Simplicity is key ingredient in Lenten meals - Catholic Courier
Black bean and corn tacos are a fast, easy-to-prepare option for meatless meals. Black bean and corn tacos are a fast, easy-to-prepare option for meatless meals.

Simplicity is key ingredient in Lenten meals

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On Fridays in Lent, crowds of Catholics line up for the neighborhood fish fry.

But what do you eat if you don’t like fish?

And why fish, and not meat, on Lenten Fridays?

Canon law and varying Lenten regulations over the years have helped to perpetuate a tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays and other times during Lent.

For one thing, in many cultures, meat was a luxury that was not consumed every day, said Father Joe Marcoux, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca. Economic considerations also may have motivated meatless meals, he said.

“My understanding is, our Spanish brothers and sisters were really financially strapped, and the pope helped them out by having fish on Friday,” he said, noting that Spanish fishermen benefited from the meatless regulations.

For those who are not inclined to eat fish, Father Marcoux, who worked as a chef in Rochester and New York City before becoming a priest, suggested people could try recipes from the cookbooks of Ithaca’s renowned vegetarian restaurant, The Moosewood Restaurant. He also suggested protein-packed bean dishes or ratatouille — a stewed tomato-eggplant French staple — as alternatives to fish. Father Marcoux said people also may choose additional penitential acts, such as fasting from their smartphone or computer.

He noted that fasting and abstinence during Lent should be motivated by wanting to be in solidarity with the poor.

“The spiritual side of this is to connect to those who don’t have enough food,” he said, noting that prayers can make fasting and abstinence easier to maintain. A group effort also can make fasting easier, he said. At his parish, parishioners have set up a fasting calendar so they can take turns fasting throughout all of Lent.

“It’s hard to fast if you are not accustomed to fasting,” Father Marcoux said. “The more you fast, the easier it is.”

Catholic Relief Services’ annual CRS Rice Bowl program also offers tools to help people fast. The program provides prayers, reflections and recipes through the website or a new CRS Rice Bowl mobile app available through app stores.

CRS Rice Bowl recipes this year encourage people to live and eat in solidarity with those from Kenya, Guatemala, Philippines, Malawi and Haiti, and the site also provides information about CRS’ relief efforts in each of those countries.

Simple rice bowls with vegetables are a dietary staple for local Catholic Emily Brasley, 25, who became a vegetarian 13 years ago due to her love for animals. She said people also can get inspired by vegetarian foods from different cultures, such as some Indian and Asian dishes.

“I’ve tried foods I had never thought of trying before,” said Brasley, who lives in Rochester. “I have tried new grains like quinoa or vegetables like kale, and alternative proteins like tofu and tempeh.”

Brasley said for those who are already vegetarian, Lent might be a time for them to try simplifying their meals even more.

“Some people might give up alcohol or even go vegan,” said Brasley. Vegans are vegetarians that abstain from all animal products, including dairy and eggs.

According to a Lenten Practices question-and-answer page on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website,, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, abstaining from meat means not eating birds and land animals such as chickens, cows, sheep and pigs.

Technically, Catholics are not required to abstain from meat juices or liquid foods made from meat, including soups with meat broths, gravies and seasonings made from animal fat, the site says. But the Lenten Practices page notes that moral theologians have traditionally taught that Catholics should abstain from all animal-derived products, except those without a meat taste, such as butter, cheese, eggs and gelatin. Fish, too, are allowable, as are shellfish, amphibians and reptiles, according to the USCCB.

“While fish, lobster and other shellfish are not considered meat and can be consumed on days of abstinence, indulging in the lavish buffet at your favorite seafood place sort of misses the point,” the USCCB Lenten Practices question-and-answer notes. “Abstaining from meat and other indulgences during Lent is a penitential practice. On the Fridays of Lent, we remember the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday and unite ourselves with that sacrifice through abstinence and prayer.”

Meatless meals play a prominent role in the Solemnity of St. Joseph. To mark the feast day of Jesus’ earthly father, many people of Italian heritage host St. Joseph’s Tables, which are said to date back to a severe drought in Sicily in the Middle Ages. People in Sicily asked their patron, St. Joseph, to intervene, and they promised a big feast in his honor if rains came.

“The rain did come and the crops did grow,” said Nancy Lader, who helps coordinate the St. Joseph’s Table for St. John the Evangelist Church in Greece. This year’s table will be from 1 to 3 p.m. March 16 at the church, 2400 W. Ridge Road.

In gratitude, Sicilians set up large tables with altars, with an image of St. Joseph, and many different kinds of foods to invite all, especially the poor, to come and feast. Lader said greens and beans and the soup pasta fagioli are staple dishes of the St. Joseph’s Table. The tables often include special altar breads, oranges, a variety of Italian cookies, and fava beans, a symbol of good luck.

“A lot of times there are not many leftovers, but if there are, they are supposed to be given to the poor, and there is a donation box for money to give to the poor,” Lader said.

This year, the Solemnity of St. Joseph falls on a Wednesday, March 19, which also marks one year since Pope Francis began his pontificate. In his Lenten message for 2014, the Pope called on the faithful to follow the example of Jesus in embracing poverty and simplicity.

“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty,” Pope Francis wrote in his Lenten message. “Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance.”

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