Jul 252016


Today is Día Nacional de Galicia (“National Day of Galicia”), a public holiday in the autonomous region of Spain. It is also called informally Día da Patria Galega (“Day of the Galician Homeland”), or simply Día de Galicia (“Galicia Day”). The celebration can be traced back to 1919, when the group Irmandades da Fala (a Galicianist organization) met in the Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela. It was then decided to celebrate the National Day on 25 July the following year. The date was chosen as it is the feast day of Saint James, — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-james-the-greater/ — patron saint of both Galicia and the Galician capital city.


Galicia Day was celebrated openly until the Franco dictatorship (1939-1977), when any display of non-Spanish nationalism was prohibited. During that time the National Day was still celebrated by Galician emigrant communities abroad. In Galicia, the Galicianists gathered under the pretext of offering a Mass for Galician poetess and literary icon Rosalia de Castro, and Franco was fine with that. Curiously enough, the Franco regime institutionalized the religious celebration of Saint James as the patron saint of Spain even though his veneration is focused on Galicia.


From 1968 onwards Galicianists attempted to celebrate the day in Santiago de Compostela, even though they were still under Franco’s dictatorship. The Partido Socialista de Galicia (“Galician Socialist Party”) and the Unión do Povo Galego (“Galician People’s Union”) called for public political demonstrations every 25 July. These demonstrations would invariably result in clashes with the Spanish police. Even during the first years of democracy, after 1977, any demonstration organized by the Asemblea Nacional-Popular Galega and the BN-PG (later transformed into the Galician Nationalist Bloc) was still forbidden. It was only during the mid-1980s that the National Day started to be celebrated again as it had been before Franco. However, the events from the late 1960s onwards had transformed the National Day into an event with political ramifications. The day is now an official public holiday celebrated with solemnity by the Galician government, but also with a number of festivities that take place from the night of the 24th until the early hours of the morning of the 26th.


Galicia is located in the North-West of the Iberian Peninsula. It was first inhabited by humans during the Middle Paleolithic period, and it takes its name from the Gallaeci, the Celtic people living north of the Douro River during the last millennium BCE. Hence Galicia is part of what is known as the “Celtic fringe” — Western European coastal regions (such as Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, and Ireland)  that are the remnants of a larger European Gallic area that was conquered and assimilated by Romans. Galicia was incorporated into the Roman Empire at the end of the Cantabrian Wars in 19 BCE, and was made a Roman province in the 3rd century CE. Thereafter Galicia has been a part of a succession of empires and kingdoms with a few limited periods of autonomy. Eventually Galicia passed the Statute of Autonomy in 1936 but this was frustrated by Franco’s autocratic government. After democracy was restored, the legislature passed the Statute of Autonomy of 1981, which is still in force, providing Galicia with self-government.

Two languages are official and widely used today in Galicia: native Galician, a Romance language closely related to Portuguese, with which it shares Galician-Portuguese medieval literature, and official Spanish, usually known locally as Castellano (Castilian). 56% of the Galician population speak Galician as their first language, while 43% speak more in Castilian.

Galician cuisine is heavily dominated by seafood, even inland. Polbo á feira is an octopus dish that is favored in Galicia, and you are as likely to find it in the mountains as along the coast. I could give you a seafood recipe, therefore, and there are dozens of them. But I am always reminded of Galicia by its eponymous soup: caldo galego. “Caldo” is Galician/Castilian for “broth” and “galego” means “Galician” (spelled “gallego” in Castilian, and pronounced differently). Often it is simply called “caldo” in Galicia. You’re not going to make a good replica at home, because the soup does not contain anything special. It’s only distinctive when you have it in Galicia made from local ingredients – essence of terroir. At heart it’s a soup made of white beans cooked with ham or pork, with the addition of potatoes, greens, and chorizo, and spiced with paprika. With that knowledge (and a photo), if you are an experienced cook you have all you need to know to make the soup. Every Galician cook has variations of course, and I doubt that any of them follows a recipe, any more than I would. Quantities are not important as long as there is a fair balance.


Here’s your ingredient list, but bear in mind that you can vary everything:

2 cups dried white beans
1 lb ham knuckle, ham bone, ham hock, or pork bones
salt and pepper
2 tsp Spanish paprika
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced (not too small)
1 bunch turnip greens, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 spanish chorizos (6.5 oz total), cut into pieces

First step is the usual for dried beans. Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Next day, drain the beans, put them in a heavy stock pot with the ham or pork, cover with water or light stock, and simmer until the beans are tender (1 to 2 hours).

