Aside from developing recipes and cooking, one of my other passions is traveling. You can learn so much from hopping on a plane and discovering a new country, and it is always worth the experience. The high price, on the other hand, may make it difficult to do so. I have long had an eager interest in new cultures and languages, exemplified by by study of French for more than a decade with a couple of years of Spanish in the mix as well. After many years of mental haggling and saving any extra money that came into my hands, I finally found myself in Paris, celebrating the end of 2008 and the start of 2009. It was my first time overseas, and after 13 nights on foreign soil, I knew that the memories of those whom I had met, food I had eaten and sights I had seen would remain with me forever. I also knew that I would make travel my top priority.
Ever since my sad return home after enjoying life in France, it was obvious that my fondness for travel could be displayed in food. I began to search for French markets and ingredients, as well as explore the ethnic neighborhoods and restaurants in my city. The variety was impressive and, best of all, authentic. Many of these excursions would influence my own cooking and encourage me to think broadly about recipes to try. After a filling dinner at a local Cuban restaurant, I found myself at home poring over traditional recipes from the Caribbean country. You cannot examine the food of Cuba without learning about its history and influence from a number of countries and regions, including the Caribbean, Spain, China and parts of Africa.
This stew was one of the dishes that struck me as just the right recipe for this season. It is a traditional Cuban potaje, or stew, with garbanzo beans, Spanish chorizo and potatoes. The beans and potatoes offer a hefty, chunky character to the stew, while the chorizo, ham, paprika and chili powder add smoke spice. The key to the stew is developing the sofrito. This base of onion, garlic and green peppers, and occasionally tomatoes, all cooked in olive oil serve as a flavorful foundation to the main dish. This stew stores well in the freezer, so make a batch soon and save the rest for another time.
- 1 pound dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight and drained
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning*
- 1/2 pound Spanish chorizo, casing removed and sliced on a bias at 1/2″
- 6 ounces smoked ham, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 large green pepper, diced
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 1/ 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, optional**
- Fresh cilantro, optional
- Bring 6-8 cups of water to boil. Add the chickpeas, bay leaves and salt and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30-35 minutes. Skim the froth off the beans occasionally during cooking. Once tender, save 4 cups of the water, along with the bay leaves, before draining the beans and setting them aside. Save the pot as well.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the chorizo and ham, cooking for approximately 5 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan, and set aside. Add the olive oil to the same pan and toss in the onions and peppers. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until they begin to become tender. Add the tomato paste, garlic, chili pepper, paprika, oregano and cumin and cook another 5-7 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. If you need to loosen up the mixture, pour a bit of the reserved bean water into the pan and stir well.
- Place the chickpeas back into the large pot, along with the remaining reserved water, bay leaves and tomato sofrito base. Add the potatoes. If necessary, add just enough additional water to completely submerge the vegetables. Bring to a slow boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then add the reserved chorizo and smoked ham. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Serve immediately with fresh cilantro, if desired.
*It is recommended to stir in an additional teaspoon of salt to the pot of stew before serving. In the end, season with salt as desired.
**To keep your potato cubes from going brown while you wait to toss them in the soup, place them in a bowl full of water and lemon juice. The acidulated water will keep them pretty and pristine.