This is a fact: my mother rarely ever cooks. But when she does, it’s always something incredibly scrumptious, inimitable, and most certainly comforting.
Case in point: the pastel con pollo, callos Madrilena, and paella she whips up for Christmas. Then, she makes an asado siopao [homemade char siu bao that are barely the size of a palm and stuffed to the gills with tender sauced pork] that is both portable and worth fighting over. (Trust me: you do not want to be at our house when there’s just one siopao left. It gets ugly – very ugly.) But that’s nothing compared to the lengua con setas [ox tongue braised in a rich mushroom gravy till meltingly tender] that hasn’t made an appearance in years. That’s how rarely my mom cooks, so it came as a surprise when I came home the other night to find a steaming bowl of fabada waiting for me in the kitchen.
Fabada is the Spanish version of cassoulet, that rustic French bean casserole made rich with smoked meats. A specialty of the Asturias region, this dish is commonly made with white beans, a shoulder of pork, assorted sausages, and a hint of saffron to give it a nice orange color. While this is commonly served as part of a selection of tapas in the larger cities, this is usually served as a main course in the countryside. Thick slices of crusty peasant bread are a necessity and not a mere option as you need them to sop up the thick sauce left behind in your bowl after the beans and meats have been eaten. Plus, this wasn’t meant to be eaten with a glass of wine alongside; no, sir, this robust monster demands to be washed down with a good tankard of beer or some chilled hard cider.
My mother’s fabada has a few variations to it, though. Since the classic , huge fabes de la granja (farm beans) used for this dish aren’t easily available in this part of the world, she uses the usual white kidney beans available at the supermarket or black-eyed peas. A large pork pata – the fatty leg – makes its way into her pressure cooker in lieu of the traditional pork shoulder. (Mom’s tip: keep the bone in. It makes it more flavorful.) She doesn’t really go in for spices the way I do, so her dish is flavored and colored with lots of minced red onions and a goodly amount of tomato sauce. Tiny slivers as opposed to huge slices of chorizo de Bilbao just to add a hint of a smoky undertone to the dish finish it up. The meat and beans are pressure-cooked for a good hour or so until the beans are mushy and creamy on one’s tongue and the pork practically falls apart when lightly prodded with a fork.
When you’ve had to weather two and a half hours of traffic in the driving rain after a long day, the sight of a good steaming bowl of this dish puts back the heart in you and brings welcome color to a wan face. We don’t eat this with bread, but we ladle generous helpings on hot white rice and eagerly scrape the last bit off our plates before going in for more. Throw in a perfectly chilled Cerveza Negra plus some welcome chatter from my mom and dad, and I feel that my homecoming is complete. 😉