Saturday, January 18, 2014


Prepare your spoons! Stew with chickpeas, chard and sausages.
Tuck your napkin under your chin and get your spoons at the ready because we’re off on the “spoon trail.” The comida de cuchara—a meal eaten with a spoon—is favorite fare in Spain, especially in blustery winter weather. In today’s high-powered world, even well-heeled businessmen and politicos have a weakness for comforting bowls of spoon food—lentils like mamá used to make or abuela’s potaje.

So, when a visiting friend, Lars Kronmark, who is a chef-instructor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in Napa Valley, California, said he wanted to taste some typical Spanish soups, I looked to village bar-restaurants for traditional dishes.

During January, February and March, every Friday and Saturday in my town, Mijas Pueblo, a dozen bars are participating in the Ruta del Cuchareo, or “route of the spoon,” offering a cazuelita (earthenware ramekin) of soup or stew plus a glass of wine for just €2 (about $2.70).

We weren’t going from bar to bar, so I chose one, El Refugio (, for a spoon-food tasting menu for six persons. We had several salads and tapas as starters, then sampled three different soups/stews.

Lars serves a bowl of berza.

 Are they soups or stews? I had trouble deciding what to call them when I was writing recipes for my cookbooks. Most have either legumes, such as chickpeas or beans, or rice. Some are really soupy, others fairly thick. In Spanish, the word potaje covers this category nicely. But “pottage” in English doesn’t sound so enticing. 

Soupy rice and seafood.

Cazuela de arroz—rice with chicken, fish and shrimp—is sort of a “paella soup.” Carlos Boeta, owner of the Bar El Refugio, told us that making a flavorful fondo, or stock, is the most important part. My recipe for cazuela de arroz makes a rice dish not so soupy as the one shown here.

Because this week is the día de San Antón, the festival of St. Anthony Abbot, patron of pigs and other animals, we had to sample the typical feast-day food, potaje de callos, chickpeas, pig tripe, trotter and sausages. That recipe as well as some photos of the fiesta, when locals bring their pets to be blessed by the priest, is here .

Chickpeas, pig tripe and sausages for San Antón day.

And, possibly my favorite soup/stew of all—berza de acelga, an Andalusian vegetable stew chock full of chickpeas, meat, sausages, chard and other vegetables. The version served at El Refugio, made by the cook, Rocio, is soupier than my version, pictured at the top. I wrote about berza on an earlier blog post Here is that recipe.

Berza, with chickpeas and chard, at Bar El Refugio, Mijas.

Andalusian Vegetable Stew
Berza Andaluza

Morcilla, blood sausage, and chorizo 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
1-pound bunch of chard
1 carrot, chopped
1 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. 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 and ham bone, if using. 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 several times with a skewer (so it doesn’t pop open when steam accumulates) and add it to the pot. Add the peppercorns and salt. Cover and simmer 20 minutes more.

Add the potatoes. Cook 20 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. Cut beef, pork rib, and sausage into pieces. Serve the chickpeas, meats, vegetables and broth in shallow soup dishes.


  1. the whole idea, but it's kind of hilarious that they call this a "vegetable stew" with six different kinds of meat in it. A great dish in any event.

    1. Bo: Good point. But, the Spanish name is neutral--I called it, in English, a "vegetable stew." I also add more meat stuff than the home-cooked version, which may have a ham bone and a little sausage.

  2. Hi Janet. We had some chickens that became too old to lay eggs regularly and so they are now in our freezer. As you know, old chickens are tough tough tough...but delicious! Do you have any Spanish recipes that utilize old tough hens? If anyone can get it right, I'm sure it's the Spanish! Thanks in advance.

    1. NLemonds: Gallina--hen--is especially appreciated for the slow-cooked meal-in-a-pot, cocido, because it gives great flavor to the broth. Chicken in pepitoria--almond-saffron sauce--is made with gallina that is first simmered to produce broth, then cut up and fried and sauced. I usually adapt that recipe to use small, cut-up fryer. That recipe is here: