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Sunday, March 14, 2010


We are deep into Cuaresma, Lent. You can tell by the rows upon rows of cod in the grocery stores: frozen, fresh, dried, all cut (or not) in several different shapes. You would also know it because the headlines in both the Spanish and foreign press are filled with plans for the Semana Santa (Holy Week) parades, and the advertisements are all about travel and hotel packages for four days or more during the week-long vacation period.

A few years ago I bought a small paperback cookbook at the cathedral in Seville with meatless recipes for Cuaresma. It was one of those old cookbooks that was basically a written recording of oral tradition. Directions were general and did not include measurements or detail--it served better for reading than for cooking. I don't think I ever made anything from it, and last year I managed to throw it away when it got stuck between several newspapers that went to the recycling bin.

This year I found an article with traditional recipes in Activa Orihuela, a monthly free paper I picked up at the ayuntamiento (town hall) in Algorfa, and decided to do a Spanish Cuaresma recipe for two other couples who were coming to dinner on Wednesday. I hadn't met one of the couples before, so I wasn't sure about making fish as a main course, but the other popular Lenten ingredient is garbanzo beans. There was a recipe for potaje de garbanzos that sounded good as a first course. This recipe said that it served four and yet called for a half kilo (one pound) of garbanzos (chickpeas). And it meant dried garbanzos, because it said to put them to soak overnight. I thought that was an awful lot of garbanzos for four people, but since I'm rather compulsive about following recipes carefully the first time I use them and even more compulsive about making sure I have more than enough to serve guests, and because I love garbanzos and wanted some leftovers for another evening meal or a couple lunches later in the week, I doubled the recipe.

It's now Sunday and we are still eating potaje de garbanzos. It served six people nicely on Wednesday, though I had to transfer it to a larger pot than I had originally intended  to use for the soup. It was good again on Thursday for lunch. Friday evening supper was two big bowls of potaje, accompanied by paté sandwiches. We took Saturday off, but for a quick and late lunch today after our bicycle ride, I added some chunks of lomo de cerdo ahumado (smoked pork loin) to the potaje and heated it in the microwave. Talk about recycling Cuaresma recipes! There is one more main meal, or two lunches, of the potaje de garbanzos still to go, which I am sure that one person in the household is not thrilled to learn.

But I do like garbanzos.

Potaje de Garbanzos (Chickpea Soup)
1 pound chickpeas, dried
10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 large carrots
2 onions
3 garlic cloves (or more if you like)
1 tomato, chopped
Olive oil
1 bay leaf

Put the chickpeas in a large soup pot, cover with water, add salt, and let them soak overnight. The next day bring the chickpeas to a boil and then add a dash of olive oil, the carrots in large chunks, one onion, a bay leaf, 2 cloves of garlic (minced), and a little parsley. Cook until the chickpeas are soft (1-3 hours). Remove the carrot and onion from the pot, together with about a cup of chickpeas and a cup of broth, puré the mixture in a blender, and return to the pot. Add the spinach and simmer until hot. In a frying pan, sauté the second onion, chopped finely, one clove of garlic, minced, and the tomato in olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve the potaje in individual soup bowls with a spoonful of the onion/garlic/tomato garnish on top. Serves 6-8 as an appetizer. (This is the original recipe, translated, not the doubled version).

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