What Are Pochas?
Pochas are white kidney or cranberry-shaped beans with a smooth flavor and common in the Basque region of Spain as well as Navarra and Rioja. In Spanish, the word pocha means pale, and these beans are often picked just before or just as they ripen. As a result, some may even seem slightly green. They are often served in autumn stews, widowed with tomato, green pepper, and olive oil or with sausage or quail. Pochas can be purchased throughout the year in jars or cans.
This type of bean is commonly used in cuisines throughout northern Spain and is available in two sub-varieties. The arrinonada is shaped like a kidney bean with thicker skin, while the boio is similar to a cranberry with thinner skin and more starch. They are grown on local farms and sown in March. All kinds of pochas are harvested in the fall just as they are ripening from green to white and served while still very fresh as opposed to dried and re-hydrated. They are an economical but traditional ingredient found in the simplest to the most complex dishes of the region.
This kind of white bean is low in cholesterol and rich in calcium and carbohydrates. As the best time to harvest pochas coincides with the fall game bird season, these legumes are often served with quail. A sausage called chorizo is also commonly added to pochas dishes, as are lamb chops, hock, or tail. In areas closer to the coast, these beans are often cooked with clams. During the holidays in Tudela, a traditional pochas dish includes eel.
When these beans are served without meat or seafood, they are referred to as widowed or fasting. They are often sold in local markets in plastic bags with tomato and some green peppers so that cooks can buy all the necessary ingredients for widowed or fasting pochas at once. A typical way of cooking this bean dish is to boil the legumes with the peppers, tomato, and garlic and then add olive oil after draining. The beans can also be sauteed in olive oil with garlic, tomato, and pepper as well. Other ingredients include peeled carrot and salt pork.
The peppers commonly served with these beans are either guindillas or padrones. These are small, green varieties that range from sweet and mild to hot and spicy. They are akin to Greek pepperoncini. Paprika can also be added to cooking pochas for extra spice, while a little salt will keep the cooked beans from hardening.
The word pocha can have meanings other than culinary, depending on the Spanish-speaking country. Mexicans may use this term pejoratively to refer to female Chicanas who have rejected their Mexican heritage and culture. It does not always have negative connotations, however, and may be used to express pride in having dual American and Mexican roots.
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