Berza (pronounced like the name Bertha!) is a stew which is customary of the Málaga and Cadiz region of Spain (the southernmost part) and of course is one of our traditional stews in Gibraltar. This is a recipe that is different depending on where it is that you have it but after doing some research I found that my family recipe has much more in common with the Cadiz area than the Málaga area and this is down to the use of spearmint which is not used in the Málaga versions of berza. Spearmint may seem like an unusual addition to any stew but in fact it is commonly used in many stews of southern Spain, making me think this is maybe of Moorish influence.
Berza, like many Spanish stews is traditionally a little meat heavy and relies on chorizo and pork loin. In order to make up for this and still keep the flavour I use garlic (quite a lot), as garlic is one of the main ingredients in chorizo, but don’t be shocked by the amount, after all there are quite a few servings here, and Spanish food is very garlic heavy, although the end result isn’t garlicky at all. Also another flavouring in chorizo is sweet smoked paprika or sun dried red peppers, so I add a bit more of this. Making these simple substitutions will make this dish much healthier!
To replace the meat I like to use seitan, although in Gibraltar this can be difficult to find. I tend to buy it in Spain or make it myself. You can also use Quorn fillets, or opt for not using any at all, it is not essential as the flavour is substituted using a bit of yeast extract (Marmite) and miso paste.
The mixture of spearmint, tomato and sun dried red peppers (or sweet smoked paprika) is very distinctive and is an explosion of flavours – what seems like a clash in flavour types actually works beautifully well. There is also a bit of heat from the peppercorns which comes at the end.
The way of making this berza dish is very traditional, where the onions, butternut squash (or pumpkin) and potato are left in big pieces or whole and then blended in order to thicken the sauce. I also like to make this with tinned chickpeas as it saves me time but if you want to use dry then please see the notes below. It is also important to note that variety of chickpea used can make a bit of a difference. For example the Indian chickpeas are smaller have a slightly different flavour, whereas the ones used in Spanish food tend to be much larger, plumper and sweeter.
Berza is a traditional stew of the southernmost tip of Spain and has an incredible flavour using spearmint and sweet smoked paprika (or sun dried peppers) that may seem unusual but work together wonderfully. This is a veggie (vegan actually) version of the traditional dish that is also very healthy.
- 800g chickpeas (tinned)
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion
- 100g pumpkin or butternut squash
- 100g green beans
- 2 sun dried red peppers (or 2 tbsp smoked sweet paprika)
- 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
- 200g tinned tomatoes (or 2 plum tomatoes)
- 2 medium potatoes
- 1 bunch of spearmint
- 0.5 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 head of garlic (8-10 cloves of garlic)
- 1.2 litres (4 cups) of water
- 250g cooked seitan
- 1 tbsp yeast extract (Marmite)
- 1 tsp miso paste (optional)
- Peel and roughly dice the cloves of garlic and gently shallow fry in a deep pan with the olive oil on a medium heat, ensuring the garlic does not caramelise or burn.
- In the meantime peel the onion and keep whole, cut the butternut squash into large pieces, and peel and cut the potatoes in half.
- Cut the green beans in half and slice lengthwise so that they are split open
- Roughly chop the spearmint, removing any woody stalks but if soft the stalks are good to use as well.
- Add the green beans, onion (whole), butternut squash, and potatoes to the pan together with the water and tomatoes. If you are using fresh tomatoes then peel and roughly chop these up beforehand.
- Bring the heat up and add the spearmint and the sun dried red peppers (remove the seeds first!) and the sweet smoked paprika. If you don’t have these then replace with the amount specified of sweet smoked paprika.
- Add the black peppercorns and the drained tinned chickpeas.
- Add the yeast extract (Marmite) and miso paste and bring to a medium simmer.
- Allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes and then add the sliced seitan, or whichever meat substitute you wish to use, if at all!
- Simmer for another 10 minutes and then turn off the heat.
- Get the onion, butternut squash, dried peppers and some of the liquid and blend until smooth using a good blender. Add back to the pan and this will immediately thicken the sauce.
- Add salt to season and bring out the flavours, give it a good stir and serve!
I use tinned chickpeas for convenience and because they are already cooked. However you can use dried chickpeas only that you will need to pre soak them overnight (or at least 8 hours beforehand). You will also need to adjust the amount of water used. If you want to use dried chickpeas then use 250g dried chickpeas and a total of 2 litres of water (7 cups), as they tend to absorb about 3 times their weight in water. Also I prefer to use the pressure cooker for this; about 30 minutes is enough to cook the chickpeas, although if you use a regular pot then they will take about 90 minutes. It is very important to not add the yeast extract, miso paste or salt until after the chickpeas have cooked because the salt will prevent them from softening. Also add the seitan (or whichever meat substitute) at the very end and simmer for another 10 minutes or so.