That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Tag: Lenten Recipes


The Lenten season includes several “Soul Saturdays,” marked by special services for the departed. It’s customary to bring a platter of Kolyva, made from boiled whole wheat kernels, which the priest blesses and which is then shared out among those present. The grains of wheat bring to mind Christ’s words “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [Jn 12:24, ESV].

This year I decided to try my hand at Kolyva, and it came out pretty well, so I share the recipe here. There’s a wide range of national and family variants of the basic concept, ranging from stark piles of boiled wheat to elaborate cake-like confections. I hope this is a middle-of-the-road version.

Whole wheat kernels aren’t usually sold in grocery stores. I ordered a five-pound bag of Palouse Brand wheat through Amazon, and was happy with it.

This is smaller than many recipes: it nicely filled a 1 1/2 – quart oval casserole.

Boiling the wheat is the only cooking in the recipe; the rest is just assembly.

Put 2 cups whole wheat kernels in a saucepan with 4–6 cups of water and about 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until some of the kernels begin to split open; then simmer a while longer, until the kernels are soft, not chewy. This will probably take more than an hour. I’m told you can speed up the process by soaking the wheat overnight before cooking it.

Drain the wheat. Put it in a large mixing bowl and stir in:

  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 6 oz. finely-chopped nuts (I used cashews & pecans)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup honey

In other recipes, I’ve seen cocoa powder, star anise, etc. listed as ingredients; suit yourself.

Arrange the mixture in a casserole or cake pan, or mound it neatly on a platter.

Sprinkle the kolyva with enough powdered sugar that it looks white. Decorate with raisins and nuts. It’s customary to include a Cross design in the decoration. Though I’ve seen things like chocolate chips (dairy-free?) and Jordan almonds on Kolyva, I had hoped to avoid using any candy. In one photo of a large, beautiful Greek kolyva I saw a red cross made out of some small red fruit, maybe red currants. I was determined to have a red cross too, but couldn’t find any small red fruits that would work, so I ended up using the bright red cinnamon candies often sold as “Red Hots.” The result looked very nice, but my plan to avoid candy was defeated. Maybe you can do better.

In our church, a lit candle is put in the center of the Kolyva during the memorial service, so you may want to leave a space for a candle in your design.

Serving: Kolyva doesn’t hold together well; it’s usually spooned out into small dishes or cups and eaten with a spoon.

Spicy Potatoes and Peas

Recently we found ourselves with a lot of potatoes in the house, so let’s enjoy them, shall we?
This is a generalization of an Arthur Schwartz recipe, from his What to Cook: When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat, which I’ve praised before and am happy to praise again.

The general idea is this:
• In a pot, make a spicy tomato sauce;
• Cook some sliced potatoes in the sauce;
• Add some frozen peas at the end, cook them just enough.

Here are the details for this very simple, tasty meal:

In a decent-sized saucepan, heat several tablespoons of oil. Add:
• 1 Tablespoon chopped ginger;
• 1 onion, finely chopped;
• 2 Tablespoons curry powder;
• 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or a generous squirt of Sriracha sauce;
• A couple of cloves of garlic, finely chopped.

If you’re in a really big hurry, the onion and garlic could be skipped.

Let this sizzle at medium heat until the onion is transparent. Or, turn the heat down and cook it very gently unti the onion is nice and brown.

Make a tomato sauce, in one of several ways:
• Add a couple of Tablespoons of tomato paste and maybe 1 1/2 cups of water, mix well; OR
• Add a large can of tomatoes and simmer until it’s broken down into a sauce-like consistency; OR
• Add about 1 1/2 cups of bottled spaghetti sauce.

Let the sauce simmer gently.
While it’s simmering, cut up about 4 medium-sized potatoes into sticks, about the shape of fat french fries.

Throw the potatoes into the sauce, put a lid on the pot, and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Add about 2 cups of frozen peas, or one whole 10-ounce package. Cover and return to a simmer. Cook just until the peas are tender, no more than a minute.

Serve! If you have it, you can top with fresh chopped parsley or mint. If you’ve done this right, it won’t be one big pot of (tasty!) mush, but a pretty bowl of potato sticks and bright green peas in a red tomato sauce. Mmmmmm…

Are potatoes evil? Some “experts” say that potatoes, along with white rice and white flour, are harmful because they have a high glycemic index. (They can’t say that potatoes are highly processed, can they?) I’m not so sure about this glycemic index business. The people of southeast Asia subsist on white rice (bad, supposedly) with various toppings, and you’d have to travel far to find a fat or diabetic person in some Burmese village. So, for now, we follow the age-old advice to eat sparingly or inexpensive, close-to-the-earth foods — such as potatoes.

