Salt cod with chickpeas – Bacalao con Garbanzos
Salt cod with chickpeas is also made in the island of Crete , however, we will be making Bacalao con Garbanzos, a version of the traditional Spanish recipe. This is a healthy, colorful, aromatic dish packed with nutriens from the vegetables, pulses and fish. It is also well suited to quarantine cooking as all ingredients can be kept for a while in the fridge and pantry.
When I say a “a version”, it is because traditional recipes have many presentations, as they have been developed over the years, by generations and generations. So, they appear in different versions with slight differences in technique or ingredients, according to what’s available from one place to another. However, what they usually have in common, is the economic management of seasonal materials, as well as their wise combinations, maximizing nourishment and enjoyment.
In this case, the fish enhances the absorption of iron from chickpeas, while vegetables, such as peppers and tomatoes, supplement vitamins and nutrients. The smoked paprika completely differentiates the dish from it’s greek counterpart. You can replace it or mix it with sweet paprika if you don’t think your young partners will accept it.
It’s also a traditional dish of Catholic Lent. I imagine that the dried legumes and the salt-preserved fish were suitable for the end of winter and the beginning of spring, when the new crops are still scarce. Such delicious dishes are meant comfort us until the rich bounty of warmer seasons arrives.
It’s a dish that was cooked in quarantine conditions. So, all its ingredients can wait in your pantry (which includes the modern fridge in my book), now that we’re limiting our market visits. The cod is preserved in salt, the chickpeas are dry, the tomatoes are canned and onions and garlic can wait for us patiently in the right conditions. Peppers keep in the fridge, but if you don’t have fresh ones, you can use a jar of roasted red ones. You’re just going to add them towards the end along with the fish, since they’re already cooked.
Salt cod needs to be rehydrated and de-salted. So, ideally, preparation would start two days before cooking. First you need to pull off the cod’s skin with the help of a sharp knife. Then you put it in a large glass basin with plenty of water to soak. You can place a small plastic grid in the bottom of the basin, so that when the melted salt falls to the botom the fish will remain higher up. Cover the basin and place in the fridge. You change the water every six hours over 48 hours. You can de-salt it in 24 hours, but you will need to change the water every 3-4 hours. I do it over 48 hours, alongside the preparation of the chickpeas.
For the chickpeas now, we’ll soak them for 24 hours and then sprout them for another 24 hours, as described here. This way they become easier to digest and more nutritious. Before cooking the dish, you will need to gently boil the chickpeas for 40′, if they have only been soaked and 20′ if they have also been sprouted. Boil them until soft but not melting. You can replace them of course with two drained and washed cans of chickpeas. They are not readily available in Greece.
Salt Cod and Chickpeas Recipe
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 kg dried chickpeas
- 800 gr. salted cod
- 2 red peppers, roughly chopped
- 2 green peppers, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, sliced and optionally 5-6 pearl onions, whole
- 1 leek, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 400 gr. tomato, grated
- 1 tbsp smoked or sweet paprika
- 1 tsp turmeric, ground
- 1 tsp cumin, ground
- 1 bay leaf
- 120 ml cider vinegar
- Salt and pepper, be very light-handed with the salt as the cod is well seasoned
You soak the cod and soak & sprout and boil the chickpeas as above. Keep half a liter of the boiling liquid and strain them.
Heat a large, wide saucepan or a deep skillet. Heat the oil and sauté the onions, leek and peppers with a little salt, for 5-7 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, bay leaf and cumin. As soon as they release their aroma, add paprika and turmeric and stir well. Next, pour in the vinegar. Once it’s almost evaporated, stir in the chickpeas, tomato and half the water. Keep the rest of the water aside, and add a little if the sauce seems dry during cooking.
Bring to the boil, cover and lower the heat. Let the sauce simmer for 20′-30′ until reduced. Cut the cod into large bite-sized pieces. Then remove the lid and carefully add the fish, pouring the chickpea and vegetable sauce over it with a spoon. Let it simmer for 8 minutes uncovered or until the fish is cooked through and easily flaked. Taste and season if necessary.
Serve if preferred with chopped parsley, lemon zest and a green salad.