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February/March 2012

During the Carnival season, I always somehow end up with bits and pieces of King Cake. Either I eat too much of a good thing or that last piece or two lingers around the kitchen and goes stale. Since I hate to waste, I began storing those leftovers in a big plastic storage bag in hopes that I would find a use for them. Lo and behold, a friend of mine sent me a couple of newspaper clippings on how to use those chunks of sweet cakes—make bread pudding! Now, why didn’t I think of that before? It really doesn’t matter what kind (Bavarian-filled, chocolate, almond cream, cinnamon, blueberry-cream cheese), I just dumped all the chunks into a large Pyrex baking dish, combined whole milk and a couple of eggs, and covered the pieces with the mixture. I scattered pieces of butter over the top and shoved the dish into a pre-heated 325-degree oven and baked it until the mixture set. Wow! Delish!

The season of Lent has arrived. And I’m betting that there are many who partied much too hard during the Carnival season who welcome the season of repentance, prayer and sacrifice with open arms. Well, maybe not open arms, but at least might relish the thought of six weeks of Lent as a time to have a spiritual renewal of the soul, not to mention some recuperation of the body.
In the not too distant past, meals during Lent were not only meatless, they were simple, albeit nourishing, and because there were certain days of fasting, when snacks between meals were forbidden.
Most of the meals prepared during Lent in New Orleans were referred to as Lenten soups or in French, potage maigres. And these soups were simple broths or consommés, flavored with carrots, onions, turnips, beans or peas, cabbage, and parsley. Sometimes a handful of spinach or a potato or two might be added as well.
In rural areas of south Louisiana, the locals made a stew of potatoes and eggs. A roux was made, then water was added along with cubed potatoes. The mixture was seasoned with the usual salt and cayenne, and sometimes eggs were poached in the liquid, or finely chopped hard-boiled eggs were added to give the meager stew some texture.
Of course in the city and in the country there were meals consisting of different types of seafood. Perhaps there was a courtbouillon or bouillabaisse, or a shrimp stew, fried fish, crab soup, and now and then, a crawfish etouffée. I can attest to the fact that I ate, as a child, my fair share of tuna salad sandwiches, butter and sugar sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, and a whole lot of fish sticks accompanied by macaroni and cheese.
Of course, these days they’re a great variety of vegetarian dishes that have come into vogue that are not only delicious, but also nutritious. With all of that said, I usually try to make Lenten dishes a challenge. There is such a wealth of fresh vegetables available year-round in the supermarkets and at local farmers’ markets, no one should be hard pressed to be a bit creative. And of course, we here in south Louisiana have a great wealth of local seafood—shrimp, crabmeat, crawfish, oysters, and fish—to choose from.

So here then are some recipes that might give you some inspiration for your Lenten meals.

Makes about 10 servings

  • 1/2 cup fruity olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 leeks, well rinsed, trimmed and chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 12 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound tender green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2 to 3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 cans (19-ounces each) cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 pound ditalini pasta


  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh basil (tightly packed), rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, leeks, carrots and celery, and cook, stirring, until they are slightly soft, five to seven minutes.
    Add the potatoes, the water or broth and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 40 minutes.
    Add the green beans, zucchini, cannellini beans, and the pasta and continue simmering the soup until these vegetables and pasta are tender, about 20 minutes.
    Season again if necessary.
    To make the pistou, crush the garlic and salt together in a mortar. You want a creamy paste. Add the basil, a few leaves at a time, grinding each batch until incorporated in the garlic paste. Slowly work in enough olive oil to thin the pistou to a creamlike drizzling consistency. Stir in the Parmesan. (Since I don’t have a mortar that big, I’ve made the mixture in a my food processor. Simply put all the ingredients in the processor and pulse several times until the mixture is smooth.)
    To serve, ladle the soup into large bowl and stir in a generous tablespoon of the pistou into it. Extra pistou can be passed at the table.

    Makes 4 to 6 servings

    • 2 small leeks (white part only), coarsely chopped
    • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
    • 1 pound Idaho potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled and chopped
    • 2 cups vegetable broth
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
    • 4 cups cold milk
    • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

    Combine the leeks, onions, potatoes, stock and seasonings in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
    Pour the mixture into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the milk and cool to room temperature. Chill for an hour or so before serving. Garnish with the chives.

    Serves about 8

    • 1 large eggplant, about 1 pound, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
    • 2 medium zucchinis, about 1/2 pound, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
    • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into wide slices
    • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into wide slices
    • 1 teaspoon salt>
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
    • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
    • 8 ounces sliced portobellos, cleaned and stemmed
    • 1 pound spinach fettucini, cooked and drained
    • 1 quart spaghetti sauce, homemade or commercial brand
    • 1/2 cup fresh, grated Romano cheese

    Poach the eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers in simmering hot water in a large pot for several minutes, or until the vegetables are justly slightly soft. Remove them from the water and drain. Put them in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt, black pepper, cayenne, olive oil, soy sauce, and the mushrooms. Toss to coat evenly. Prepare a charcoal or gas fire in your grill or barbecue pit. Grill the vegetables and mushrooms, either directly on the grill, or in a grill basket, over a medium fire for about five minutes, turning them once or twice.
    In a large casserole dish, make a layer of the vegetables and mushrooms. Make a layer of the fettucini. Spread the sauce evenly over the pasta and top with the cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and hot. Serve immediately.

    Makes 3 to 4 servings

    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander), or Italian parsley
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
    • 1 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded and cut into lengthwise strips
    • 1 medium-size zucchini, cut lengthwise into strips
    • 1 sweet onion, peeled and quartered
    • 1 large portobello mushroom, thickly sliced
    • 8 to 10 thin asparagus, trimmed
    • Pita bread or flour tortillas (heated) for wraps
    • Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, cilantro, salt, black pepper and hot sauce in a small bowl. Combine the vegetables in a large mixing bowl and pour in the oil mixture. Toss to coat evenly. Place the vegetables in a grill basket (or grill wok) and place over a medium-hot fire. Cook for two to three minutes, turning the basket once of twice (or stir-fry in the wok), until the vegetables are slightly soft. Remove and serve immediately in your wraps.

      Makes 4 servings

      • 4 large portobellos
      • 1 cup olive oil
      • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
      • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
      • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
      • 2 teaspoons sugar
      • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
      • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

      Wipe the mushrooms clean and remove the stems from the mushrooms. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper and herbs in a bowl and whisk to blend. Pour the mixture into a shallow bowl and add the mushroom caps, pressing them gently down into the marinade. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and grill over a medium fire for two to three minutes on each side. Remove and serve. If you wish, the mushrooms can be thickly sliced and tossed with pasta sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

      CRABMEAT SALAD Makes about 4 servings

      • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
      • 1/2 teaspoon salt
      • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
      • 3 dashes hot sauce
      • 3 tablespoons finely chopped celery
      • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
      • 1 tablespoon capers
      • 3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
      • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
      • 2 teaspoons Creole mustard
      • Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. The salad can be served atop a mound of salad greens, on thick slices of tomatoes, or in an avocado half. It can also be served as an hors d’ouevre, with crackers or toast points.

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