This is my inauthentic vegetarian version of cocido, the classic soup-stew from Madrid. Cocido is one of Spain’s national dishes – old-fashioned fare that harks back to medieval times, with origins in a Sephardic Jewish recipe. It is made with a range of meats and sausages, combined with chickpeas and vegetables; and each region has its own variation. A Spanish person would argue at length as to what constitutes real cocido.
Traditionally, cocido is served elaborately in two or three courses. First, the broth is separated and cooked with rice or vermicelli and served as a light soup. Next, the chickpeas and vegetables are served separately; and finally, the meat is eaten on its own. The soup used to be ubiquitous in Spain, but nowadays is served mainly on special occasions. In Madrid, it is often sold in restaurants on Tuesdays – though I have not been able to find out the significance of this tradition.
I have retained the authentic combination of vegetables, but the herbs and spices are my own touch. They give the soup a bright, sprightly flavour. (If you want a denser, meatier flavour, omit the saffron and mint, and add a couple of cooked, sliced vegetarian sausages along with a little bit of smoked paprika. If you go down this ‘meaty flavour’ route, serve the soup with cornichons and pickled vegetables).
The cooking technique is somewhat unusual in that everything is boiled together, with olive oil added only at the end for a rich mouthfeel (rather than frying the vegetables in oil first, as is the case with many recipes). Many soups around Europe use this technique.
Cocido is a meal by itself, but you may serve it with Spanish bread, garlic bread, or any other bread of your choice. Serves 4.
350g/ 14 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
4 pints/ 2 litres water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed and sliced
1 large leek, trimmed and thickly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chunkily diced
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and chunkily diced
2 small turnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered
1 very small cabbage, trimmed and cut into 4 or 8 wedges
2 oz/ 50g green string beans, trimmed and halved
1 level tablespoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon Spanish saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
Bouquet garni made by tying together several sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and bay leaves inside a piece of muslin (cheesecloth)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g fine vermicelli, lightly broken if preferred
A few fresh parsley and mint leaves to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
1. Soak the chickpeas overnight, or for several hours. When you’re ready to cook, rinse and drain the chickpeas.
2. In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with the water, and boil them for an hour or so until tender.
3. Add all the vegetables to the saucepan, including garlic and onions. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, and add paprika, saffron, bouquet garni, olive oil, and seasoning. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are tender.
4. Towards the end of the cooking time, add vermicelli and cook, uncovered, for the length of time stated on the packet instructions (usually between 2 to 5 minutes).
5. Add more stock if you wish. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Remove the bouquet garni.
6. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with parsley and mint leaves, and pass around the extra olive oil for drizzling on top.