A Lenten Soup So Good the Memory of It Lasts a Whole Year

More than 40 years ago, a statue of the Virgin of El Quinche was brought to the United States by a family from Ecuador. To celebrate its arrival at the now-shuttered St. Ann’s Church in Lower Manhattan, Rosa Cartagena and a team of women started a new tradition at the church: making and selling fanesca, a soup so labor-intensive that it is served for only a limited time during the Lenten season.

For decades, the group has gathered donations and at least four women will meet each year at Mrs. Cartagena’s home in Hempstead, N.Y., to cook about 100 bowls of the soup they all grew up eating in Ecuador during Holy Week. And as Easter approaches, the soup will be served at churches, restaurants and homes throughout the country that serve Ecuadoreans and other Latin Americans.

Fanesca typically contains at least a dozen ingredients, to represent the Twelve Apostles. There are beans — red, white, lupin, fava and butter — along with chickpeas, lentils, corn and rice. Many Roman Catholics don’t eat meat on certain days during Lent, so some cooks will soak salted cod in milk and use both in the soup. For the base, zapallo — a squash similar to zucchini — is cooked until tender.

Toppings include fried plantains, cheese empanadas, more fresh cheese, hard-boiled eggs, the cod, a piece of spicy red pepper and a sprig of parsley or cilantro.

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