Castilla-León covers a huge area of the country and in fact is the largest region of Spain. It is referred to sometimes as “Old Castile.” The two kingdoms of Castilla and León were united in the year 1230 and then waged war against the Muslims who occupied the South of Spain, trying to reconquer Spain for the Christians.
The western edge of Castilla-León touches the border with Portugal. Extremadura, Castilla la Mancha and Madrid to the south, Aragón and La Rioja to the east.
To the north, it is bordered by Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.
Provinces Included: Avila, Burgos, León, Palencia, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, Valladolid and Zamora . The cuisine does not change much from province to province, except for León and Salamanca.
Famous Dishes: Stews were common daily dishes in all households until very recently. For centuries, this area relied on the chickpea (garbanzo bean) as one of the basic foods of this region and it is the main ingredient of Castilian stews. Stews also contained cabbage, morcilla (blood sausage) and meat. The photo shows a store window in Burogs, selling traditional food products of the region.
Along with stews, soups are popular, due to the long, cold winters in the region. Learn to make one of the most popular and traditional soups, the Sopa de Ajo or Castillian Garlic Soup.
Castilla- León, along with Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha is referred to as “España del Asado” or “Spain of the Roast.” More about the roasts below…
Castilla is also known for its’ wonderful bread and the history of baking is a very long one. In ancient times the Celtic people who inhabited what is now Spain were already making something similar to modern day bread. Later, Iberian people used beer to leaven their bread. The tradition of the communal oven, where all members of the community were allowed to bake bread, lived on into the 20th century!
Suckling lamb roasts stand out above all other main dishes of the region! If you like lamb, visit the triangle between Segovia, Soria and Burgos. In this region, you can be sure of two things when you order lamb: First, the people of this region, Castellanos use suckling lamb and second, it is always roasted in an earthenware dish. Their roasting method is really simple – cut a suckling lamb into large pieces, spread lard over it and baste with salted water while roasting.
If you prefer suckling pig, drive straight to the area of Segovia, Arevalo and Penaranda de Bracamonte. The standard requirement to qualify as a suckling pig is that the pig must be between 15 and 20 days old and weigh between 3 and 4 kilos. Here they prepare suckling pig that is so tender, it can be cut with a plate!
As we mentioned above, chickpeas and legumes or beans of all kinds are used in all types of soups and stews of this region. Because it is a cold climate, heavier meals dominate the cuisine.
All types of beans and lentils, cooked with sausage and pigtail or ear are the typical ingredients of stews of this region.
Although Castilla is not situated along the coastline, it does have some wonderful fish recipes, including cod, trout, and crayfish. For example, Bacalao al ajoarriero is a very popular dish that has spread to all other parts of Spain. This dish was once the staple diet of the Leonese Muleteers. Both trout and crayfish are abundant in the many rivers flowing through the region. It is said that the best crayfish or “crawdads” come from the Tormes River. However, an annual festival is held in honor of the crayfish along the banks of the Pisuerga River.
Wine is very good in this region and getting better all the time. The wines from Castilla-Leon with Denomination of Origin are:
- Cigales – the most well-known of this variety is the rosé
- Bierzo and Ribera del Duero - hearty reds are the best of these areas
- Rueda - mostly young, white wines
- Toro – fruity wines
Ribera del Duero is one of the best wine-producing regions in the world and has recently enjoyed popularity in the USA.
To learn more about wines from this region, read our article, - Wines of Castilla.
Many sweets are made from traditional recipes, originating in old monasteries and convents. Some of the names are: lazos de San Guillermo (bow-shaped pastries), yemas de Santa Teresa (a sweet made with egg yolk), toscas de la Virgen, bizcochos de San Lorenzo (sponge cakes) and virutas de San José (fritters).
Leon and Salamanca
Leon has quite a regal past that includes rich monasteries and refined eating. In the region of El Bierzo, there is culinary influence from the region of Galicia. Empanadas which are fish or meat pies and lacón con grelos, salted boiled ham with turnip shoots), as well as octopus are prepared in the same manner as they are in Galicia. Near the city of Astorga, the area known as la la maragatería, a very common dish is cocido maragato, a local version of garbanzo bean stew. Other dishes are Riaño, a vegetable mix, as well as cod fish.
Salamanca is known for its meat dishes – any kind of meat from pork, lamb, beef, poultry and game. Guijuelo cured ham and spiced sausages are excellent and are very well-known.