Little-known fact: Celery is a vegetable

We tend to think of celery as little more than a source of crunchiness in salads, but it is in fact a vegetable.

Today I was looking through the refrigerator and found that, like many refrigerators, it had a half-used, wilted bunch of celery lurking in the bottom of the crisper.

Since something had to be done with it, I chopped the celery up along with an onion, put the mixture in a skillet along with a few spoonfuls of canned tomato, added some soy sauce and pepper. I kept the skillet hot until the onions were transparent and everything was sizzling nicely, then turned the heat to low, covered the skillet and went away for about 20 minutes. When I came back the mixture was nicely cooked. The vegetables had given off quite a lot of juice, so I turned the heat up again and stirred them, uncovered, until the liquid had mostly cooked away. Then I served the mixture over rice. Very tasty!

And there, in narrative form, is a recipe for Hot Celery Lunch.

Another Lent

I notice that there haven’t been any posts here since near the end of last year’s Great Fast. But here we are again, so it’s time to post again.

During Lent, my family and I aim for meals that are austere without being unappealing, so many of the “recipes” posted here are hardly recipes at all — just thoughts about combining ingredients into simple and (I hope) fairly tasty meals. Simplicity is important not only because it’s an expression of the Lenten spirit, but because the many church services often leave us with less time to cook.

I’ve tried to make this blog look a bit austere too, almost the antithesis of a Food Blog: no statements that recipes are To Die For, and especially none of the food photography that some people call “food porn.” Many modern cookbooks are essentially photo albums with some recipes around the edges, and I try not to follow their example.

May we all have a blessed and fruitful 2013 Lenten Season.

Jiffy Fish

Today, Lazarus Saturday, was the first “fish day” this Lent, and there was no way we were going to miss out on some fish. But it was also a busy day, with services all morning, Vespers in the evening, and various preparations for Palm Sunday in between.

So we ended up eating this very easy but very tasty pasta-and-tuna dish. You can easily put the whole thing together in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

Quick and Simple Pasta and Tuna.

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. When it’s ready, cook 1/2 pound of your favorite pasta. We used penne, but macaroni or any other favorite shape will do.

Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, heat:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Several cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp (or more) red pepper flakes

Once the garlic starts to simmer, turn the heat down to low, and keep an eye on it: burnt garlic does not taste good. The garlic should end up just lightly browned.

Thaw about 1 cup frozen peas in the microwave.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it. In a serving bowl, toss it with the olive oil mixture.
Add the frozen peas and 1 1o-oz. can of chunk light tuna, drained. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

It’s good hot, and if you have leftovers they make a good salad right out of the fridge.

Simple as this is, it’s actually a complication of an Arthur Schwartz recipe. He just tosses together the cooked pasta, the tuna, the olive oil, the pepper flakes and some salt and pepper. The only cooking required is the for the pasta.

Lentil-Potato salad

This is freely adapted from a Jacques Pepin recipe. I think these French peasant-y dishes are what he does best.
I add substantially more chopped fresh herbs than JP does; they taste good and, just as importantly, by this time in Lent we’re getting tired of meals that are all various shades of brown, so the bright green herbs are cheering.
Good olive oil makes a big difference to the flavor, though it’s still good with standard vegetable oil. You might want to think about saving this for an olive-oil day.

Put 4 potatoes (not Idahos) in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to very low and simmer them until done, about 1/2 hour. Drain them and let them cool.

At the same time, put 3/4 cup lentils in a saucepan with about 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and let them simmer for about 30-45 minutes, until tender. Take them off the heat and let them cool. When they’re lukewarm, drain off any excess liquid.

Slice the potatoes about 1/2 inch thick and put them in a large bowl with the lentils.

Mix in:

  • One onion, finely chopped
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Fresh herbs, finely chopped, at least a cup. I used parsley, basil and rosemary.
  • 1/4 cup olive or other oil
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar or wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly-ground pepper

Gently toss it all together. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed. It improves if it’s allowed to sit for awhile: the onion and garlic have a chance to mellow and impart their flavor to the rest of the dish.

They only want you to think it’s hard

Polenta is delicious, versatile and easy to make. Some older cookbooks make polenta prep sound like a long, laborious process involving constant stirring for hours. Don’t be fooled: it’s easy. Here’s how.

