You might say that those who observe the Lenten fast are the original flexitarians. Since the 4th 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.'

LENTIL AND RICE STEW (MJADERA)This is a hearty main course that tastes long-cooked, with deep and earthy spices. If you don't have many mouths to feed, use leftovers as a filling for enchiladas or crepes, or add crushed tomatoes and turn the lentil-rice stew into a sauce for pasta.

MAKE AHEAD: The lentils need to be soaked overnight. The rice needs to be soaked in hot salted water for 20 minutes.

Adapted from a recipe on

8 servings (makes 9 to 10 cups)

1 pound brown lentils1 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, minced1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil, for frying5 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 5 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 saute pan; heat over medium heat.

Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels.

Add the onions to the saute 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 5 minutes.

Serve hot, topped with the onions.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.


MAKE AHEAD: You will have leftover sesame-ginger dressing, which can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Adapted from recipes at and

4 servingsFor the dressing1/2 cup plain rice vinegar

1/4 cup water1/4 cup yellow miso

3 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped (1/3 cup)

2 tablespoons sugar3-inch piece peeled ginger root, finely grated

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

4 teaspoons canola oil2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For the beans3 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 salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground 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 1 1/2 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 2 or 3 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 5 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 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


In Italy, these are traditionally made in March for St. Joseph's Day. The dough is often deep-fried or piped out onto baking sheets, but here's a simpler approach that requires no hot oil or pastry bag - just a muffin tin. You could also make these in mini-muffin tins.

Adapted from 'A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics,' by Angelo Stagnaro (Tau Publishing, 2013).

16 servingsFor the sfingi1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt1 cup water8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 large eggs1 tablespoon sugar1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

For the filling and assembly16 ounces fresh ricotta cheese

1 cup sugar2 to 3 teaspoons almond extract

1 tablespoon rum (may substitute 1 tablespoon rum extract)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 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 vigorously, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan, until the dough comes together in a cohesive ball that appears fairly dry. 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 among the 16 muffin pan wells. 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 or until they are nicely puffed and golden brown. 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 2 hours and serve chilled.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.


This dramatic dish tastes as if you are eating the ocean - and nothing like the relatively tame flavor delivered by dried squid ink pasta.

Be careful when handling the ink; it stains.

Squid ink is available through

Adapted from 'A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics,' by Angelo Stagnaro (Tau Publishing, 2013).

8 servingsKosher salt1 pound dried spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle or rigatoni

10 ounces frozen peas (not defrosted)

1 cup no-salt-added vegetable broth

1 1/2 ounces (1 small bunch) basil, chopped

2 large tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped (may substitute 1 1/2 cups no-salt-added crushed tomatoes)

1/2 ounce squid ink (may substitute cuttlefish ink; see headnote)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish

4 cloves garlic, minced1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped

1 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped

Juice from 1/2 lemonLeaves from 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon capers, drained1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or pecorino-Romano cheese, for garnish

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 2 or 3 minutes, or just until tender. Add the basil and tomatoes; cook for 5 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 8 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 6 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 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 sugar

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