Sunday, March 6, 2011

Helpful Lenten Staple Recipes

During Lent, whether you use "substitutes" (you know, soy/rice/almond/etc. milk, margarine, soy meats, and the like?) is your business.  However, I would guess that some days, the simplest thing to do is to have cereal with a milk product for breakfast, to get those veggies into their diet raw with some kind of dip, and that bread and butter/margarine (my Dad calls it "lubricant") will have to do for the lion's share of their dinner because there's no way they are eating more than "five bites 'cause you're five" of that lovely veggie soup you made. 

Apples are good for you.  Unless they happened to be poisoned á la Snow White!! (Happens a lot in our house.)
It's not my job to tell anyone else how to fast.  The church gives guidelines, and our parish priests interpret them for us in our particular situations.  Thank God that this burden does not rest on our shoulders!

As Fr. Schmemann is often quoted, "The purpose of fasting is to be hungry."  Along those lines, we are also called on to think less about food and to use less time and money to prepare it.  We are to replace those thoughts with more prayer, use our extra time to attend more services, and give our excess food funds to the poor.

While I don't often do much in the way of actually following the food guidelines (since I am a nursing Mom of young kids with a dispensation not to fast) I still think of this as a fasting time.  I make a Lenten dinner for our family, and some years, the kids and I try to give up meat.  The other parts of the fast—thinking less about food and using less time to prepare it—are things I can attempt. 

That being said, we still have to eat often—usually about every two hours!  Being somewhat frugally inclined, I (try to) homemake much of what we consume, and well, reducing the thought, time, and money required to prepare that much food every day is tricky.  If I am to think less about food in spite of the frequency we need it every day, then sometimes the way to do that is to make something easy, something I know, which often requires something in the dairy department. (I can't make something my kids hate every night for dinner.)

Unlike St. Nicholas, this baby does not refuse the breast twice a week.  His chubby knees make that obvious.

I have never met anyone who goes through fasting periods without some kind of non-dairy milk in the fridge, so I am going to share a recipe for making this at home.  Personally, I try to avoid soy because I've read that too much of it can play with hormones in bad ways.  I'm not a fanatic, but since I don't want my (or really, my husband's) entire lenten diet to be something like soymilk for breakfast, tofu dogs for lunch, and soy chik'n strips for dinner (with soy shreds on top), I try to get other things where I can.

Milk-wise, though, there are not a lot of options that also provide any protein.  Rice and almond milks taste better and don't contain soy, but at about 1 gram protein per cup, there's just not much there.

Since we have some dairy allergies in the family, I've had a lot of practice substituting in various recipes.  As a prelude to the non-dairy milk recipe, here is a recipe for Cashew Sour Cream that we use in things like stroganoff or Ranch Dip.  I list this first (even though it's less of a "staple") because I find the technique helpful for the non-dairy milk recipe.  Both of these were shared in my Mom's parish's collection of Lenten recipes.

Cashew Sour Cream
by Ruth Baum (my Mom)

1 cup RAW cashew pieces (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, etc...)
1 cup cold water
3/4 tsp. salt + 1/4 tsp. onion powder (OR 1 tsp. onion salt)
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup lemon juice

Combine in a blender: cashews, water, salt, and onion powder.  Blend until VERY smooth.  Then, while blender is running on HIGH, slowly drizzle in the oil (this technique creates an emulsion—which is a big word for the texture of something like mayonnaise—and helps it not to separate later).  Empty the contents of blender into a storage container and stir in lemon juice.  Refrigerate several hours before serving.  Makes 2 3/4 cups.  
For soup or sauce recipes calling for heavy cream or half and half, leave out the lemon juice.  Can also be used in place of ricotta to make a vegan lasagna.

For a good Ranch Dip recipe, visit the Hillbilly Housewife and scroll down.  I use the half mayo/half sour cream variation, combined with the seasonings from the Yogurt Ranch Dressing recipe.

Now, I've been using this recipe for a while.  I got to thinking that if I changed the recipe somewhat, I could probably come up with a non-dairy milk recipe.  Then I remembered that my Mom had come up with one of those too.  And that I'd used it before, long ago.  At the time, I made it with cooked white rice, which doesn't have the nice flavor or creaminess of raw cashews, lacks the higher protein content, and has to be cooked first.  Blah.