If you’re lucky, your supermarket will sell actual polenta, which is coarsely-ground cornmeal and gives a slightly more interesting texture. If they don’t have it, regular yellow cornmeal works fine and tastes the same. Do not get “Instant Polenta”. Make any amount you want, just preserve a 4-to-1 ratio of water to cornmeal. I’ve seen recipes that stretch this ratio to 5-to-1; I haven’t tried it, but you can. This example uses 2 cups of water.

  • Measure out 2 cups of cold water.
  • Put 1/2 cup cornmeal in a saucepan with a generous pinch of salt.
  • Pour a small amount of the water in the pot. Stir until the cornmeal is all wetted. Mash with a fork until there are no lumps, adding a bit more water as you go. When you have a lump-less slurry of cornmeal (this will only take about 30 seconds), stir in the rest of the water.
  • Turn on the heat  under the saucepan and bring the mixture to a full boil, stirring it regularly. When it comes to a boil it will quickly start to thicken. Be careful at this point; it tends to give off volcanic splatters of hot cornmeal.
  • As soon as the mixture has reached a full boil, cover and turn off the heat. Wait about 10 minutes. Polenta!

If this weren’t about fasting, you’d stir in a big hunk of butter and a handful of grated cheese before setting the polenta to cool, and it would be delicious. But it’s pretty good served straight.

While it’s still hot, it makes a good breakfast cereal. After it sits for awhile, it will set into a solid mass: if you’re planning to let it set, pour it into a small greased loaf pan while it’s still hot. Once it’s set, you can cut it in slices which you can re-heat with some tomato sauce on top, or you can fry it: this is what southerners poetically call “fried mush”. Poor-people food for sure, but that’s what you want during a fast, isn’t it?

To boost the flavor while keeping it Lenten, here are a couple of things you can do. While it’s cooking, you can stir in a big pinch of red pepper flakes, curry powder or chili powder.  If you’re more the sweet-tooth type, stir in some brown sugar. To give a good savory flavor, finely chop an onion, brown it in some oil in a saucepan, then add the cornmeal and proceed as above.


This Barley-Mushroom Pilaf has an earthy, eastern-European vibe to it. It’s good by itself for lunch, and with some vegetables and a salad would be family meal.

  • An onion, sliced
  • A carrot, sliced
  • Some mushrooms, sliced
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, sliced
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/3 cup barley
  • 2 cups water.

In a saucepan, saute the onion, carrot and mushrooms in a little oil until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and keep sauteeing until the garlic just starts to brown.
Add water, barley, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Stir well, then turn down to a simmer. Let it simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.
Allow it to cool a bit before serving.

Primal, eh?  When I made this, I added a few red pepper flakes and a teaspoon of curry powder, which disrupts the eastern-European vibe but tastes excellent.



No-boil pasta bake

This started out as a chicken-and-cheese dish (very good!) that we heavily modified for Lent. It’s still very good, and just involves stirring a bunch of things together in a casserole dish — you don’t have to pre-cook the pasta, which is sort of cool. As always, most of the ingredients are negotiable; modify to suit your own tastes.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°.

In a dutch oven or other lidded, oven-safe vessel, stir together:

  • 8 oz. of your favorite pasta: macaroni etc. (we’ve been using penne).
  • 1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes, with juices.
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, chopped
  • basil and/or oregano, dried or fresh
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bell pepper, chopped (we often use a bagged frozen “pepper and onion” mix from the supermarket. Thaw it first.)
  • Several mushrooms, sliced.
  • 2 cups water
  • A few dashes of  hot sauce if you want it spicy

Bake, covered, for one hour.

That’s it. It may look a little soupy when it comes out of the oven, but as it cools it will set nicely. With a good salad, it’s a meal.

Roasted Cabbage with Lemon Juice

A friend posted this on Facebook from the Kalyn’s Kitchen blog. We haven’t even tried it yet, but it’s so obviously good that I’m posting it right now. We’ll be eating it next time we have a cabbage in the house.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Cut a whole cabbage into 8 equal-sized wedges. Arrange them in one layer in a roasting pan.

Whisk together 2 Tbsp oil (olive, sesame, canola…) and 2–3 Tbsp lemon juice. Brush the mixture onto the exposed sides of the cabbage wedges, then generously salt and pepper them. Turn the wedges over and repeat.

Roast for about 15 minutes, until the sides touching the pan have browned. Turn the wedges over and roast for another 10—15 minutes.