Could Spanish tapas—all about eating slow and social—be the answer to packing big flavor into bland pork tenderloin on a busy weeknight? We discovered it could, so long as we ditched the thorns.
In the U.S., we’ve reduced tapas to most anything served on a small plate. But in Spain it is as much about the experience as the food—simple bites with big, drink-friendly flavors consumed with others, typically across an evening of leisurely bar hopping.
We found the weeknight-friendly pork we were searching for in Spain’s Basque region, where skewered meats are a common pintxos, as tapas are known there. Loosely translated as “Moorish bites impaled on thorns or small pointed sticks,” pinchos morunos is a dish of seared pork tenderloin rubbed with a blend of spices, garlic, herbs and olive oil. The recipe dates back generations, boasting influences from Spain and North Africa.
We knew this dish had great potential. The tenderloin is cut into small cubes, so it cooks quickly. It gets deep flavor in little time from a seasoning rub. Classic versions skewer the meat, which is seasoned with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend. Go back to the dish’s origins and the meat in pinchos morunos was lamb (the Moors were Muslims). Once Spain got hold of it, pork became more common.
For our version, we streamlined. Fussing with skewers was right out. So was ras el hanout, which can be hard to find. We went with a blend of cumin, coriander and black pepper. A bit of smoked paprika added the requisite Basque touch. We finished with a drizzle of honey, which works well with the pork and seasonings. The result was a speedy dish with bright, yet smoky flavors. Serve it over rice, in lettuce cups or with a pile of steamed or roasted vegetables.