Lent really snuck up on me this year. I was busy turning 30, reflecting on that, and then visiting family in Oregon. While riding the bus from Oregon back home to Vancouver I realized that it was Shrove Tuesday. Ash Wednesday was filled with settling in again, and since then it has been difficult to enter into the rhythms of Lent with being busy. Also, being married to someone who is even busier, and living with housemates who are busy as well made it more difficult to follow along with this season of fasting. In an attempt to at least mark this season I’ve given up alcohol for Lent–a simple sacrifice which has still been challenging to adhere to.
Last week, I turned to my trusty liturgical cookbook–A Continual Feast, by Evelyn Birge Vitz–to mark this season by making a traditional Lenten meal. According to this book, from the 7th century onwards, Roman Catholics ate no meat, dairy or eggs during the season of Lent. Among Eastern Orthodox groups, no meat, dairy products, wine, or olive oil were consumed during most days of Lent. Giving up meat, or foods that came from flesh, was symbolic of the renunciation of the ways of the world. Lent was called “The Great Fast’, and during this time dairy and meat products were hardly even available in stores. Hearty vegetables, stews, and fish (especially pickled herring) replaced the meat eaten throughout the rest of the year. This season of fasting was so much a part of French culture that some cookbooks labeled each recipe maigre (skinny / vegetarian) or gras (fat/ meaty) to show whether the recipe should be cooked during a fast or throughout the rest of the year.
And so, in an attempt to honor Lenten traditions of old, I made two recipes in A Continual Feast. Both were vegetarian. The first contains no eggs or dairy. The second is vegetarian, but still includes some dairy. I’ve made some alterations to the recipes in the cookbook.
Maltese Almond Cakes
1/8 cup slivered almonds
3 1/2 cups white flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1+ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp lemon extract
Grated rind or 2 lemons
Grated rind of 2 oranges
About 1 1/2 cups of water
Toast the almonds on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Grind one-third of the almonds.
Mix the almonds with the dry ingredients. Add lemon extract and gradually add enough water to make a stiff dough. Form the dough into two logs, about 7 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.
Bake for 35 minutes on a greased or flour-coated cookie sheet.
Optional: while they are still warm, brush with honey and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
Let the logs cool for about 20 minutes, then cut them into 1/2 inch wide slices with a serrated knife.
And then, enjoy! I had to eat mine with a cappuccino as soon as it was ready to go.
French Onion Soup
3 1bs of onions
1/4 cup butter
1 L vegetable broth
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 bay leaves
2 tsp thyme
1/2 cup cooking red wine
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Worcester sauce
1 loaf of French bread
grated Gruyère/ mozzarella/ swiss/ parmesan cheese
Slice onions thinly. (If you have a mandolin, this will save you a lot of time.) Add onions to a large soup pot, with melted butter. Cook the onions until they are caramelized. (If you have too many onions, you may want to use a second pot to brown the onions in as well.) Add brown sugar to the onions at then end their cooking time to bring out their caramel flavour.
Add vegetable broth, wine, Worcester sauce, bay leaves, and thyme to the onions. Simmer for 10-20 minutes, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, grate the cheese. Gruyère is most authentic, but if you aren’t able to find it, a combination of parmesan and swiss or mozzarella cheese will do.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a slice of bread in each oven-proof bowl you will be using. Scoop some soup into each bowl and top with cheese. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Turn the oven on to broil for a short time to brown the tops of the soup.