(Note: this post was originally published on May 23, 2019. It has since been updated with new photos and a few tweaks.)
The Story: Tapas in Southern Spain
Meet one of my favorite happy hour snacks: vegan Patatas Bravas, also known as the absolute best bar food on the planet. I've reinvented this classic Spanish bar bite in a way that's plant-based, super flavorful, easy to make at home, and a lot lighter and fresher than the original.
Back in 2019, we spent some time in southern Spain and absolutely fell in love with the tapas scene. Tapas are small plates that are served alongside a round of drinks. Basically, you sit down, get a $2 glass of local red wine, and a little plate of food magically appears without you having to ask for it. Then you get another round of drinks and more food magically appears. Then you walk a couple miles to a different bar and do it all again. It's fabulous.
However, many tapas dishes aren't vegetarian or vegan friendly, and many are fried. Overall they're not great nutritionally. That's why, as soon as we got home from Spain, I started working on a plant-based version of our favorite tapas dish. I can't wait for you to try my healthy Patatas Bravas remake!
What Are Patatas Bravas?
Patatas Bravas are one of the most iconic tapas dishes in Spain. They're potatoes (usually fried, usually in bite-sized pieces) with a flavorful red sauce. The sauce varies widely between regions and between restaurants; usually it's tomato-based but we had some roasted red pepper versions too. The sauce is often some sort of aioli with a creamy texture.
Patatas Bravas are the ultimate bar food because they check all the boxes. Salty! Crispy! Oily! Spicy! However, classic Patatas Bravas in Spain are pretty heavy. They're almost always fried and the sauce is usually based in mayo. Plus, because there's no protein, so they're not necessarily satisfying. Never fear, my healthy Patatas Bravas are here to save the day.
How to Make Healthy Patatas Bravas
When we got home from Spain, I immediately started on a mission to create healthier and vegan Patatas Bravas. I wanted to bake the potatoes rather than fry them and to make a sauce that was super flavorful but completely plant-based. I also wanted to add some additional spices and herbs, which although not traditional, add a whole new dimension and great freshness.
While many of the dishes we saw in Spain were made from full-size potatoes, I chose to use fingerling potatoes because they're so tasty and I love being able to leave the skin on. Roasting the fingerlings in olive oil, salt, and pepper makes them delightfully crispy and satisfying.
In my version of a vegan Patatas Bravas sauce, roasted red peppers provide sweetness and some char while lemon juice makes it bright and zingy. Toasting garlic, paprika, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne in olive oil yields such a lovely and complex spice. Finally, blending in half a can of white beans provides plant-based body to the sauce, making it feel thick like a mayo-based sauce without being heavy. As an added bonus, using beans in this healthy Patatas Bravas sauce adds some protein and makes this a more satisfying dish.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here's what you'll need for this healthy Patatas Bravas recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Salt and pepper
Lemon. You'll use the zest for roasting the potatoes and the juice in the sauce.
Za'atar. Also for roasting the potatoes. We saw this in all the spice markets in southern Spain; it's a delightful seasoning blend that I highly recommend getting your hands on. If you can't find it, a mixture of cumin, thyme, and sesame seeds with suffice.
Red bell peppers
Garlic. I like to use just one or two cloves, but you can use more if you really love garlic.
Cayenne pepper. I like to add just a little bit of heat to the sauce. You can increase it if you really love heat, or omit it entirely for a more mellow version.
Cannellini or great northern beans. Beans are the surprising thickening agent for this vegan Patatas Bravas sauce. You'll probably need about half a 15-oz can, but it will depend on the size of your peppers and on how thick you want the sauce to be. I don't suggest using chickpeas since they won't yield as creamy of a result.
Fresh mint. I love to finish this dish with mint for some unexpected freshness, although basil or parsley would work equally as well. Feel free to omit the fresh herbs for a more traditional approach.
I think this healthy Patatas Bravas recipe is such great proof that bar food doesn't have to be bad for you. Although the classic dish is often fried and often served with a mayo-laden creamy sauce, there's no reason you can't enjoy this tapas favorite in a more nourishing way. This re-imagined version roasts the potatoes instead of frying them, uses a protein-rich sauce thickened with beans, and introduces some vibrant and fresh flavors like mint and lemon.
Doesn't this seem like the perfect Friday evening plan? Whether you're hosting a party or having a quiet night at home, drinks and snacks are always a hit. I love to pair these vegan Patatas Bravas with a Negroni (as shown in some of these photos) or Spanish red wine, a big batch of my go-to lemon hummus, and this unexpected Maple Salt and Vinegar Cauliflower. Cheers and happy snacking!
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
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Half a 15-oz can of cannellini or great northern beans
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh mint
Preheat the oven to 450.
Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces of uniform size.
Place the potatoes on a metal baking sheet and toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes until golden and tender.
Meanwhile, fire-roast the peppers over a gas burner. If you don't have a gas stove, you can roast them under the broiler (in which case you'll want to do this before you start roasting the potatoes).
Place the peppers in a paper bag or in a closed container for five minutes while still hot. Then, using your hands or a towel, rub off most of the charred bits; this will ensure that the sauce stays bright red.
Mince the garlic finely. Then, in a skillet, combine olive oil with the minced garlic and the powdered spices (paprika, chili powder, cumin). Toast the spices over medium heat for several minutes until fragrant.
To a high-power blender, add the fire-roasted peppers, the oil with all the garlic and spices in it, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and about half a can of rinsed and drained white beans. Blend until smooth.
When the potatoes are almost finished roasting, remove them from the oven and toss them with lemon zest and za'atar. Return them to the oven for another couple minutes to finish cooking.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and add an additional sprinkle of salt.
Transfer the potatoes to a serving dish and top them with a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds and finely-chopped fresh mint and serve with additional sauce on the side.