For years, the fish fry at our parish took care of cooking for me on Friday nights during Lent. Our family would pray Stations of the Cross and then head downstairs for fish, vegetables and shrimp gumbo.
But thanks to pandemic shutdowns over the past two years, I’ve been left to my own devices in the kitchen on Lenten Fridays. I quickly ran into some challenges, but the biggest one was variety since I found myself rotating between cheese pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Hungry for some variations (and missing that gumbo), I asked friends for their favorite recipes, combed the internet, and checked out a few cookbooks from the library. It took a little trial and error, but now I have an arsenal of meatless meals that I use during Lent and throughout the year.
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And yes, I still throw a cheese pizza in the rotation at least once a month for ease (and the fact that it’s sometimes the only thing my picky three year-old will eat).
Looking for some fresh ways to fry up your fish, or some fishless alternatives? Here are my go-to meatless recipes that make for a successful Friday evening in the kitchen:
Curry butternut squash soup
Cozy soups paired with warm chunks of bread are wonderful for those first Fridays in Lent. At least here in the Midwest, it’s still a little chilly, and a warm bowl of soup takes the edge off the last few weeks of winter.
This curry soup recipe that I discovered on Allrecipes pairs perfectly with naan bread, and sometimes I substitute the topping of sour cream with a scoop of goat cheese for a creamier texture.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 (2 pound) butternut squash — peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ cup half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ¼ cup sour cream, or to taste (optional)
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Cook and stir onion and garlic in hot butter until softened and browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir chicken broth, squash, curry powder, salt, cumin and cayenne pepper into the onion mixture. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir half-and-half and honey into the squash mixture.
- Pour squash mixture into a blender no more than half full. Cover and hold lid down; pulse a few times before leaving on to blend. Puree in batches until smooth. Ladle soup into serving bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream.
Last year, Emily Stimpson Chapman shared her favorite meatless dishes as a fundraiser for the Sisters of Life. Over the course of Lent, readers raised over $6,000 and cooked along with Emily. Every single recipe she shared that Lent was golden and is in the usual rotation in my home during the Lenten season, but her easy oven baked Caprese sandwiches are my favorite. You can check out all of the recipes that she shared over on her website.
If you’re a gardener, hold onto this recipe for the summer because it’s the perfect way to use all of those extra tomatoes, and fresh basil makes an amazing addition to this sandwich.
- Ciabatta rolls, 4
- Basil pesto, ½ cup
- Fresh whole milk mozzarella, 8 ounces
- Roma tomatoes, 2-4 depending on size (or whatever you can get)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit and line an extra large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Thinly slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
- Divide the rolls in half, lightly brush the insides with olive oil; place on a baking sheet with the insides facing up.
- Toast them on the middle rack of the oven for 5 minutes.
- Remove them from the oven. On the top of each roll, spread 2 tablespoons of basil pesto; on the bottom half of each roll, place 2 ounces of fresh mozzarella, followed by a single layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and a little freshly ground pepper.
- Return them to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
- Remove them from the oven, assemble the sandwiches and serve.
The quiche recipe I love making from Well Plated is crustless, which can make for a light dinner. I also love making it when I’m hosting friends who don’t eat gluten. If you’re looking for something more substantial, try a quiche that includes a pastry dough crust like this one from Spend with Pennies.
- 6 large eggs
- ⅔ cup whole milk
- ¼ cup half-and-half
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard optional
- Pinch ground nutmeg optional
- 1 ½ cups mix-ins of choice (broccoli, onions, roasted veggies, etc.)
- ⅔ cup grated Gruyère cheese (or swap in fontina, sharp cheddar or smoked mozzarella)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a deep 9-inch pie dish with nonstick spray.
- Prepare any mix-ins.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, half-and-half, salt, pepper, mustard and nutmeg. Scatter the mix-ins evenly across the bottom of the prepared pie dish. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
- Carefully pour the egg mixture into the dish. Place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the chives over the top.
- Bake the quiche on the baking sheet until the center is set, about 35 minutes. It should look puffed and golden at the edges, and when a thin, sharp knife is inserted in the center, the center should be cooked through without visible liquid. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting it into big wedges. Enjoy warm.
What I love the most about smoothies is that there’s really no one right way to make them. You can include fruits, vegetables and a huge variety of other mixins. Often when I make a smoothie, it’s just made using whatever leftover produce I have in my refrigerator.
This recipe for orange julius from Jessica Gavin is one of my go-to smoothies that reminds me of one that my mom used to make me, but there are endless combinations you can use. Feeling a little intimidated by smoothies? I found this quick guide helpful!
