Lent is not a season we often associate with savory foods. It is, after all, a time of penance, purgation, and self-restraint. A first reaction to a “Lenten Cookbook” might be one of surprise: if we’re thinking of food at all, it should be bread crusts and baked potatoes!
But think again. Precisely because Lent is a season of fasting, we become more conscious of the life-giving importance of food. This intentionality is the motivation behind Scott Hahn’s “Lenten Cookbook,” released Jan. 25 by Sophia Institute Press.
Fasting implies the good of the thing being avoided. You only fast from something that is objectively good. That’s what makes it a sacrifice. Therefore, food is an unequivocally good and holy thing—nutrients nourish our bodies, and the process of cooking allows us to participate in little acts of creation, which is our divine inheritance.
Lent, therefore, becomes a time to develop and elevate our relationship with food. Beyond penance, the Lenten season is a meditative time in which we consider the true meaning of sacramentality through the implementation of sacramental practices. Cooking is one such practice that connects body and soul.
Soup is among the most elementary of foods. It is found in nearly every ancient culture and serves as a foundational building block of cuisines. It has been celebrated in the popular keto diet for its all-natural, healing properties, and allows for creativity and cultural variations in a way that other foods do not.
Think of the way that soup recipes came into existence in the first place—by throwing whatever was available into the pot, not only making it a frugal and sacrificial meal, but also emblematic of a specific time and place.
Most of the soups featured in this innovative book are Lent-friendly vegetarian, and include special modifications to make the meal acceptable for days of fasting. You won’t regret taking the time to prepare these soups, be they the variations of tried-and-true favorites or the imaginative originals from famous “Swiss Guard Chef” David Geisser.
Caramelized onions, butter, potatoes, and cream—this perennial comfort food is perfect for the still wintry days of Lent, and a great cultural anchor for everyone’s favorite feast day of Lent—St. Patrick’s Day!
Cold Tomato Soup
Reminiscent of warmer summer days, this vitamin-packed, citrusy twist-on-a-classic will ward off the flu and the winter blues alike. As we focus on purifying and healing body and soul leading up to Holy Week, we’re encouraged to make a conscious effort to honor God’s creation by being intentional about the foods we choose for our bodies.
Bouillon with Ginger and Noodles
This recipe reflects Chinese culture and flavors. Cooking this soup is an occasion of gratitude that these ingredients are available worldwide and a reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to practice our faith freely here in the west. Moreover, it’s an opportunity to pray for those persecuted for the faith throughout the world.
As we prepare physically and liturgically for the Passion and Resurrection, cooking is an activity that hardwires the practice of preparation into our daily habits. Carrots are a popular vegetable grown in home gardens, so in a way, the preparation of this sweet soup begins when the seeds are planted. Wholly refreshing, we enjoy this colorful classic with an awareness of our need to plant seeds of virtue and cultivate them throughout our lives.
Pot-au-Feu-Style Vegetable Stew with Sea Bass
A pot au feu is a traditional French dish that is cooked as a stew but often served separately as distinct courses. This process calls to mind the beloved fable “Stone Soup,” in which poor villagers create together a hearty soup out of nothing because each villager contributes what he can.
It is a meal that reminds us of the communal aspect of Lent as a season of almsgiving and good works.
Red Beet Broth with Curd Dumplings (full recipe)
Beets, known for their heart-healthy properties and packed with antioxidants, are the foundation of this dish. This soup is inspired by borscht, a traditional Eastern European recipe with particular vegetarian Lenten variations.
There is certainly merit in embracing traditional cuisine and observing Lent in the way our forebears did. Incorporating traditional wisdom into our spiritual and corporeal works is a sure way to make the most of Lent.
¼ cup (50 g) chives, sliced into thin rings
½ cup (120 g) sour cream
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons (10 g) butter, melted
2 tablespoon white flour
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 large red beet, cooked
3½ cups (800 mL) vegetable broth
Mix the chives, sour cream, egg yolk, butter, and flour and stir until smooth. Season the sour cream mixture with sea salt and pepper. Using two tablespoons, form dumplings out of the sour cream mixture and cook them in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, peel the beet and cut into slices; then cut the slices into thin strips. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil and add the beet strips. Divide the soup into bowls, lift the sour cream dumplings out of the salted water, let them drain a bit, and add them to the hot soup
In addition to generating productive penance, Lenten fasting helps strengthen the will, and tackling new recipes serves as a wonderful exercise in creativity, concentration and restraint.
Soups are the perfect food for this special time of preparation. They allow for complexity in their simplicity, much like a rich and consistent prayer life. Soup as a meal suggests a return to the fundamental and the essential.
May your Lenten penance be enriched with gratitude, intentionality, and a renewed commitment to the sacramental life. Bon appetit!