This soup is required eating in much of Ecuador during Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter. Where I lived, lunch on Good Friday was time for fanesca, a soup inspired by the Catholic tradition of refraining from meat during holy week, especially on Good Friday. Traditional fanesca includes a broth based on salted cod and milk - as most vegans are aware, lots of people don't consider fish to be meat. We'll leave that mindbender for another day, and fanesca works just fine without the cod, since it's packed (and I mean packed) with hearty beans, squash, and grains.
As a nod to the twelve apostles, a good fanesca includes 12 different beans and grains, so it's a great reason to tap into those random half empty bags of adzuki beans and split peas and wheat berries waiting in many of our pantries. Because this soup invites so many ingredients, a definitive recipe probably doesn't exist. Like so many food traditions, every family has it's own interpretation of the soup - my host family's fanesca was pretty awesome, and that was the taste I was going for here.
While looking at recipes (and there's a ton of them) online, I found a nice New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin about looking for good fanesca in Ecuador. It's a great combination of food and travel writing, well worth a read.
Here's a quick rundown of my first take on fanesca...my only problem with the finished result is that the broth was a little darker than normal. I used homemade vegetable stock for the base, and my stock ingredients were pretty heavy on trimmings from dark greens, which resulted in a darker color. Real fanesca ought to be bright yellow, so I cheated a little and mixed turmeric with coconut milk to save the color. Anyway, here goes:
Soak the beans, and any grains which might benefit from soaking, overnight. Not to dissapoint any of those apostles, I made sure to go for the full twelve. Here's the list, and I used about a quarter cup of each (dry):
2. great northern beans
3. black-eyed peas
4. yellow split peas
5. brown lentils
6. adzuki beans
7. black beans
8. wheat berries
11. sweet corn
12. green peas
I cooked all of the soaked grains and beans on a low simmer in veggie stock for an hour or so, adding frozen corn, green peas, and chopped scallions towards the end. Every bean/grain has a different cooking time, but with fanesca it doesn't matter if some things get too soft, since it all adds to the creamy nature of the soup. Just stir once in a while to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.
While the beans are cooking, I sauteed some red onion and minced garlic cloves, adding them to the bean/grain pot close to the end of cooking.
In the blender, I mixed a medium-size roasted butternut, a baked potato, a cup of coconut milk, and a cup of vegetable broth. Blend until smooth. This is where I added the spices too - just a tablespoon of ground cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.
Back to the beans and grains. Continue simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated. Fanesca is somewhere between soup and stew, but it should be nice and thick. Add the blended squash mixture to the beans and grains, bring it back to a low boil, and remove from heat. Like any soup, this only gets better after it sits for a while.
I used cilantro for garnish, and seasoned with some hot pepper sauce. Those are patacones - deep-fried and slightly mashed plantains - on top, as if fanesca isn't hearty enough. I know these aren't the most organized cooking directions, but you get the idea - fanescas are like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two ever the same.