Sunday, February 26, 2012


Lenten stew with spinach, chickpeas and fish dumplings.

I got that posting about chorizo up just in the nick of time, while Carnival was in full swing, celebrating Don Carnal, all the things of the flesh. Now it’s Lent, the season of abstinence.

In Spain, observant Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Cuaresma, Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter. So there is a rich tradition of fish and vegetarian recipes for this season. Before refrigeration and automotive transport, inland regions of the country didn’t have access to fresh seafood. Bacalao, dry salt cod, became the mainstay for Friday meals during Lent.

And, although many are aficionados of salt cod, nowadays frozen fish is a viable alternative. No lengthy soaking to de-salt the cod. I have adapted some traditional recipes, such as this potaje, or pottage, of chickpeas, spinach and potatoes with cod dumplings. The dish comes from La Mancha and the dumplings, called rellenos or “stuffings,” are little fish patties that are first fried, then simmered in the stew. You certainly don’t have to be abstemious to enjoy this very tasty vegetable and fish dish.

Frozen hake.
You could use fresh or frozen cod or any white fish. I used frozen merluza, hake.

If you want to go with bacalao, see these posts for recipes and how-to:

Chickpeas and Spinach with Cod Dumplings
Potaje de Garbanzos y Espinacas con Rellenos

Rellenos—dumplings—are typical of the province of Cuenca. A sweet version of rellenos—without the cod, of course—is poached in milk and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. 

Serves 4 to 6.

Fish "dumplings," ready to add to soup.

For the dumplings
8 ounces cod fillets, thawed if frozen (about 1 ¼ cup chopped fish)
¼ cup sliced scallions
¼ cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 large egg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil

Chop the fish coarsely and reserve.

Mince the scallions and parsley in a food processor. Add the bread crumbs and cod and process until minced. Add the egg, pepper, salt and cloves. If needed, add a spoonful of water to make a paste that holds together.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. With hands or two tablespoons, lightly shape cod mixture into small (1 ½ inch) patties. Fry them until golden on both sides, about 6 minutes. Set aside until the chickpeas and spinach are cooked.

Fresh spinach.

For the chickpeas and spinach:
2 cups chickpeas (about 13 ounces), soaked in water 12 hours
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon sweet pimentón
½ teaspoon hot Pimentón de la Vera or cayenne
½ cup peeled and chopped tomato
½ pound fresh spinach, chopped
1 pound potatoes, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 hard-cooked egg
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Put the chickpeas in a soup pot and cover with water (about 7 cups). Bring to a boil and skim off the froth that rises to the surface. Add the bay leaves. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Add the salt to the chickpeas and cook until chickpeas are tender, about 60 minutes more. Drain the chickpeas, saving the cooking liquid.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or deep skillet and sauté the onion for 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the pimentón and cayenne. Add the tomato and continue sauteing for 3 minutes. Add the chickpeas to the cazuela along with 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid. Add the spinach and potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Mash the egg yolk with the garlic. Dilute with some of the liquid from the chickpeas and stir in to the chickpeas.

Add the fried cod dumplings to the chickpeas and cook gently 5 minutes until they are thoroughly heated.

Serve the chickpeas, spinach and dumplings in deep soup bowls. Chop the egg white finely and scatter over the chickpeas with a few pine nuts.

1 comment:

  1. I swear, you make so many things similar to my suegra ... she makes this with no fish for Fridays' primer plato! Yummmm, it's sooo good.