News Column

Meatless Meals: Lent Observers Can Enjoy Filling, Healthy Entrees

Feb 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and it's time for those who observe the tradition to dig out their favorite recipes for meatless main dishes.

Some will find they actually feel better after weeks of limiting their meat intake and decide to continue the diet after the Lenten season is over.

There's even a name for those who are predominantly vegetarians but eat meat on occasion, explained Mary Ann O'Dell, a dietician for Akins Natural Foods. They are flexitarians.

"It can absolutely be a good thing," O'Dell said. "But it is like any diet. You still have to make good choices."

O'Dell said she eats meat and she is not opposed to eating meat, but other sources of proteins and other nutrients are available for people who choose to limit or abstain from meat intake.

"It is all about making sure that you get enough protein. But there are plenty of ways to get protein, such as eating soy, nuts and peanut butter," O'Dell said.

O'Dell also noted that if you decrease your meat intake, you should increase the amount of whole grains and fiber, such as fruit and vegetables.

"Of course, there are some people who will eat cheese pizza and vegetarian hot dogs," O'Dell said. "This is why you need to make good choices."

And for those who are observing Lent, the diet restrictions are also about being mindful or your lifestyle and improving yourself.

"So maybe taking the easy route with the foods that you choose is really not the point," she said.

And taking the easy route is what many chefs have done historically when preparing a vegetarian dish for a menu, noted Sam Bracken, chef and co-owner of The Canebrake resort in Wagoner.

Bracken's wife, Lisa, is a vegetarian, and Bracken takes care to make sure their restaurant offers plenty of filling and healthy vegetarian dishes.

"For so long, chefs just kind of served a plate of side dishes as a vegetarian option," Bracken said. "I think that mindset is kind of going away now."

Often chefs can be more creative with vegetarian dishes than they are with proteins, Bracken said, because they take the time to really consider the dish and plan to make it both filling and tasty.

The goal is to make the diners feel satiated by the meatless dish, Bracken said, but not heavy or sluggish.

Bracken shared some recipes for some of The Canebrake's popular vegetarian dishes. Here are three.

This colorful hash can be used for an entree or a fun side dish for another meal.


Root Vegetable Hash

2 purple potatoes

2 carrots

1 gold beet

3 parsnips

2 Yukon gold potatoes

1 sweet potato

oil as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

garlic powder to taste

2 minced garlic cloves

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1/2 cup diced onion

1/4 cup white wine

1. Cut all vegetables into a small dice and place in a mixing bowl. Toss the vegetables in oil just enough to coat them evenly.

2. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic. Spread the hash out evenly on cookie sheets. Place the hash in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes until vegetables are tender.

3. Place enough oil in a large saute pan to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and brown lightly. Add the hash to the pan and saute until lightly browned.

4. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and dry thyme. Set hash aside.

Wilted Greens

1 pound seasonal greens (chard, spinach, kale, etc.)

oil as needed

salt and pepper to taste

2 minced garlic cloves

1/4 cup white wine

1. Place enough oil in a saute pan to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the greens and garlic and saute until they begin to wilt. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook greens until they are completely wilted.

2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set greens aside.

Poached Eggs

8 eggs

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 ounces Gruyere

cracked black pepper

fresh parsley

lemon wedges

1. Fill a large sauce pan with 2 1/2 inches of water. Add the vinegar and bring the water to a gentle simmer just until bubbles begin to rise from the bottom of the pan.

2. Drop the eggs into the simmering water and cook to desired doneness.

3. To plate, place the hash in a pile in the center of the plate. Top the hash with the wilted greens. Place two eggs on top of the hash. With a vegetable peeler shave curls of Gruyere cheese onto the eggs.

4. Sprinkle eggs with cracked black pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley sprigs and lemon wedges.

- courtesy Sam Bracken, The Canebrake resort and restaurant

Meat-free traditions of Lent

As the Lenten season gets under way, so do the fish-fry dinners and vegetable soup suppers.

Lent is a time of soul-searching and repentance in preparation for Easter. The Lenten regulations for some Christian religions include abstaining from meat on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are designated days of fasting when followers will typically eat only one meal.

Dishes served during Lent often vary from region to region.

Empanada means "to bake in pastry" in Spanish. These bite-size pastries are the perfect vegetarian appetizer; serve with pico de gallo and sour cream. Chorizo is a classic Spanish sausage; soyrizo is the vegetarian substitute for chorizo. Unbaked empanadas will store well in the freezer, so they could be made in advance for a party.