- 1 cup ice cubes
- 1 medium frozen banana
- ½ cup plain greek yogurt
- ½ cup orange juice
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Orange zest, from 1 orange
- 1 large orange, peeled and segmented
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
- 1 teaspoon honey, maple syrup or agave
- Add ice, banana, yogurt, orange juice, vanilla, orange zest, oranges, ground flaxseed and honey in a blender.
- Process until smooth, about 60 to 90 seconds.
Herby fish cakes
A few fun twists in this fish cake recipe from Leanne Brown’s new cookbook, “Good Enough: Embracing the Joy of Imperfection and Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen” (Workman Publishing, $19.95), make me excited to try this recipe out for the first time this Lent. I love the bright green color that the herbs create, and you can put them on top of greens or potatoes for a more complete meal.
- 1 shallot, roughly chopped, or ½ cup chopped red onion
- 2 scallions, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
- 2 garlic scapes (optional)
- 1 pound cod or other white fish, thawed if frozen, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
Chipotle mayo, for serving:
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- Place the shallot, scallions, cilantro, mint and garlic scapes, if using, in a food processor and blitz until you have a fairly fine paste. Add the cod, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise and salt, and pulse a few times until the fish is broken up and smooth but not a complete paste. You want the patties to have some texture.
- Scoop the mixture into a large bowl and mix everything together with your hands evenly to distribute the components. Divide the mixture into eight equal clumps and form each clump into a small patty.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron pan over medium heat. Add half of the fish cakes, or as many comfortably fit, to the pan and cook until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove the fish cakes from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and repeat until all the cakes have been cooked.
- Make the chipotle mayo: Place the mayonnaise, adobo sauce, and the lemon juice in a small bowl and mix well. Serve the fish cakes with a squeeze of lemon over the top, alongside the bowl of chipotle mayo.
Breakfast for dinner is the perfect Lenten Friday meal, and passing on the bacon makes it a true sacrifice for some of us! If you find yourself with some leftovers, put them in the fridge and warm them up using your toaster on Saturday morning.
You can throw together pancakes using a box mix from the grocery store, or go all in using this buttermilk pancake recipe from the New York Times.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 ½ cups buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Vegetable, canola or coconut oil for the pan
- Heat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt together in a bowl. Using the whisk, make a well in the center. Pour the buttermilk into the well and crack eggs into buttermilk. Pour the melted butter into the mixture. Starting in the center, whisk everything together, moving toward the outside of the bowl, until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not overbeat (lumps are fine). The batter can be refrigerated for up to one hour.
- Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet, preferably cast-iron, over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Turn heat up to medium-low and, using a measuring cup, ladle ⅓ cup batter into the skillet. If you are using a large skillet or a griddle, repeat once or twice, taking care not to crowd the cooking surface.
- Flip pancakes after bubbles rise to surface and bottoms brown, about 2 to 4 minutes. Cook until the other sides are lightly browned. Remove the pancakes to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet, and keep in a heated oven until all the batter is cooked and you are ready to serve.
“Elotes” means “corn on the cob” in Spanish. On the streets of Mexico, you’ll find street vendors selling Mexican elote, which is corn smothered in a sauce made out of mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, chili powder and lime juice.
Make elotes into a meal by creating an elotes bowl. This is another recipe that I picked up from Leanne Brown’s newest cookbook, “Good Enough: Embracing the Joy of Imperfection and Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen.”
You can use ears of corn for this recipe, or go the easier and quicker route by substituting canned or frozen corn.
- 4 ears of corn
- 2 15 ½ oz cans of black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups of chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup crumbled cotija or feta cheese, or grated parmesan
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
- Set the oven to broil
- Shuck the ears of corn, making sure to get rid of all the stringy bits. Place the cobs on a sheet pan and broil them for 5 to 10 minutes. Check on them often, and turn them every couple of minutes so that they cook evenly and get a few brown spots all over. Leave the cobs longer if you like a more charred flavor.
- Once the corn is cooked and cooled enough to touch, cut the kernels off the cob: Hold each cob by the green knob at the end and point it down over a large bowl. Cut down the side of the cob with your knife, letting the kernels fall into the bowl, and turning occasionally to get all of them.
- Add the beans, tomatoes, cilantro and cheese to the bowl, and mix.
- Place the lime juice, mayonnaise and adobo sauce in a small bowl, and stir to mix. Taste and adjust the dressing, adding more mayo if you want it creamier, more adobo if you want it spicier, or more lime juice if you want it tangier.
- Pour the dressing over the salad, toss to combine, and serve.