Fanesca, Ecuador’s Easter Soup

Holiday traditions vary in different parts of the world, especially when foods are concerned.

During the Holy Week, Catholics around the world have certain culinary traditions they adhere to, but different nations have different ways of approaching said traditions.

The Ecuadorian fanesca is an example of these different approaches and the topic of this article.

The fanesca is a rich soup eaten in Ecuador during the Holy Week and only during that period. It is a soup cooked in milk, with the primary ingredients being figleaf gourd, pumpkin, and twelve different kinds of beans and grains, symbolizing the twelve apostles of Jesus. Jesus himself is – in this meal – represented by the bacalao, another ingredient of the Ecuadorian dish.

Today’s article is going to tell you everything you need and want to know about Fanesca.

You will learn where it comes from, what it symbolizes and you will also learn how it is made so that you can try and make it at home.

What Is Fanesca & Where Does It Come From

Fanesca Soup served with fried salt cod
Fanesca Soup served with fried salt cod

Fanesca is a traditional South American soup stemming from Ecuador.

It is also known as Ecuadorian Easter soup because it is traditionally eaten during the Holy Week and not during other parts of the year.

Tradition calls for the families to buy the main ingredients several days before Good Friday when the dish is traditionally prepared and eaten during the day.

The stories of fanesca’s origins are varied and Ecuadorians usually are unsure exactly where the soup comes from; they just got the recipe from their families.

Although it is today associated with Christian traditions, one story states that it was just Christianized by the Spaniards and that it was traditionally an Incan dish, since the Incan harvest festivities coincide with Christian Easter festivities.

Another theory suggests that it was a dish made by persecuted Christians in the catacombs.

While a third one states that it was actually made by a Doña Juana (a semi-mythical figure in Quito’s history) in a covenant during the 16th century and that it was initially named juanesca, which was later “corrupted” into fanesca.

But since we don’t know the actual origin of the dish, you can pick whichever story you prefer.

As we’ve said multiple times – fanesca is a soup, but a very special one. First of all, it takes a long time to prepare and it is, unlike the majority of other soups, cooked in milk.

It also has a very symbolic structure, which is also not common among soups globally. Although practically every family has its own variation of the dish, there are some common elements without which fanesca just wouldn’t be fanesca.

First of all, you cannot have fanesca without figleaf gourd (sambo) and pumpkin (zapallo), to which you must add 12 different kinds of beans and grains including chochos (lupines), habas (fava beans), lentils, peas, corn and others.

These beans have a symbolic meaning as they represent the 12 apostles of Jesus, which is why you have to have 12 different types.

The last necessary element is the bacalao (dry salt cod, which is a characteristic European dish eaten during the Holy Week and indicates European influences in the soup), which symbolizes Jesus himself.

Other common ingredients include potato, hard boiled eggs, fried plantains, herbs, parsley, and sometimes empanadas.

Interesting enough, fanesca doesn’t have meat in it because Catholic traditions prohibit the consumption of (red) meat during Holy Week.

Fanesca is usually the primary (sometimes even the only) dish consumed on Good Friday and is traditionally eaten at midday.

The whole process of making this is also a local Ecuadorian family custom.

Fanesca Calories Chart

In this section, we are going to bring you a chart with the nutritive and caloric values of fanesca, for 250 g of the dish:

Calories Carbs Fats Proteins
470 g 38 g 23 g 27 g

 

Fanesca Ingredients

In order to prepare a fanesca soup, you’ll need the following ingredients:

Serves 10-12.

  • 1 lb boneless salt cod (preferably white)
  • 2 cups shelled fava beans, blanched and peeled
  • 2 cups cooked corn kernels, drained
  • One 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed, or 11⁄2 cups frozen baby lima beans, cooked and drained
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, cooked in water to cover until tender and drained
  • 11⁄2 cups bottled lupini beans, peeled
  • 1 head garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini or zambo (winter melon)
  • 2 cups peeled, seeded and cubed (1 inch) calabaza or other winter squash
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1⁄2 cup long-grain rice
  • 11⁄2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground annatto or sweet paprika
  • 1 cup finely chopped scallions (white part only)
  • 2 cups finely chopped leeks (white part only), washed well
  • 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1⁄2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 5 cups milk, or more if needed
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter (optional), softened

 As for the garnishes, you can use the following:

  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced
  • 1 ripe (yellow) plantain, peeled, sliced 1⁄4 inch thick, and fried in hot canola oil until golden on both sides
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips, or 4 hot red peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, blanched in boiling
  • water for 20 seconds, and drained
  • Mini cheese empanadas or dough fritters
  • Fresh parsley sprigs

How To Make Fanesca

Fanesca Soup served with platanos maduros
Fanesca Soup served with platanos maduros

Now that we have given you the list of ingredients you need to make fanesca – and as you can see, it is a pretty long list, especially with the garnishes includes.

Let us see how this Ecuadorian thick soup is actually made.

Remember, though, that this is just one variation of the recipe and that Ecuadorians have countless of variations that they prepare every year.

  1. Soak the salt cod in water to cover overnight. Change the water a few times. Drain it. Cut it into bite-size pieces and set it aside.
  2. Prepare the fava beans, corn, Great Northern beans, peas, and 1 cup of the lupini beans. Place the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until they are ready to use.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 °F.
  4. Roast the garlic in a baking dish until the cloves are soft; that will take about 20 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, let it cool. Squeeze out the garlic; it should be like a paste. Cover the dish with a plastic wrap and refrigerate it.
  5. Steam the zucchini until tender for about 5 minutes. Steam the calabaza until it is soft (about 20 minutes). Steam the cabbage until tender; again, it will take about 20 minutes. Place the zucchini, squash, and cabbage in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.
  6. Combine the rice and water in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until most of the water has been absorbed. The process should take between 25 and 30 minutes.
  7. Mash the rice with a fork, transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
  8. In a large, heavy casserole, heat the oil, butter and annatto together over medium heat until the butter has melted. Then, add the cod and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Proceed to add the scallions, leeks, roasted garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, and white pepper to the casserole and cook. It should be stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Do not let it brown.
  9. Transfer to a blender and add the remaining 1⁄2 cup lupini beans, the peanuts, and a little of the milk. Process it in a blender until smooth.
  10. Return to the casserole, add the cod and remaining milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the squash and cabbage, rice, and bean mixture and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the casserole. Cut the cream cheese into small cubes and add, stirring until it melts. Add the cream and heat through.
  11. Fanesca should have the consistency of a thick soup; if it is too thick, add a little more milk. If using, taste for salt and stir in the butter.
  12. Be sure to serve it hot in soup plates, garnished with the eggs, plantain, bell pepper, mini empanadas, fritters, and parsley.

NOTE: You can serve the cod separately as a side dish. Place the cod pieces in boiling water, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the water and set it aside until ready to serve. Water is never used in the classic fanesca, just milk.

Conclusion

Ecuadorian Easter Soup Fanesca
Ecuadorian Easter Soup Fanesca

Fanesca is a very popular and traditional Ecuadorian food.

This thick soup is very specific because it’s rich in ingredients and flavor, but also because it has a very symbolic place in Ecuadorian culture.

It is served only once a year – on Good Friday, during the Holy Week – which is why it is also called Easter soup.

The exact origins of this dish are unknown and most families just concern themselves with making a good soup and not with its origins.

To enjoy this interesting meal, you’ll need a lot of ingredients and you’ll need to follow the instructions very carefully.

It is a dish that takes some time to prepare.

If you want to be a true Ecuadorian and not just a gourmand, you will spend the whole day preparing the meal and recreate the tradition that is so essential to Ecuadorian culture. 

Sources:

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