‘Tis a gift to be simple this Lent
By Lois Rogers
Soups always had pride of place as a staple in The Monitor’s Lenten Recipe series and this year is no exception.
In fact, at a recent interfaith presentation explaining dietary laws observed by Catholics, Jews and Muslims, Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, director of the diocesan Office of Worship, described soup as the perfect light meal for Ash Wednesday, March 5, and all days of fast and abstinence.
As the first presenter in the Feb. 18 meeting of the popular Freehold area “Three Faiths Dialogue” series, Msgr. Sirianni, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold Township, noted that Lent was close at hand.
Msgr. Sirianni observed to the very diverse audience that while Catholics aren’t bound by the kind of stringent dietary restrictions many Jewish and Muslim faithful observe, beginning Ash Wednesday, they are called to enter into a season where simpler eating melds with the practice of faith.
Msgr. Sirianni, whose family owned and operated “Sirianni’s Friendly Cafe,” once a popular restaurant in the West End section of Long Branch, sent a wave of nostalgia cascading among a number of his parishioners attending the session in Manalapan’s Temple Shaari Emeth, as he described the foods that once were the hallmark of Lenten meals: scrambled eggs; fish sticks; macaroni and cheese and of course, soup.
As he went on to describe the Ash Wednesday culinary discipline of one simple meal and two smaller meals, he stressed that the key word is “simple,” noting to the knowing chuckles of the Catholics present – that dishes featuring shrimp and lobster really don’t meet the guidelines.
In interviews a few days later, Msgr. Sirianni spoke of entering the Lenten season with the ideal of “really making an effort to make simple meals. A hearty soup – lentil or vegetable barley – is ideal,” said Msgr. Sirianni.
He added that another ideal is to “come away from the meal not being stuffed but feeling a bit of hunger to be filled by the Lord. …” Faithful should ask themselves, he said, “do we go hog wild with lobster or shrimp or pull back for simple fare: eggs and toast with no butter; simple fish in a basic recipe.”
Eating simply on days of fast and abstinence is not to punish us, it’s to make us mindful of our dependency on God,” he said.
Since soups are such a staple at parishes and in the home throughout Lent, Msgr. Sirianni suggested a staple vegetable barley soup, and I added a butternut squash soup with curry that friends and family have been enjoying since I started sending them the recipe a couple of months back.
Underpinning them is a simple, nutritious and healthy basic vegetable broth that can be the baseline ingredient for just about any Lenten soup I can think of.
Time and again in the 18 years I’ve been writing Lenten recipes for The Monitor – with Msgr. Sirianni as a liturgical consultant – I’ve followed the Church guidelines which permit the use of broth made from meat, fowl or fish. But the use of these ingredients has always prompted reader reaction from those who say it’s not in keeping with Church teaching.
So this year, I researched and came up with a “how to” on making vegetable broth. Use it for the two soup recipes included here.
Directions: In a very large stockpot, put in a melange of fresh vegetables you have on hand or like – I used chopped onions, celery, carrots, chopped peppers and tomatoes, sliced fennel (one of my favorite ingredients) sliced zucchini; green beans; sliced cabbage; mashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper and herbs (especially parsley) to taste.
Pour in one gallon of water – I like to use bottled water for soup – and heat to boiling then lower to simmer, stirring occasionally for at least an hour. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the broth to cool, then pour it through a strainer. You should have enough broth two make both of the following soups:
1 ½ cups barley
¼ cup olive oil
6 diced carrots
4 sweet onions, diced
6 diced celery stalks
4 – 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 – 15.5-ounce cans drained chickpeas
8 cups vegetable stock
Directions: Cook the barley according to package directions; meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot; add the carrots, celery, onions, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and 8 cups of vegetable stock. Simmer until the soup has thickened a bit – 45 to 60 minutes. Stir in the chick peas and cooked barley and cook until heated.
Curried Squash Soup
6 cups cubed butternut squash or two boxes of frozen butternut squash, thawed
Olive oil to taste
1 tsp. butter
salt to taste
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 tsp. yellow curry powder
dash of ground cumin
4 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
½ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
parsley or cilantro for garnish
Directions if using fresh squash: Heat 1Tbsp. olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and then, if using freshly cubed squash, add gently to the pot, spreading it out evenly and letting it cook until it gets (slightly) browned. Remove from pot and set aside.
To the pot, add another tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onions and cook until softened. Add the curry powder, cumin and ginger and cook for a minute or so.
Return the squash to the pot, add the vegetable stock and 1tsp. salt and simmer for 40 minutes or until the squash is tender. Then blend the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.
Directions if using frozen squash: When squash is thoroughly thawed, combine olive oil and onions in the stock pot and cook until softened. Then add the curry powder, cumin and ginger and cook for a minute or so. Add the squash, vegetable stock and 1 tsp. salt and simmer for about 20 minutes. Then blend the soup until smooth.
Serve with dollops of sour cream or yogurt.