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Monthly Archives: October 2011

El Desarme

served dishSo. This is not at all how I’d envisioned things happening when I wrote my last post. My way back last post. My I-can’t-believe-almost-two-months-are-gone-by-already-since-I-posted-it last post. But you all know and understand that sometimes life just gets in the way. Stuff happens. My original intention was to come back from my lovely week-long trip around Tuscany and fill you in about its magical cities, romantic countryside, delectable food and enticing wine. Which I evidently didn’t do, and have decided that it’d be kind of out of place now that we’re all back to our non-vacational routines and hence I’m not as inspired anymore to recount it. Plus I don’t like wine so I wouldn’t know about its enticing-ness anyway (I know, I know… I’m such a terrible Spaniard).

chickpeas and salt cod

There’s also the fact that I have something special to share here today which, as the title of the post suggests, it’s called “el Desarme”. El Desarme is a food-related celebration (what celebration isn’t?) which takes place every October 19 in Asturias ever since a little over a century and a half ago. There was this civil war in Spain, the Carlist war, going on at the time. The country was divided between those who wanted Isabel, daughter of the deceased king Fernando VII, to take over the throne after his death, as he had stipulated and arranged for, which would lead the country towards a more liberal political direction (those were the liberals), and then a more conservative faction advocating for the king’s brother, Carlos (hence the name Carlist war) and his more totalitarian approach to governing as the rightful successor (being a man scored you big king points way back when) (and those were the Carlists).

cod pieces

Some of you may have guessed that “el Desarme” translates as “The Disarmament”. Now I’m sure we all agree that laying down your arms and taking conflict to an end is a wonderful concept, but putting the idea into practice, that’s a whole ‘nother story. Armed people are not usually very keen to putting down their guns and making peace when told to do so. You can’t disarm people by just yelling “Hey! Let’s put our guns down now and stop fighting, shall we?”, you gotta work your way around it. You need to lure them and beguile them, make use of your most subtle and refined persuasion techniques. And that’s just what the liberal crowds in Asturias did to the Carlist army that was trying to bully them; they disarmed them by stuffing them silly. The fact that they were at war against each other didn’t mean the Asturians shouldn’t be good hosts and feed up the Carlists, right? No one wants to battle on an empty stomach. But this wasn’t just a few sandwiches to get them going. Word has it that the Carlist troops were served a menu consisting of chickpeas with cod and spinach as the entrée, then callos (a very rich stew made with cows tripes) as the main dish, and some rice pudding for a sweet finishing note. Which is pretty hardcore, even for an army of hungry soldiers. So while they were stuffing their faces with obscene amounts or food (or maybe it was during the siesta that most likely ensued), guns resting behind their backs so they wouldn’t get in the way while eating, the Asturian soldiers took them away without the Carlist troops even taking notice. But hey, can’t really blame them. I’m sure the Carlists were competent soldiers that would’ve stood up to anything in the battlefield, but this meal? You could have taken Charlton Heston’s NRF membership card after this meal and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.

cod pieces

So you’ll have to agree with me that yeah, peace and cease-fire are great, but peace by being too full to even realize you’re being ripped off? C’mon, that’s the stuff world peace dreams are made of. So go ahead and celebrate with us, by preparing this delicious dish for your friends and family (or for your enemies, it just might turn things around!) and making a toast to happy bellies and non-fighting armies.

ingredientschickpeas and spinach

Chickpeas with cod and spinach

  • 500 g (17,6 oz or 1 lb plus 1,6 oz, but it really doesn’t have to be exact so you can go ahead and use just 1 lb) dried chickpeas
  • 400 g (14,1 oz but again, it won’t make a difference if it’s a little bit less or more) salt cod fillet
  • 200-300 g (about 7-10 oz) spinach
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 egg
  • some flour (around 6-8 Tb)
  • smoked paprika
  • a few saffron threads (optional)
  • olive oil
  • salt

The first step is to desalt the cod, so cut the fillet into a few stripes (about an inch wide), place them in a big bowl and fill it with cold water. Soak for 18 to 24 hours, changing the water 3 or 4 times.

Place the chickpeas in nother big bowl, add cold water that comes at least an inch above the chickpeas (no need to rinse them first since we’ll be throwing that water away later) and soak overnight (about 10 to 12 hours).

Discard chickpea water and place chickpeas in a big pot.

Chop onion, garlic and parsley finely (I do this in the food processor) and add to the pot. Sprinkle with about 1 Tb of smoked paprika.

pot with ingredients

Add the saffron if you wish.

Generously drizzle with olive oil (2-3 Tb) and sprinkle with flour (about 3 Tb).

Fill the pot with cold water that goes up to 1/2-1 inch above the chickpeas.

Add a big pinch of salt (about ½ ts. You’ll probably need to add more later but I prefer to be on the safe side just in case the cod is still a bit salty in spite of the soaking).

Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender, which can take up a varying amount of time depending on the chickpeas, heat, pot, etc, but probably a little short of 2 hours.

cod pieces

While the chickpeas are cooking, prepare the cod: cut each stripe into 2 or 3 pieces, beat the egg in a little bowl and have some flour ready in another bowl or on the counter. Dredge the cod pieces in the flour.

floured cod

Add some olive oil (1-2 Tb) to a frying pan and turn the heat to high. When the oil is hot, take a piece of floured cod, dip it in the beaten egg and place in the pan. Repeat with the rest (you can do this in batches if you need to, adding more oil as needed). Flip the pieces several times so every side gets cooked. When all of the pieces are done, set them aside.

ready to fry the cod

dipping cod in egg

fried cod

Wash your spinach. If you’re using baby spinach, just chop them up a bit. If you’re using the regular kind, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook them for a minute, then rinse them in cold water and roughly chop them.

When the chickpeas are tender, add the cod and spinach, and let cook for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat off and let it rest, covered, for a few minutes. Taste it and add more salt it needed (and/or more paprika) and serve.

served dishserved dish closeupserved dish

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