This week will culminate in Easter Sunday, which in gastronomic terms means chocolate and special sweets, and an occasion for family celebration. Eggs of every color and material, real and not, and also made of chocolate, inundate our tables, our decor, our stores. So understandably, my first instinct was to make an Easter treat for this week’s post. But this week is also the most important week of the year for Christians, more so than Christmas, not only because it will end with Easter, on Sunday, but because of the days that preceed it. You see, in order to have Resurrection (Easter), Passion has to happen first. It is Holy Week, after all.
I promise I will make a sweet for my next post, most likely one typical of Easter in Spain. But this week, another very typical food of Lent in Spain: cod (remember the salt cod fritters?) in a cod and cauliflower soup with rice. Cod and rice, what could be more Spanish, more Mediterranean? A good meal plan for Good Friday.
And what can I say about cauliflower? A super food! The list of nutricional elements of cauliflower, and its health benefits, is long. This comprehensive article on the science-backed health benefits of cauliflower, by nutritionist Helen Nichols (find it here), will better illustrate what I’m talking about. I also like the fact that cauliflower has a low glycemic index, 15 (pure sugar, glucose, has a GI of 100, in a scale of 0 to 110), and therefore breaks down less easily, releasing glucose in amaller amounts into the bloodstream, and therefore needing less insulin to break it down (this is the pharmacist in me talking ; )
As we speak, Holy Week processions, procesiones de Semana Santa, are happening all over Spain. If you’ve never visited Spain, and you’re planning a visit next year, this would be an amazing week to be there. Holy Week is a public demonstration of people’s religious devotion, and an integral part of Spanish culture. The signs and sights, and the open expressions of emotion and faith are probably like nothing you’ve experienced before. And although there is a common denominator —the celebration of Christ’s Passion—, Holy Week processions in the north and south of Spain have a very different feel: fervent and passionate, and with very public expressions in the South, Andalucía; much more solemn and sombre in the Castilles (Zamora, Toledo, Salamanca, León). It is worth noting that the processions of Holy Week in Zamora are the oldest in the country, dating back to 1179.
The processions rely on the hermandades, brotherhoods or fraternities. These associations have their origin in the Middle Ages, but a number of them were created during the Baroque Period, inspired by the Counter-Reformation, and also during the 20th century. Membership is usually open to any Catholic person, and family tradition is an important element to become a member or brother, hermano.
In the processions, every brotherhood will carry pasos or tronos (usually one per brotherhood), which are floats with sculptures that depict different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Many of these floats are art pieces created by famous Spanish artists. Brotherhoods have owned and preserved these pasos for centuries in some cases. The pasos are usually accompanied by bands performing marchas procesionales, a specific type of composition. In Andalucía, saetas, very mournful songs, are sung, often in-promptu. And everywhere, drums and trumpets play solemn music.
The brothers that will carry the paso, called nazarenos, wear a special outfit: a tunic or robe, and a hood with conical tip, called capirote, used to conceal the face of the wearer, and sometimes a cloak over the robe. The color of these outfits depend on the different brotherhoods. The meaning of these outfits date back to the medieval period, where penitents could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity. The nazarenos that don’t carry the paso will still process, carrying candles or wooden crosses, and may walk the city streets barefoot.
I wrote about Holy Week and Easter in Spain on a page in this blog. Find it in the FUNDAMENTALS section of this blog, under Idiosyncrasies (or click here). Check it out —or experience it for yourself in Spain.
COD AND CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH RICE
Sopa de Bacalao y Coliflor con Arroz
For the soup
15 garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp Pimentón de la Vera (or Spanish paprika)
3 Tbs tomato paste
5 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 lbs fresh cod
1 Tbs parsley
For the rice
2 cups medium grain rice
1 Tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove
5 cups chicken stock
Slice the garlic cloves into thin slivers. Cut the coliflower into very small florets. Cut the cod into 1-inch cubes.
Using a wide pan or a cazuela, a clay casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Sauté the garlic until it sizzles. Add the red pepper flakes and stir with a wooden spoon every minute or so, for about 5 minutes. Add the coliflower florets and sauté at medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes. Add the Pimentón de la Vera and continue to stir for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn it (if it happens, it will lend a bitter flavor to the dish and you’ll be better off starting over). Add the tomato paste and 1/2 cup of the stock and stir to mix for about 2 minutes. Add the remaining chicken stock and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.
After the 30 minutes, add the cod and cook at low heat for about 5 minutes, to blend the flavors.
For the rice:
In a stock pot, heat the stock over medium heat. Mince the garlic. In a wide pan, or in a cazuela, a clay casserole, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté. When golden, add the rice and stir to coat with the garlicky oil, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, until the the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked through (soft but maintaining the integrity of the grains). If all the stock is absorbed and the grains are still not tender, add more stock, 2 or 3 Tbs at a time. To serve, in a soup plate, add 1 laddleful of rice. Top with 1 laddleful of the cod and coliflower soup, plus more broth as desired. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
Note: Most Holy Week photos are by Enrique Moscardó