A Warm Spanish Welcome

After a nerve-racking arrival in the Canary Islands, two steaming bowls of stew offer sustenance and renew faith in the kindness of strangers. From "People and Food" in our May 2007 issue

There's an old saying that a ship in harbor is safe, but sometimes harbors aren't as safe as they should be. As my husband, Peter, and I motored toward the anchorage at Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, Peter muttered that he didn't think it would be much good in these conditions. The forecast had said the wind should be southwest by now, but it was southeast, a direction to which the huge harbor entrance was wide open. It was 0200, and we had no up-to-date chart of the harbor. We'd been there 10 years before, but now where the marina used to be stood a solid wall. There was a gap in the wall, but it was marked by a pair of red lights, and we certainly weren't going between those in the dark. We anchored Mithril, our 50-foot Van de Stadt steel ketch, among the dozen boats in the anchorage. Their masts traced eerie patterns across the cloudy sky as they pitched and rolled in the four-foot swells. Surely the wind would shift soon.

We took turns on anchor watch. The wind continued to blow from the southeast. All around us people anxiously patrolled their boats, checking landmarks and deck fittings. Dawn arrived with a dust-laden yellow sky. We watched one boat disappear through the small gap between those two red lights; soon Mithril followed. Waves broke on both sides of the rocky entrance walls. It looked like the salivating jaws of a monster ready to swallow us if the engine stopped.

Inside was a different world, still windy but calm. This harbor, however, had another surprise for us. On the outer wall, a large motoryacht had taken a line right across the marina fairway instead of laying a kedge anchor. Mithril's engine stopped with a crack; the line was wrapped around the prop. We roared at the offending crew-who were ashore-until they launched a dinghy. Who did they think they were to restrict the entire marina access? One of their crew dove down into the murky water and cut the line, an act probably preferable to the tongue-lashing I was administering.

Once freed, we gingerly made our way to our berth. "Welcome to my country," said the man on the neighboring boat. Fatigue was getting the better of me by then, and my reply was noncommittal. After hearing our story, the man's wife passed over two bowls of cocido, a hearty sausage stew. "Eat and sleep," she said. "Then your visit to our country can really begin."

I'm sure that this couple's kindness will be my lasting memory of Gran Canaria.

Heart- and Soul-Warming Cocido

8 ounces dried chickpeas
1 teaspoon baking soda (optional)
6-ounce piece chorizo*
Olive oil, for sauteing
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce can tomatoes or equivalent
fresh tomatoes, chopped
Dollop of ketchup
Paprika, to taste
Oregano, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1 small butternut squash, cubed
1 handful French-cut green beans, chopped into 1-inch pieces
*Or any other firm, spicy sausage
Soak the chickpeas overnight; drain. Place in a large soup pot. Add enough water to cover chickpeas by about one inch and boil until soft but not mushy, about 1 hour. (Hint: Adding a teaspoon of baking soda will hasten cooking time.) Drain and reserve liquid. Slice chorizo thickly. In the same soup pot, saute chorizo in oil with onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, ketchup, and seasonings. Add enough of the chickpea liquid to almost cover ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the squash and beans and continue to simmer gently over very low heat for at least 1 hour, preferably longer, or until the stew has a ragoutlike consistency. (The vegetables should be very soft, not al dente). Add more liquid if necessary. Serve with crusty bread.

Variations: Other pork products (cured ham, fatty pork, or bacon) and vegetables (leeks, potatoes, or carrots) can also be added to this recipe. To take it a step further, strain off the cooking liquid and serve separately as a soup, adding angel-hair pasta, finely chopped salami, and some of the cocido vegetables.