Fanesca (Ecuadorian Easter Soup)

March 17, 2021
2 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Styling by Megan Hedgpeth. Food Styling by Kate Buckens.
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Growing up, I watched my grandma spend hours in the kitchen preparing our Easter lunch. One of the classic dishes she made was fanesca, a creamy Ecuadorian bean soup that my family gathers around the table to share once a year.

Legend has it that this soup often includes 12 different grains or legumes (fava beans, green peas, large-kernel corn, or choclo, and lupini beans, or chochos, to name a few) to symbolize Jesus's 12 apostles, the group Jesus gathered for a last meal before his crucifixion, an event known in Christianity as The Last Supper. (Perhaps you’ve seen the painting?)

This rich soup starts with a puréed vegetable base and is served with sautéed salt cod and other flavorful, texture-packed toppings. Due to the preparation and amount of ingredients, this soup traditionally takes almost an entire day to make, from cooking the dry legumes to chopping the vegetables.

Here, I’ve applied some tricks to make its preparation less time-consuming, like using a food processor instead of a wooden spoon to purée the veggies, and using canned beans instead of cooking them from dry. I have also suggested several options for each legume to accommodate what is available at your local grocery store. Still, there’s one important step for which you’ll need to plan ahead: If you're using salt cod, soak it in a bowl filled with 3 to 4 cups of water or milk for 24 hours in advance to mellow its super-salty flavor. Keep this mixture in the refrigerator (for no more than a day) until you’re ready to make the soup.

I've included a basic list of toppings, which are just as important to this dish as the soup itself. I confess that when I was younger, I avoided the soup and just munched on the crunchy little fried dough balls known as masitas, which I’ve also shared a recipe for. Fried plantains, sliced chiles or avocado, hard-boiled eggs, queso fresco, or even small cheese empanadas could all go on top of fanesca, too. I suggest doing the same—serving it plain will never be as good. As my family has done for many years, I recommend sharing the fanesca over a family lunch or Sunday meal, preferably during Easter. —Maria Silvia Aguirre

What You'll Need
  • Fanesca
  • 2 cups diced, peeled butternut squash
  • 2 cups diced zucchini
  • 1/2 cup shredded green cabbage
  • 4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 8 ounces dried salt cod, soaked in 3 to 4 cups water or milk for 24 hours in advance (or 8 ounces canned tuna)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon achiote or annatto powder (or sweet paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup cooked and peeled fava beans (or canned lima beans or pinto beans)
  • 1 cup canned cannellini beans (or canned chickpeas)
  • 1 cup jarred, ready-to-eat lupini beans (or brown lentils)
  • 1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup crumbled or shredded queso fresco, plus more for serving
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley
  • Hard-boiled egg, sliced crosswise, for serving
  • Fried plantains, for serving
  • Sliced jalapeño or poblano pepper, for serving
  • Sliced avocado, for serving
  • Masitas (recipe below), for serving
  • Masitas
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup margarine or unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Fanesca
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the diced squash to the pot and cook until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cabbage to the pot and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Scoop out the vegetables from the pot directly into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. If the mixture isn't blending easily, you can add some of the vegetable boiling water by the spoonful. Drain the remaining water from the pot, but keep the pot on the stove (you'll use it to make the rest of the soup).
  4. Place 3 cups of the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the soaked cod or tuna in the milk until warmed through, 2 to 4 minutes.
  5. While the fish is cooking, heat the oil in a small skillet over low heat. Remove the fish from the milk with a slotted spoon onto a cutting board. Shred or roughly chop the fish, then transfer to the skillet. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer the fish to a plate. Leave the milk in the pot for now—this will be the base for our soup.
  6. Heat the butter in the reserved large pot used to boil the vegetables over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the onion, garlic, achiote, cumin, and oregano. Season with a big pinch of salt and lots of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Stir in the puréed vegetable mixture and reserved warm milk from the small saucepan.
  8. Stir in the peas, corn, fava beans, cannellini beans, and lupini beans.
  9. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is heated through, about 5 to 8 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if needed (keeping in mind not to oversalt, as we’ll add salty cheese later).
  10. Rinse out the blender or food processor and add the peanuts and remaining 1 cup of milk. Blend until you have a thick paste, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  11. Scrape the peanut mixture into the pot with the fanesca. Let it simmer for another 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid it burning or sticking to the pot.
  12. Right before serving, stir in the heavy cream and queso fresco, continuing to cook until the cheese melts. Stir in the chopped parsley and season again with salt and pepper to taste.
  13. Serve immediately, topped with the sautéed cod, masitas (see recipe below), and additional toppings of your choice.
  1. Masitas
  2. In a medium bowl, use your hands to mix together the flour and salt. Incorporate the margarine with your fingers until you have a cohesive dough. Mix in the egg until combined. Set aside, covered, to rest for half an hour.
  3. Shape the dough into about 20 1/2-inch balls.
  4. Fill a small saucepan with enough oil to cover half of a ball (about 1/2 cup total, depending on the size of the saucepan, adding more oil if needed). Heat the oil over medium heat; to test if the oil is hot enough, place a small piece of dough in the pot until it starts to sizzle.
  5. Working in batches of 5 or 6, fry the dough balls in the oil until golden, around 1 to 2 minutes per batch, making sure they don't stick together in the pan.
  6. Using a spider or tongs, transfer to a paper towel to drain any excess oil and allow to cool. Serve with the fanesca.

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