Home Cooking: Meat-free Friday options made easy (column)
The season of Lent conjures culinary memories of Fish Fry Friday and countless bowls of vegetarian soup. It is one of many times throughout the year and across many religious traditions where food conveys and reinforces the message of our faith. However, living our faith even during times of abstinence needn’t be without enjoyment, so that we savor rather than resent our sacrifice. After all, our faith, even in the most solemn moments, should be a source of sustenance and joy.
While I love beer-battered fried cod and hearty bowls of any soup, there are other easy options to fill the several Fridays of Lent, or any day you want to dedicate to eating meat-free. Best of all, while these meals emphasize modest ingredients and simple preparation, they are so delicious.
I hope you’ll give these dinners a try and enjoy a thoughtful Friday dinner. Invite your friends. What better way to share your faith traditions?
Shrimp, Tomato and Feta Cheese
This is one of my favorite dinners because it reminds me of humid summer evenings in my hometown, Fort Lauderdale, dining al fresco with my friends Gary and Gary on their porch in early evening hoping for a cooling breeze. Vodka tonics, gorgeous shrimp resting in a chunky tomato sauce dotted with chunks of feta cheese, mopped up with torn French bread. Their version came from the beloved New York Times food columnist, Pierre Franey. There are countless versions of this simple classic dish, this is mine.
1 lb medium or large uncooked shrimp, unpeeled, deveined, tail on
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (I like fire-roasted tomatoes)
1 5-ounce brick of feta cheese (you can use crumbles, but I find the flavor of the feta cheese comes through in the brick form)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic diced
1 glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 425. Into an oven-able Dutch oven or skillet, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil on the stovetop until just tender. Add the can of tomatoes and break up the tomatoes with your spoon or an immersion blender so that you have a chunky sauce. Add the shrimp. Put the pan into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until the shrimp is pink. Add the feta cheese and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes. Serve with chunks of bread. A salad of thinly sliced fennel, slivers of parmesan, extra virgin olive oil (with the fronds of the fennel bulb strewn over the tomato sauce) would be the perfect accompaniment to this dish.
Shrimp and Cod Chowder
This is the first seafood chowder I’ve ever made, and its simplicity belies the appealing flavors which are enhanced by a pinch of smoked paprika and a light scraping of whole nutmeg. I believe it’s such a satisfying chowder it can be your main course with a crisp salad on the side.
This recipe will serve two to four people depending on the size of your soup bowls. If you want to stretch it further, add small chunks of potato (half potato per person) before adding the seafood and allow the potatoes to cook until just tender in the stock. You may need to add more stock, as well.
1 leek cut in half and sliced thin
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of four or corn starch
10 ounces frozen shrimp
12 ounces frozen cod or other firm fish cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
Seasonings to consider (use a light touch — you want to enhance the seafood, not overpower it. Start with small amounts of seasoning, taste, and layer the flavors according to your preferences): Pinch of smoked paprika, scraping of fresh nutmeg, sprinkle of dried thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
To a Dutch oven, add a knob of butter and sauté the sliced leeks until tender. Add the chicken stock, and half-and-half. (This is the time to add the cubed potatoes if you are adding them to the soup). Add the shrimp and fish and allow to cook. Add seasonings, taste and adjust.
Hedgehogs in the Garden
(Potato Covered Fish with Roasted Vegetables)
I’m sure there’s a complex French name for this dish that raises its level of sophistication, but adorable hedgehogs are what came to mind as I assembled it. What I love most is how easy it is. This entire dinner is assembled and cooked on one baking sheet whether you’re making it for a party of one or a family of eight, so simple. And delicious.
Ingredients (per person):
1 potato thinly sliced (think potato chip thin)
1 4- to 6-ounce firm fish fillet such as cod or salmon
Vegetable of your choice, such as tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli
Salt and pepper to taste, dried thyme leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice
Preheat oven to 425. On a baking sheet, place one fish fillet per person, season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Cover each fillet with thin slices of potato (hence the name hedgehogs) season with salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Add chunks of vegetables of your choice, season. Sprinkle fillet-covered potatoes and vegetables with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 15-30 minutes (depending on whether your fish is thawed or still frozen) until fish and vegetables are cooked through.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of “Love in a Time of War” and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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