Different types of Spanish beans. Amador Toril / © ICEX
Legumes (pulses) are the seeds of leguminous plants which are left in their pods on the plant until they dry. They are then picked and shelled.
The cultivation and consumption of pulses in the Mediterranean, as with cereals, take us back to the origins of farming. Because of their great nutritional value, high protein content - far greater than that of other plant products - their accessibility and excellent keeping qualities, they have generally been considered the poor man's meat.
In ancient times, pulses were crushed and eaten in the form of bread, boiled with other vegetables and dressed with a little olive oil, or made into soups and purées. Although they were popular food, there is a recipe in the 1st- century BC gourmet cookbook, "De re coquinaria" by the Roman Marcus Gavius Apicius, for chickpeas cooked with green fennel, pepper and garum, to be served with salt fish.
The essential role played by pulses in the diet of the different Mediterranean peoples, to whom we are the gastronomic heirs, has left a deep mark on Spanish cuisine, where an enormous variety of soups and stews containing pulses are to be found in every corner of the country. The most popular pulses in Spain today are chickpeas, lentils and beans.
Many varieties of chickpea are cultivated in Spain. One of the best is the so-called Blanco Lechoso, grown in Andalusia and Extremadura. The Castellano, a medium-sized, yellowish chickpea, is produced both in the south of Spain and on the Castilian plains, as is the smaller Pedrosillano.
The chickpeas from Fuentesaúco, in the province of Zamora (Castile-León), have been popular for centuries. They are buttery in texture, have a very fine skin and are now covered by a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
Lentils, an Age-old Food
The best-known of the Spanish lentils are those from La Armuña, in the province of Salamanca (Castile-León), which are protected by a PGI. The variety is called Rubia de la Armuña. These are large, flavorsome lentils with a yellowish-green color. Those known as Pardina de la Tierra de Campos are small and brown, with a smooth skin and a firm texture. They are grown in much of the region of Castile-León.
Lentils are rich in iron and other mineral salts and are standard fare all over Spain. Since they contain no fat, they are usually cooked with ham, bacon, pork sausage or other fats to make them more appetizing and nutritious. They are also often partnered with game, especially partridge and quail.
Beans, from America to Europe
Beans, which go under a variety of names in Spanish - alubias, fabas, fríjoles, habichuelas - are clearly natives of America. After their introduction into Spain, cultivation spread fast, perhaps because of their similarity to local types of leguminosae. By the middle of the 16th century, they had become perfectly acclimatized in a number of European countries.
Amongst the varieties grown in Spain are the famous Barco de Ávila beans, from the provinces of Ávila and Salamanca (Castile-León), which bear a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
Also from Castile-León are the La Bañeza-León beans, generally known by the name of Arab origin, alubias. They belong to various local varieties and have been spreading the name of their growing area all over Spain for centuries.
Further north, in the Principality of Asturias, we find the much-praised Granja Asturiana beans, known locally as fabas. These are large, kidney-shaped and a creamy-white color. Since the 19th century, they have been one of the region's main crops and are the essential ingredient in the most representative of Asturian dishes, fabada. The name faba is also used in the neighboring region of Galicia, where the most famous are the Lourenzá beans, from the Mariña district in the province of Lugo. The local varieties - faba Galaica, faba do Marisco and faba Verdina - are tender and firm and have a very thin skin.
Other well-known Spanish varieties are the dark red beans from Tolosa in the Basque Country, the red caparrón beans from La Rioja and Burgos, and the large judión from La Granja in Segovia. Beans are tremendously versatile and have given rise to a multitude of recipes using pork, game, vegetables and even fish and shellfish.
List of food stores in Spain
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- Alubia de La Bañeza-León PGI
- Faba Asturiana PGI
- Faba de Lourenzá PGI
- Judías de El Barco de Ávila PGI
- Mongeta del Ganxet PDO
- Garbanzo de Fuentesaúco PGI
- Lenteja de la Armuña PGI
- Lenteja Pardina de Tierra de Campos PGI
37th (Source: FAO)
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