Remove the ham or pork bones, strip off the meat and return it to the soup, discard the bones.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and continue simmering until the potatoes are cooked to your liking.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

Jul 252013


Today is the feast of St James the Greater.  James (Jacob in Aramaic/Hebrew) has a very prominent place in the gospels and is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.  He is one of the first of the apostles to be called to follow Jesus:

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” (Mark 1:16-20)

Three of the four mentioned here – James, John, and Simon (later Peter) – are described in the gospels as a privileged inner circle among the apostles.  Simon/Peter and John went on to be leaders of the new church in Jerusalem, but the James who is described in the Acts of the Apostles as the head of the church is not James son of Zebedee (the apostle), but, rather James the Just (described as the brother of Jesus).  James the Greater’s execution is, however, noted in Acts, and he is traditionally recognized as the first of the apostles to be martyred for his faith by King Herod (usually identified as Herod Agrippa):

“About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.” (Acts 12, 1-2)

Jesus gave James and his brother John the surname/nickname Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder.” No one knows what this name refers to, but could possibly mean they had fierce tempers, or were powerful orators and advocates, or both.

Saint James (Santiago) is the patron saint of Spain and according to legend, his remains are held in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the Celtic region of NW Spain. The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as el camino de Santiago (“the way of St James”), has been the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics from the early Middle Ages onwards. 125,141 pilgrims registered in 2008 as having completed the final 100 km walk (200 km by bicycle) to Santiago to qualify for a Compostela (certificate of completion and plenary indulgence). When 25 July falls on a Sunday, it is called a Jubilee year, and a special east door is opened for entrance into the Santiago Cathedral. Jubilee years can fall every 5, 6, or 11 years. In the 2004 Jubilee year, 179,944 pilgrims received a Compostela.



The city of Santiago de Compostela became the seat of the saint, from the legend of his body having been miraculously translated there. His remains were supposedly conveyed from Jerusalem, where he died, to Spain in a ship of marble.  On arrival the horse of a Portuguese knight plunged into the sea with its rider and, when rescued, the knight’s clothes were found to be covered with scallop shells. So the scallop shell became the sign of the pilgrim, usually worn on a coat or hat. Medieval Galicians  who were willing to accept passing pilgrims into their homes hung scallop shells over their doors. In French, une coquille Saint-Jacques – literally, a “St James shell” – is the culinary term for scallop.


The remains of the Apostle lay forgotten until the year 813, when a hermit named Pelayo was led to their hidden site by a shining star (compostela). The local bishop had the cathedral erected at this location where the bones of the saint supposedly lie in a chapel located in the basement of the church. The pilgrimage to Compostela became almost as popular and important in medieval Europe as that to Jerusalem. Because of this, seventeen English peers and eight baronets have scallop shells in their arms as heraldic charges.

I’m really torn concerning the recipe of the day. Coquilles Saint Jacques is the obvious choice, but there is an old English saying that if you eat oysters on St James you will have good fortune for the coming year.  I think the simplest compromise is to make Coquilles Saint Jacques for dinner and have a few oysters on the half shell as an appetizer.  You can get baking scallop shells online or in a good cookware store.  In a pinch you can make this dish in ramekins but it really is not the same. Asparagus makes a nice accompaniment.
Coquilles Saint Jacques


1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions
1 bay leaf
2 tspns finely-minced fresh tarragon
½ tspn salt
½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms
1 pound washed scallops (bay scallops are best in this recipe; if only sea scallops are available, cut into crosswise slices 1/8″ thick)
3 tbsps butter
4 tbspns flour
¼ cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
½ tbspn butter
6 tbspns grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
6 scallop shells or ramekins of ? cup capacity
Sprigs of fresh herbs for garnish: tarragon or flat-leaf parsley


Simmer the bay leaf, tarragon, salt and pepper in the wine for 5 minutes. Add the scallops, mushrooms and enough water to barely cover them.

Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer slowly for 5 minutes. Remove scallops and mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Reduce the cooking liquid to one cup by rapidly boiling. While the liquid is reducing, whisk the egg yolks and cream in a bowl.

In a separate saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour, and cook over low heat for two minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow this roux to brown.

Remove from the heat. Add the cooking liquid slowly while whisking.  Then add the milk, whisking to blend into a smooth sauce. Return to the heat and simmerl for one minute.

Whisk the sauce from the pan into the egg yolk mixture, by driblets. Return to the pan and simmer, stirring, for 1 minute. Thin with cream if necessary. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a few drops of lemon juice.

Mix ? of the sauce with the scallops and mushrooms.

Butter the shells or ramekins; spoon in the scallop mixture and cover with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter.

Arrange the shells on a broiling pan.

The recipe can be prepared up to this point at any time before the meal. Fifteen minutes before serving, set the scallops 8 to 9 inches beneath a moderately hot broiler to heat through gradually, and to brown the top of the sauce.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6