Makes 12 servings

3/4 cup soyrizo

3/4 cup meatless crumbles (such as Boca Ground Crumbles)

1/4 cup onions, diced small

1 teaspoon dry oregano

oil as needed

1/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

Egg wash as needed

1. Place a no-stick pan over medium heat with enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the soyrizo, crumbles, onions and oregano into the pan. Sear mixture lightly.

2. Remove from heat and cool thoroughly. Fold the queso fresco into the cooled soyrizo mixture.

3. Cut 2-inch diameter circles with a cookie cutter from the puff pastry. Brush the circles with egg wash. Place a small amount of the soyrizo mixture into the center of the pastry circle. Fold the circle over to cover the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal.

4. Place the finished empanadas on a baking sheet. Freeze until the empanadas are firm.

5. Bake the frozen empanadas in a 400 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

- courtesy of Sam Bracken, The Canebrake resort and restaurant

Chef Sam Bracken said that this dish is a lighter take on a heavier French classic. The vegetables can be grilled in advance and chilled. Toss any leftover grilled vegetables in a vinaigrette for a summer salad.


Makes 8 servings

2 medium yellow squash, large dice

2 medium zucchini, large dice

1 small eggplant, large dice

1 red onion, large dice

2 bell peppers, large dice

1 tablespoon herbs de Provence blend

3 cups cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Olive oil as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, onion and bell pepper in a large bowl. Toss with enough oil to coat and season with the herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.

2. Place the seasoned vegetables into a grill basket and place onto the grill. Cook until they are lightly charred. Remove from the grill and set aside.

3. Add enough oil to a large saute pan to coat the bottom of the pan and place over medium heat. Place the tomatoes, garlic, basil and grilled vegetables in the saute pan. Saute until the tomatoes are softened and the grilled vegetables are warmed through.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

- courtesy of Chef Sam Bracken and The Canebrake


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 10-ounce package leaf spinach, thawed, drained, chopped

1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1 egg, beaten to blend

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

Salt and pepper

2 cups prepared spaghetti sauce

8 lasagna noodles, freshly cooked

1 1/4 cups grated mozzarella

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Cool. Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg and parsley in large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Spread 1 cup spaghetti sauce over bottom of 8-inch square baking dish. Pat 1 lasagna noodle dry with paper towel. Set on waxed paper sheet. Spread about 1/3 cup ricotta mixture over noodle. Carefully roll up noodle, starting at 1 short end, to enclose filling.

3. Arrange seam-side-down in prepared dish. Repeat with remaining noodles. Top with remaining 1 cup sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before continuing.) Bake until cheese melts, about 45 minutes.

- adapted from Bon Appetit

Comfort food, reconsidered: Less pasta, a lighter sauce, more broccoli (even the stems are included), and whole-wheat bread crumbs add up to a much more wholesome dish.


Makes 6

2 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread

1 head broccoli (about 1 pound), cut into florets, stems peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

8 ounces whole-wheat fusilli pasta

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground mustard

4 cups skim milk

1/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, pureed in a food processor

4 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse bread in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Transfer to a baking sheet and toast 8 minutes, tossing halfway through.

2. Cook broccoli in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Add pasta to pot, and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than package instructions. Drain.

3. Wipe pot clean. Add olive oil and heat over medium. Saute onion, stirring, until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add flour and ground mustard. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in milk in a slow, steady stream. Bring to a boil. Cook, whisking, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheeses and season with salt and pepper.

4. Stir broccoli and pasta into sauce. Divide mixture among six 1 1/2-cup baking dishes; top with bread crumbs. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until bubbling and tops are browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

- Martha Stewart Living, Meatless: More Than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes

Here is a recipe that Mary Ann O'Dell makes. It includes tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans that are cooked in a mold. It is less processed than tofu, so it has more protein and fiber than tofu. Look for it in health-food stores in the refrigerated section.


1 pound tempeh, sliced into thin short strips

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup sliced onion

3 cups sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt

cooked pasta or brown rice

1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Saute tempeh until golden brown. Remove tempeh from pan and set aside.

2. Saute mushrooms and onion in same pan, adding oil if needed and cooking until onions soften.

3. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes until flour has browned slightly and coated mushroom mixture.

4. Stir in broth, vinegar, mustard and paprika. Cook until mixture thickens slightly.

5. Stir in tempeh and warm.

6. Remove pan from heat. Take 1 cup of liquid from the pan and mix with yogurt in a separate bowl. Add yogurt mixture back to pan and blend.

7. Serve warm over pasta or rice.

Source: (C) 2013 Tulsa World. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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