Do you celebrate the fast of Lent? I was chatting with my friends the other day and realised that many people, regardless of faith, use the season as an opportunity to cut back and reflect in different ways. Even within Christian communities, Lenten traditions vary from place to place: some cut out rich foods and sugars, others cut out meat (allowing fish) while others become completely vegetarian. Others cut out a specific ‘treat’ such as chocolate.
Personally, I combine the practices of fasting and alms giving: this year I’m cutting back to simpler, less luxurious foods and cutting out ‘cafe coffees’ – I’m using the difference I save to purchase items to donate to Ealing Food Bank.
Skipping Starbucks and Costas has been relatively easy, but now I have an opinionated threenager I’ve had to get creative with my budget meals. If you look in books like Delia’s Frugal Food long, slow preparation is often lauded as the best way: if you’re working or have to factor in fuel bills, it isn’t always. And whilst fishfingers and beans might be cheap, pescetarian and swift to prepare, I can’t be eating nothing but that until April. Himself and Childe definitely could. Just not me.
So here are some of my recipe ideas for Lent – cheap, easy dinners everyone will enjoy – useful if you’re fasting or just want some budget friendly family meals.
1: Tomato And Anchovy Pasta
One of my go-to weeknight suppers involves frying some bacon lardons with plenty of fresh tomato and herbs, then tossing through pasta. During Lent (or any time I haven’t got bacon) it is easy to substitute anchovies for that flavour hit. Don’t worry about the anchovies being too apparent – used sparingly, they melt into the sauce completely.
This recipe by Martha Stewart is easy – but mine is even simpler: just fry the anchovies and tomatoes together while the pasta cooks and combine. Offer some grated cheese at the table. Also, squashy forgotten-in-the-fridge tomatoes work perfectly for this (add some capers to make a puttanesca sauce) because there is no fridge in the toddler world without them lurking inside, is there?
2: Lentil Dal
OK that is a tautology but, as someone (partly) of Anglo-Indian descent, we do really love being wordy. We also err on the ‘meat free’ side during Lent, and dal (usually red dal) is a great favourite. You can serve it with a range of rices, vegetables or even string hoppers (steamed fine rice noodles). I like mine with any flat bread and semi-hard-boiled egg.
Almost all of the recipes I’ve seen for ‘basic dal’ are too complex to be considered quick and easy, although this one by Madhur Jaffrey is pretty similar to how I make mine. I’m not a food blogger and so frankly I’m not going to give you my family recipe, mainly because then I would have to hunt you all down and swear you to secrecy and I just don’t have the time for that.
Let’s go old-school student with this! If your fast involves simplicity and cost, these toastie recipes are ideal (and indeed, if you’ve given up anything except maybe cheese!). Pair them with salad, chips or even beans. The other great thing about these is, unless someone has Childe’s unholy aversion to sandwiches (weird) then everyone will gobble them up, regardless of the fact they took zero effort and are made with more fridge leftovers.
4: Butter Pie
This is something Himself craves during Lent. It’s a traditional dish from Lancashire: most recipes I’ve found online are encased in pastry because it’s … umm … a pie. But apparently this isn’t how it was done by his Grandmother, who would cook the filling very dry and serve it with bread (barm cake) – I know this is a tradition but can’t find the recipe. What I do is layer potato, butter (lots) and onion in a slow cooker with salt, pepper and a tiny bit of nutmeg and leave it on all day and then go and buy some bread rolls (because I’m from London). Sometimes we add carrot because that’s another family quirk, but not always.
5: Woolton Pie
This is another root vegetable pie, created out of rationing in WW2 by The Savoy and named after Lord Woolton. The original version lacked flavour and fell out of favour as soon as other ingredients became available, but I’ve found that now we have such wonders as Knorr Stock Pots, Dunns River Everyday Seasoning and Marigold Boullion (as well as – until the kitchen fell on us – a fully stocked spice rack) you can adjust the seasoning far better than you could before. I also use milk to make the sauce, not water: it comes out as a really filling vegetable pie this way.
I hope you enjoy these simple meals, whenever you might use them. It’s a law of family life, I’ve found, that the likelihood a meal is to be a hit is inversely proportional to the effort that went into it. So maybe I should stick with fish fingers and toasties?
Do you take part in Lent, and if so, how do you do it?