Lent, which commences this week, is the most miserable time of the year. In the Christian tradition it’s the time between Shrove Tuesday and Easter, marked by personal abstinence, fasting or giving up of particular indulgences. Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday demonstrates the end of feasting by using up rich food supplies: that’s why we make pancakes, beignets, doughnuts and king cake.
The following day is all about repentance: Ash Wednesday, when Christians sprinkle ash on their heads, presumably contrite about all those crêpes consumed the day before. But religious traditions aside, it’s a naturally gloom time when, historically, fresh produce was scarce and even the stocks of carrots and beetroot were dwindling. Spring seemed a long way off, let alone new crops.
Today of course it’s all been rendered meaningless with food so plentiful, available and cheap (a cost of living crisis every now and again notwithstanding), we are hardly aware of seasons. And that is a very bad thing: stuffing our faces with crêpes or galettes on Pancake Day, only to continue with a rich menu on the following day is an extra excess instead of a prelude to abstinence. And – even though I’m not a fan of intermittent fasting – a bit of periodically skinnier diet is something we could all benefit from.
So once we get the Pancake Day out of the way, with a batch of spinach and cheese crêpes or buckwheat galettes with ham and egg, let’s go modest, balanced and restrained. I believe a spell of eating less indulgently in an even manner will do us more good than jerking our poor bodies about with ‘now there is food, now there isn’t’ intermittent fasting.
It still means eating well. I’ll point out a couple of my recent recipes, brown rice mejadra and tahini salmon with sweet potatoes: delicious, but less rich or hard on the stomach (and pocket) that steaks and chops.
Meatballs bulked out with ricotta and flavoured with oregano are as lovely but not nearly as heavy as burgers. Fragrant fish stew needs only a heel of fresh bread served with it, and you can use a fish pie mix for it.
Lasagne with cabbage filling is skinnier, cheaper and healthier than the rich meat original. Make sure to double it up with a portion for the freezer. You can also make a batch of caramelised courgettes to dress pasta with.
Simple grilled salmon will be excellent served with buttered spinach. And how about sesame roasted broccoli served with fried eggs? That’s a good supper in my view, and so is a crispy mince and bean salad.
Bulgur wheat is filling and healthy, try pilaf with red peppers or bulgur with roasted root vegetables.
And let’s not forget breakfast: homemade muesli or olive oil granola beat any shop bought cereal by a mile in every sense, let alone croissants or pastries.
And if you really, really fancy something sweet and reassuring, make it a toasted Yorkshire teacake. Happy cooking!