You might say that those who observe the Lenten fast are the original flexitarians. Since the fourth century, eating meatless — and, in some cases, eschewing other animal products and olive oil as well — has been one way for millions of Christians to respect their religious heritage during the 40-day observance before Easter.
Even when the restrictions are limited to Wednesdays and/or Fridays of each week, modern cooks find that family meal planning is essential.
“When I first started, it was hard to find recipes,” says Sylvia Leontaritis, who began her Adventures of an Orthodox Mom blog in 2008. The 34-year-old mother of three now finds plenty of sources for dishes she wants to serve during Lent, which must be “basically vegan,” Leontaritis says. The challenges have been avoiding soy products (for health reasons, she says); working around egg replacers in baking, because she does not like the powdered kind; and finding dishes her young children will eat: “A lot of vegan recipes are not that family-friendly.”
Bean soups and avocado pesto over pasta have been successful, as have smoothies for breakfast and snacks. “We eat so much healthier during a fasting time,” Leontaritis says. “To be honest, I look forward to it.”
Some feast days fall within Lent, bringing their own food traditions, according to Catholic News Service journalist Angelo Stagnaro, whose new “Lenten Cookbook for Catholics” (Tau Publications) has received a rare imprimatur (seven, in fact) from the Catholic Church.
His 57 recipes are mainly Neapolitan and pasta-driven, with a few apres-Lent offerings to augment the feasting aspect. (A note to veteran recipe readers: Stagnaro took the unorthodox approach of listing ingredients in alphabetical order.)
“Lent is not just a matter of self-denial,” he says. “I wanted to remind people that fasting comes with feasting, and that those things are not at odds with each other.” Like Leontaritis, he was motivated to ease the burden of identifying a range of suitable foods to serve during a time of need: “People don’t like eating the same tuna casseroles.”
Blackened Green Beans with Garlic, Sesame and Ginger For the dressing
• 1/2 cup plain rice vinegar
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup yellow miso
• 3 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped ( cup)
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 3-inch piece peeled ginger root, finely grated
• 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
• 4 teaspoons canola oil
• 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
For the beans
• 3 tablespoons canola oil
• 2 cups fresh green beans (untrimmed)
• 3 cloves garlic, cut into very thin slices
• 1-inch piece peeled ginger root, finely grated
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the dressing: Combine the vinegar, water and miso in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Seal tightly and shake until well-combined.
Add the scallions, sugar, ginger, soy sauce and oils; seal and shake to form an emulsified dressing. The yield is a generous 11/2 cups.
For the beans: Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the beans; stir-fry for two or three minutes, until the beans are bright green, well-crisped and blackened in spots.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic, ginger, salt and pepper; stir-fry for about five minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Pour half of the dressing over the beans.
Serve hot; pass extra dressing at the table.
Nutrition information per serving (using half the dressing): 180 calories, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 750 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar St. Joseph Cream Puffs (Sfingi di San Giuseppe) For the sfingi
• 1 cup flour
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup water
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 4 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
• 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
For the filling and assembly
• 16 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 to 3 teaspoons almond extract
• 1 tablespoon rum (may substitute 1 tablespoon rum extract)
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
• 2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips
• cup whole or low-fat milk, or as needed
• 16 maraschino cherries, drained, for garnish
For the sfingi: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease 16 muffin tin wells.
Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl.
Heat the water and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, add the flour mixture; immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and stir, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan, until the dough comes together in a cohesive ball. Remove from the heat; cool for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly incorporating each one into the dough before adding the next. The dough will appear wet at first, but keep stirring, and it will absorb the egg. Fold in the sugar and the orange and lemon zests.
Use a large spoon to portion the dough evenly in pan. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sfingi are a light golden brown, then rotate the pan(s) front to back, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes. Turn out the sfingi onto a rack to cool completely.
For the filling and assembly: Combine the ricotta, sugar, almond extract (to taste), rum, cinnamon, orange zest and chocolate chips in a mixing bowl. Gradually stir in milk as needed to form a smooth but fairly firm filling. (Don’t add too much, or the filling will be runny.)
Slice the tops from the cooled sfingi. (Reserve the tops for a snack.) Spoon filling into each of the sfingi, mounding it slightly. Top with a maraschino cherry. Refrigerate for at least two hours and serve chilled. Lentil and Rice Stew (Mjadera) • 1 pound brown lentils
• 1 cup short-grain brown rice
• 1 cup medium-grain brown rice or long-grain brown rice
• 4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
• Just-boiled water, plus cool water for cooking the lentils and rice
• 11 or 12 cloves garlic, minced
• 11/2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 11/2 teaspoons ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• Olive oil, for frying
• 5 small onions, cut into very thin slices
Place the lentils in a bowl. Cover with an inch or two of cool water and soak overnight, then rinse and drain.
Combine both kinds of rice in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the 4 teaspoons of salt over the surface, then add enough just-boiled water to cover by an inch or two. Soak for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the soaked lentils in a large pot. Cover with about an inch of cool water. Add the garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for five to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Drain the rice, then rinse it well and add it to the lentils along with the cumin, allspice and pepper, stirring to incorporate. Cover and cook until the rice and lentils are tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed to maintain a thick, stewlike consistency. Season lightly with salt.
While the rice-lentil mixture is cooking, pour about an inch of oil into a large sauté pan; heat over medium heat.
Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels.
Add the onions to the sauté pan and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are caramelized, stirring as needed. Use tongs to transfer them to the lined baking sheet to drain.
Uncover the rice-lentil mixture; stir some of the onion-y oil into it (to taste). Reduce the heat to low; cook, uncovered, for five minutes.
Serve hot, topped with the onions. Squid Ink Pasta (Pasta Inchiostro) • Kosher salt
• 1 pound dried spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle or rigatoni
• 10 ounces frozen peas (not defrosted)
• 1 cup no-salt-added vegetable broth
• 11/2 ounces (1 small bunch) basil, chopped
• 2 large tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped (may substitute 11/2 cups no-salt-added crushed tomatoes)
1/2 ounce squid ink (may substitute cuttlefish ink; see ingredient note)
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
• Juice from 1/2 lemon
• Leaves from 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon capers, drained
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or pecorino-Romano cheese, for garnish
Ingredient note: Squid ink is available through tienda.com.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt, then the pasta. Cook according to the package directions (al dente). Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, combine the peas and broth in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook for two or three minutes, or just until tender. Add the basil and tomatoes; cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat as needed so the mixture does not come to a boil.
Use a stainless-steel spoon to stir in the squid ink and crushed red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to low; partially cover to keep warm.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic, stirring to coat. Cook for eight to 10 minutes, stirring often, until lightly golden, reducing the heat as needed so the garlic does not burn. Add the onion and stir to coat; cook for about six minutes, stirring a few times, until translucent. Remove from the heat.
Add the pasta, olives, pea-squid ink mixture and lemon juice to the saute pan (with the garlic and onion); toss lightly to coat. Add some of the pasta cooking water to loosen the mixture a bit. Add the parsley and capers; toss lightly to incorporate.
Transfer to a large serving bowl; drizzle with a little oil and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve warm.
Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories, 18 g protein, 59 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugarYield: Makes 4 servings Source: Adapted from recipes at www.lenten-season.com and www.myrecipes.com. Yield: Makes 16 servings Source: Adapted from “A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics,” by Angelo Stagnaro (Tau Publishing, 2013). Yield: Makes 8 servings Source: Adapted from a recipe on OrthodoxMom.com. Yield: Makes 8 servings Source: Adapted from “A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics,” by Angelo Stagnaro (Tau Publishing, 2013).