More babies.  Top: me (red shirt) with a friend.  Bottom: My grandmother (and namesake) with my father.
Cashew Milk
by Ruth Baum (with my variations)

1 cup raw cashews (may substitute other raw nuts or seeds or cooked grains—some substitutions may need to soak over night to get a smooth texture)
1 cup cold water
1 T honey (or 2 T if you like a sweeter non-dairy beverage)
1/2 tsp. vanilla (or more to taste if you want "vanilla milk")
1/4 tsp. salt
2 T oil
2 1/4 c. additional cold water

My Mom's recipe simply says, "Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth."  Try that if you like. I feel more assured of smoothness by following the same technique as for Cashew Sour Cream.  So, add the cashews through the salt and blend that until smooth.  Then, with the blender running, drizzle in the oil.  Once you are satisfied with the texture and smoothness, add in the rest of the water and blend again to fully incorporate it.  This should produce a quart of Cashew Milk.  Refrigerate and serve chilled.  Although, you can use it in coffee too—or mix half and half with the above (un-soured) Cashew Cream recipe... but is that starting to get too complicated?
*****Additional Note on the Cashew Milk: it will separate in the fridge.  Just give it a stir and everything will be fine.*****

If you follow these proportions, you end up with about 5 grams of protein per cup (a little less that the 8 grams in real milk, but better than the 1 gram in rice or almond!).  You can leave out the oil if you prefer less fat or are fasting from oil, although the cashews themselves do contain fat.  Actually, with their 12 grams of fat, maybe the oil isn't necessary?  Maybe the whole "drizzle while running" step could be skipped?  I'd still start with the one cup of water to get the mixture as smooth as possible and then add the rest of the water.

I would say that the above qualifies as a substitute. " which, being a man of little imagination, he failed" (Dickens).

Finally, yesterday afternoon, at about 4PM, I had (amazingly) already finished making our Mexican Corn Chowder for dinner.  I wanted some kind of bread to go with it.  But I didn't want to do a true cornbread because that seemed redundant.  I didn't have any QuickRise Yeast to make a quick breadmachine recipe.  I didn't want biscuits, and I was trying to save our sliced bread for sandwiches or morning toast.  I finally tried this recipe from Mark Bittman's tome How to Cook Everything, which I highly recommend.  Great recipes for simple food.  Actually, on the cover it says "Simple recipes for great food."  You will find both in this book.

Not a baby.  One of my paternal great-grandmothers.

This recipe has it all: whole wheat flour, no yeast (so it's quick), and then I noticed it doesn't call for any eggs or oil, just milk.  I used Cashew Milk.

Quick Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread
by Mark Bittman (with a few notes by me)

butter or oil (margarine) for greasing the pan
1 2/3 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt, or 1 1/2 c. milk + 2 T. white vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat from Trader Joe's)
1/2 c. cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. molasses

Preheat oven to 325ºF.  Grease and 8X4-inch or 9X5-inch loaf pan.

Add the vinegar to the milk and let rest (Bittman advises to warm the milk gently, but I didn't, although it wasn't fridge temp either).

Mix the dry ingredients.  Stir molasses into the milk mixture.  Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients, then pour into the loaf pan.  Bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour (mine was done in 45 minutes).  Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  (Ooops… I removed from the pan and then cooled… make sure to cool it somehow before slicing though, or it will probably fall apart).

Very molasses-y, but if your kids like brown sugar and are somewhat accustomed to whole wheat bread and corn bread, they should like this.  My five-year-old did.  Bittman says you can even use this for sandwhich bread, although as a quick bread, it would be a bit crumbly.  It was great leftover for breakfast this morning with margarine and jam! (And actually, for protein, with some mild cheddar cheese sliced on top of the jam... sounds weird, but it was good!)

There you go!  If I have another burst of free time (read: time in my PJs while one or more kids are sick), I'll try to post my lenten menu for this year.

Two of my sickies.  Although, this was taken when they were well.  My kids are not that happy when they are sick.


  1. Wow! What a lot of helpful hints. Thanks!

  2. I'm going to try these recipes- thank you!

  3. You're welcome! Hope they turn out well!

  4. I added a note to the Cashew Milk recipe... when it separates in the fridge, just give it a stir before serving. ;)

  5. You inspired me to jot down my ideas, thank you!


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