Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Religion & Food: Lenten Food

Simple vegetarian soups are traditional throughout Lent, and each nationality has developed its own Lenten specialty. Consider slurping any -- or all -- of the following for the next forty days:
  • Eastern Europe: Vegetable-based split soups.
  • France: Onion soup, of course! Call it Zuppa Magna di Cipolle and you can claim its Italian.
  • Greece: Tomato soup.
  • Italy: Brodo Magro di Digiuno is made with leeks, onions, carrots, cabbage, and lentils; flavored with sage and bay left. Strained, it's a rich broth for other soups or to use with rice or pasta. Pureed, it's a hearty soup.
  • Russia: Borscht (beet soup) with mushrooms or barley. Sauerkraut and mushroom soup. Cabbage, potato, carrot, and barley soup.
Eastern Orthodox Church adherents still observe strict fasting -- relative to what most Roman Rite Catholics do -- during Lent. In fact, they are required to fast twice a week most of the year anyway. Check out this site to see what rigorous fasting looks like. If you decide to go the complete vegetarian route for the next forty days, check out Mollie Katzen's The Moosewood Cookbook. Published over two decades ago, it's still one of the best resources for vegetarian recipes and especially wonderful soups.

Strange but true: The pretzel is the oldest, traditional, authentically Christian Lenten bread. Some food historians trace its origin back to Roman Christians of the fifth century. Others insist that monks in southern France, or maybe it was northern Italy, cooked this egg- and butter-free snack up in A.D. 610. The former called them bracellae, Latin for "little arms"; the latter called them pretiola, latin for "little reward.

In either account, the dough configuration represents arms folded in prayer and the three holes represent the Trinity. thus you may eat these with impunity, but not gluttony, throughout Lent ...

So where does "pretzel" come from? Germans, who called these breads bretzel ("little bread") ... Palatine Germans, who would become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, imported pretzels to the United States in 1710.
The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shrove Tuesday and Pancakes

Reposted for your Mardi Gras enjoyment.

Weeks of food antics peak on the last day of pre-Lent, Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Fasten's Eve, or Fastnacht). The name "Shrove" derives from the customary pre-Lenten "shrift" (confession), but it's mostly known for gluttony.

By now we're supposed to have had our last deluxe bacon-cheeseburger for the duration. In the old days, eggs, butter, fat, milk, and cheese were also considered verboten during Lent, so Shrove Tuesday was devoted to emptying the larder. For old times' sake, you might consider following this tradition, which also happens to be a healthier way of eating...

Flipping out over pancakes is so universal on Shrove Tuesday that the holiday is sometimes called "Pancake Tuesday" ... In England, Pancake Day is celebrated with races at which women over the age of sixteen, frying pans in hand, trot over 415 yards while tossing pancakes over at least three times...

In New Orleans, one of the less over-the-top Mardi Gras customs involves baking King's Cake, a yeasty, buttery confection flavored with lemon zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg decorated with purple, yellow, and green icing -- and these aren't even it's most distinguishing characteristics.

A tiny doll of the baby Jesus is baked inside the cake, which, when done, is doled out in huge slices. Whoever gets the slice with the doll provides the King's Cake the following year ... For an authentic King's Cake recipe check out the one at

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) precedes Ash Wednesday and the period of Lenten fasting. Pancakes were eaten to use up proscribed foods, and it is claimed that their ingredients have special Lenten symbolism: flour is the staff of life; milk is innocence and purity; salt is incorruptibility; and eggs symbolize creation.
Here's my favorite recipe for pancakes. Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Religion and Food: Carnival

Carnival foods could be regarded as a worldwide phenomenon, if the word "carnival" is taken in its wide sense, meaning any occasion of riotous revelry. However, in the narrower and more commonly used sense it refers to the day or week before Lent and especially Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), when Christians bid farewell to meat for 40 days.

Carnival (a term derived from two Latin words meaning "meat, goodbye") is celebrated most noticeably in Roman Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, France, where various cities hold traditional processions with dancing, mummers, masks, lights, special street foods, etc. The custom traveled to the New World and is conspicuous in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro for example. However, some would say that the calypso and carnival tradition in Trinidad (and Tobago) eclipses by its size and exuberance anything else in the world. DeWitt and Wilan (1993) provide a vivid description of carnival time in Trinidad and of the street foods consumed by the revellers...

Which of the carnival foods enjoyed in modern times can be traced back to pagan times is an interesting question. One obvious candidate is the pancake ... Another is the fritter. An 18th-century poem entitled, "The Oxford Sausage" neatly pairs these items:

Let glad Shrove Tuesday bring the pancake thin
Or fritter rich, with apples stored within.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Green Beans Dijon

This is from a yellowing scrap of paper I tore from the WSJ weekend section some time ago. I'd stuck it in How to Cook Without a Book since it looked as if it could be adapted to one for steam/sauteing vegetables. It turns out, however, that I simply boiled up the green beans and followed the recipe.

I was afraid that much Dijon would be overwhelming but the cream and cumin worked wonders in gentling it to very palatable levels. Simply delicious and very easy.

Note: the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of butter but the Dijon broke up when I followed that method. I threw it out and began again using cream instead of butter. So that's how I tell it below.

Green Beans Dijon

2 tablespoons cream
1/4 cup Dijon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound freshly cooked green beans

Gently heat cream, Dijon, and cumin in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk to combine. When mixture is hot, turn off heat and add green beans, stirring gently until all the beans are coated. Serve warm. 3-4 servings.