Lent, the period of fasting in preparation for Easter, has been on the church calendar since the first or second century. These days were spread out in various ways by different churches before settling into the Ash Wednesday-to-Holy Saturday, minus Sundays, pattern in the seventh century.
Not all early Christians fasted in the same way. The Greek historian Socrates (380-450) records, "Some abstain from every sort of creature that has life, while others of all the living creatures eat of fish only. Others eat birds as well as fish, because, according to the Mosaic account of the Creation, they too sprang from the water; others abstain from fruit covered by a hard shell and from eggs. Some eat dry bread only, others not even that; others again when they have fasted to the ninth hour (three o'clock) partake of various kinds of food."
The fast grew stricter as Easter approached; the typical Holy Week diet consisted of dry food, bread, salt and vegetables.
Of course, almost as soon as dietary restrictions were put in place, people started looking for ways to evade them. Many medieval churches allowed parishioners to eat eggs and milk products during Lent in exchange for pious acts or charitable contributions.
Another Lenten innovation was the pretzel. Christians in the Roman Empire made this simple bread treat out of flour, salt and water -- no eggs, milk, or other forbidden ingredients required. Then they folded it in the shape of two arms crossed in prayer. They called the bread "bracellae," or "little arms."
Later, German Christians called it "brezel" or "prezel," which is where we got our word for it.
The Bible gives no Lenten menu suggestions.
During the Lenten season, people search for alternatives to red meat, often forgetting about a low-fat, protein-packed option they probably already have in their cupboards -- seafood that is either canned or in a specially sealed pouch.
Pantry-ready seafood is an inexpensive and tasty option for Lenten recipes, according to Sharon McNerney, registered dietitian.
2 small fresh tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup minced onion
1 small zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (6-ounce) can chunk tuna, drained
4 medium egg whites
1 medium egg yolk
1 small pinch dry oregano leaves
1 pinch dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 pinch thyme
In skillet, sauté tomatoes, onion, zucchini and garlic in hot oil until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat. Flake tuna over vegetables and stir gently.
Beat together egg whites, yolk and herbs, then evenly spread over tuna and vegetable combination.
Over low heat, cover and cook about 5 minutes or until the eggs are firm and puffed, shaking skillet occasionally to loosen the frittata.
Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Makes four to six servings. Takes 10 minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to cook.
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
1 tablespoon water
1 (7.1-ounce) pouch skinless, boneless pink salmon (can substitute 2 (6-ounce) cans of salmon, drained for pouch)
6 (6-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Mexican-style cheese
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup cabbage mix (red and white cabbage with shredded carrots)
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup salsa
Combine taco seasoning with water. Heat mixture in wok or skillet on medium heat until heated through. Stir in salmon and heat until hot; drain and set aside. Spoon salmon mix into tortilla and top with cheese, onion, cabbage mix, tomatoes, salsa and a squeeze of lime. Serve immediately.
Serves six. Takes 15 minutes to prepare.
Seafood Ravioli with Pesto Cream Sauce
1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated spinach or cheese ravioli
1/3 cup prepared basil pesto
1/3 cup each sour cream and heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces to make about 1/2 cup
2 (6-ounce) cans chunk tuna, drained (can use canned salmon as well)
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Shaved or grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Cook ravioli according to directions on package, then drain. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, whisk together pesto, sour cream, whipping cream and lemon zest. Heat slowly on low until heated through, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and gently flake tuna into mixture. Heat, add salt and pepper to taste.
Gently fold ravioli into seafood sauce.
Divide onto two plates, topping each serving with half the pine nuts and Parmesan. Garnish with fresh basil.
It takes 20 minutes to make the two servings.
Information on Lent from "Food for the Soul?" by Elesha Coffman, March 2, 2001; recipes from Family Features.