish cooking. They offer subtle flavors but add incredible depth to the recipes here.

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1. Manchego Cheese

Manchego cheese regularly appears in tapas spreads across Spain. It’s made from sheep’s milk and is aged anywhere from 3 months (called Semi-Curado) to 6 months (Curado) to a year or more (Viejo). Thin slices are often served with membrillo, a jelly-like paste made of quince. The tangy, nutty flavor of Manchego makes it a great choice for cheese platters and in sauces, salads and stuffings. Parmesan cheese is a suitable substitute if you’re using it in a recipe.

2. Serrano Ham

Serrano ham is dried, cured ham made from a special Spanish breed of pork. It’s usually thinly sliced and served alone or with crusty bread as a tapa, but it also adds flavor to stews, paella and pasta. Serrano ham is leaner than its Italian cousin prosciutto, but you can use them interchangeably.

3. Piquillo Peppers

Piquillo peppers are small, sweet-hot peppers that are roasted over open flames, peeled and packed into jars or tins. They have an intensely sweet, smoky flavor that lends itself to sauces, rice dishes and tapas. Substitute roasted red bell peppers if you can’t find them.

Related: Can the Mediterranean Diet Prevent Aging?

4. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a must in tapas – and Spain produces more of it than any other country. Oils labeled “early harvest” tend to be robust and grassy, while late-harvest oils tend to be golden, buttery and mild. Typically, a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil can be used for light to moderate cooking due to its higher antioxidant content, but if you’re not splurging on your olive oil, you can also opt for a regular, non-virgin olive oil for cooking. Remember to store your oils away from the stove in a cool, dark place.

5. Marcona Almonds

Marcona almonds are a rounded Spanish variety of almond that has become popular with chefs and in cheese shops in recent years. They have a buttery flavor and a moister texture than California almonds. In Spain, they’re often fried in olive oil and seasoned with loads of salt, but we recommend buying unseasoned blanched Marcona almonds and toasting them yourself. If you can’t find them, regular raw almonds are a good substitute.

6. Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is made from sherry. This caramel-color vinegar lends a woodsy, nutty flavor to gazpacho, vinaigrettes, romesco sauce and even stews. Substitute good-quality
red wine vinegar in a pinch.

7. Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika is made from smoked chile peppers. The vibrant red powder, called pimentón in Spanish, comes in mild and hot varieties and adds a ton of smoky flavor to everything from marinades to paella. It’s delicious, but a little goes a long way. Look for smoked paprika in colorful tins in gourmet shops and some grocery stores. Substitute a little canned chipotle chile pepper if you can’t get
smoked paprika.

Related: Why Eating Mediterranean Makes Sense

8. Spanish Sherry

Spanish sherry is one of several drinks served at tapas bars. It’s made from white wine fortified with brandy and aged in oak barrels arranged in a complex stacking system called a solera. Sherry comes in a range of styles: bone-dry Fino and Manzanilla, medium-dry and nutty Oloroso and Amontillado, and sweet (or cream) sherry, a dessert wine. With savory dishes, serve a chilled dry to medium-dry sherry.

Ready to make use of what you learned? Start with these Spanish Tapas recipes. 

Photo by Ronald Tsang