Sunday, March 6, 2011


On a sunny Sunday in Málaga, neighbors gathered for a Carnaval street party featuring music and a hearty traditional stew called berza.  Forty kilos (almost 90 pounds) of chickpeas along with a similar amount of sausages and pork went into four enormous ollas, stew pots, making enough to serve 800 people.  Local politicians (municipal elections are in May) came along to stir the pots and chat with constituents.  Bands of murgas y comparsas, singers performing ribald and satirical numbers, entertained the crowds, warming up for the contests that take place during Carnaval.

Carnaval—the Spanish version of Mardi Gras—celebrates Don Carnal, Mister Flesh-pot, a last pig-out before Lenten austerity. Into the pot go the tag ends of winter’s ham, salted pork belly, sausages (phallic symbol intended)  along with chickpeas and vegetables. Chock full of fatty meat and succulent pork belly, it’s the sort of meal that would send old Jack Sprat into shock and fill his wife with glee.

Then, once Lent begins, chickpea stews with spinach or salt cod replace the porky stuff. 

Look here for more about garbanzos (chickpeas) and additional recipes in my article, "Spain Elevates the Garbanzo Bean," in this week’s Food section of the Los Angeles Times.

Andalusian Vegetable and Sausage Stew
Berza Andaluza

Morcilla, blood sausage, and chorizo, garlic-pimentón sausage, punch up the flavor in this vegetable stew. If you don’t have morcilla, add a pinch of clove, a spoonful of pimentón (paprika) and crushed garlic to the vegetable pot.

Serves 6.

½  pound chickpeas, soaked overnight
¾  pound beef shin or pork shoulder
½  pound meaty pork spareribs, cut crosswise into short lengths
small piece of ham bone (optional)
2 ounces pancetta
12-ounce bunch of chard
1 carrot, chopped
½ pound pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut in chunks
6 ounces morcilla (blood) sausage
6 ounces chorizo
5 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks

Drain the chickpeas of soaking water. Put them in a large soup pot with 8 cups of hot water. Bring to a boil and skim off froth. Add the beef, pork rib, ham bone, if using, and pancetta. When water boils, skim again.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Chop the chard. Add to the pot with the carrot and pumpkin. Prick the morcilla and chorizo several times with a skewer (so they don’t pop open when steam accumulates) and add them to the pot. Add the peppercorns and salt. Cover and simmer 30 minutes more.

Add the potatoes. Cook 30 minutes more. Remove several chunks of potatoes and pumpkin and mash them smooth. Stir the mash into the pot to thicken the broth.

Let the stew settle 10 minutes before serving. Use kitchen scissors to cut beef, pork rib, and sausage into pieces. Serve the chickpeas, meats, vegetables and broth in shallow soup dishes.

Berza is an Andalusian stew with garbanzos, sausage and chard.

Spinach with Chickpeas
Espinacas con Garbanzos

This is popular in tapa bars in Seville.

Makes 8 tapas or 4 main dishes.

12 ounces washed and chopped spinach or chard leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 (20-oz) jars chickpeas
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked pimentón
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup water
2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Place the spinach in a pot with a little water. Bring to a boil and cook until spinach is wilted. Drain and reserve.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or earthenware cazuela. Sauté the onion until softened, 3 minutes. Add the tomato and sauté 2 minutes.

Crush the saffron in a mortar. Add the garlic and salt and grind the garlic to a paste. (This can also be done in a blender.) Add the pepper, pimentón and cumin. Stir the water into the paste. Add the spice mixture to the pan. Add the chickpeas without draining. Add the spinach and vinegar. Bring to a boil then reduce heat.

Cover the pan and simmer the chickpeas 15 minutes. Serve hot.

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