A Spoon for Every Season
Spain's gorgeous summer weather can seem almost eternal, but when the first chilly day finally arrives you know that it's fall, because everywhere you look, lentejas con chorizo have replaced gazpacho as the first course on lunch menus all over Spain. Spain's love for comida de cuchara (dishes to be eaten with a spoon) is fierce, with any number of intensely flavorful, regional soups and stews forming part of the backbone of this country's cuisine. Whether hot or cold, each of these dishes has an important place in Spanish gastronomy, though tradition dictates that there's a time and place for everything. Here is the key to conquering some of Spain's heartiest and most refreshing soups and stews year-round, spoon in hand.
Text: Adrienne Smith / ©ICEX
January - Nothing staves off the winter chill like fabada asturiana. This smoky bean stew from Asturias is made with the large, white and extra-buttery fabes (beans) cultivated in this region, which are cooked with the triumvirate of Spanish stew meats: chorizo (smoked in this part of Spain), morcilla (blood sausage) and a hunk of cured Spanish ham or bacon with the accompanying salt pork fat.
February - Just west of Asturias in Galicia, caldo gallego is the winter standard and a vehicle for the region's famed winter greens: berza and grelos (similar to collard and turnip greens, respectively), combined with white beans, potatoes and some kind of pork or smoky chorizo.
March - Typical of Basque Country, and traditionally eaten during Lent, porrusalda is a humble leek broth with carrots and potatoes that in prosperous times may have chunks of salt cod or bonito tuna added to it.
April - As the weather improves, the Catalonian seafood stew known as souquet is the perfect choice. Sweet pimentón and saffron add deep layers of flavor to this savory stew, which is typically finished with any local variations of almonds ground into a paste with parsley and garlic in a mortar. Another interestig recipe similar to souquet is the traditional lobster stew.
May - Madrid celebrates the festival of its patron saint San Isidro this month, making it the ideal time to enjoy one last cocido madrileño of the season. One of the most beloved dishes in Madrid, this hearty stew is cooked all together, but classically served in two or three different stages. The first consists of the broth that comes from cooking the other ingredients; the second, chickpeas and vegetables (often cabbage, carrots and potatoes); and the third is the meat, which includes a variety of beef, pork and poultry cuts.
June - Cold soup season is finally upon us, and gazpacho appears almost magically on every table. Ripe tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, crusty bread, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, water, salt and a touch of garlic; put them in a blender and voila! Incredibly, no two versions of this supremely popular Andalusian soup ever taste alike. They do, however, all taste like Summer.
July - Though it might seem a kissing cousin of gazpacho, particularly due to the fact that it employs the same ingredients, salmorejo has its own, much-admired identity. Creamier and less acidic than gazpacho, this soup from Córdoba is served with small pieces of cured Spanish ham and crumbled hard-boiled egg on top.
August - Another of Spain's beloved cold soups, ajoblanco is typical of Málaga. Made with ground raw almonds, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, a touch of garlic, water and salt, this delicate, ivory-hued summer soup is traditionally accompanied by grapes or diced melon.
September - Garbanzos con espinacas, or chickpeas with spinach, is another favorite in Andalusia, where it is often served hot in small clay dishes at tapas bars in Seville. Garlic and bread fried in olive oil are turned into a paste in a mortar with spices like coriander and cumin, adding structure and intensity to this dish with Moorish roots.
October - By the time cooler weather dictates that lentejas con chorizo are on the menu once again, Spaniards are more than ready for the taste of this adored dish – one of Spain's comfort foods par excellence. Each region has its own version of this lentil stew with chorizo, which might vary with regard to the type and size of the lentils, the style of the chorizo, or even the types of spices and vegetables used. In any case, almost everyone would agree that this stew tastes like home.
November - The winter is particularly unforgiving on the Castilian plains, and nothing warms body and soul like this humble peasant soup. Sopa castellana is a faithful representation of staples from the classic Spanish pantry: extra virgin olive oil, crusty bread, sweet pimentón, garlic, eggs and some diced Serrano ham.
December - Christmas would not be Christmas in Spain without mountains of seafood, platters of whole roasted or grilled fish, and sopa de pescado. It is especially favored in northern Spanish regions like Basque Country, but different areas favor different versions of this seafood soup, which typically has a vegetable-base.