Traditions of the Great Lent originate from ancient Orthodox Christians. Also known as the Great Fast, the Great Lent is a time of physical cleansing and spiritual introspection. Observers adhere to abstinence from certain foods and indulgences for over 40 days.
Bringing the physical and spiritual into balance through fasting, prayer, and repentance, the Great Lent is a time to experience a deeper closeness and connection with God.
Physically, fasting means depriving ourselves of certain foods and lifestyle choices. Cutting out meat and other animal products allows our bodies to detox and experience a lighter state of being.
Abstaining from wine and other alcoholic drinks brings enhanced clarity to the mind. Although in the Slavic tradition, beer was often permitted during the fast.
Spiritually, the deep introspection and mediation opens the door for an individual to receive the Holy Mysteries of the Divine. In moral terms, the Great Lent is about coming into integrity with our words. Understanding the value of the spoken and written word, and honoring the words of Jesus.
The ultra pious here to a strict interpretation of what is and is not allowed in terms of food during the Great Lent.That’s a pretty easy feat in today’s day and age where food is readily available. But what about back in the days before frozen dinners at the supermarkets and fish tacos at fast-food joints?
What did people eat during Great Lent?
Imagine a Lent Faire where vegetables, fruits and grains rein supreme.
Tradition Russian foods prepared and eaten during Great Lent included pohlebka — a type of vegetable soup. Soured or pickled vegetables like pickled cucumbers, pickled tomatoes, sauerkraut, and beets.
Turya a dish made with salted water, bread pieces and chopped onions; Tolokno, a porridge of sprouted oats and salt water; Kulesh, a thin gruel made from peas, potatoes and groats with no animal fats.
Other foods consumed during lent included dry and pickled mushrooms, peas, radishes, carrots, cranberries, apples, honey and various fruit jams.
What are some popular Great Lent recipes?
Modern times have ushered in new recipes for Great Lent, using fresh ingredients and more nuanced (and dare we say delicious!) flavor profiles.
Below are a few of our favorite and simple to make, traditional Russian Great Lent recipes.
Traditional Pohlebka with Buckwheat
- 2 large potatoes
- 2 large carrot
- 1 medium onion
- 2 Tbps garlic
- 1/2 cup of buckwheat (dry)
- 1 c. parsley or dill (fresh or frozen)
- Cut the potatoes and carrots into medium-sized cubes and boil wit onion and garlic. When veggies are fully cooked, add buckwheat and bring to complete boil.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and let stand for 15 minutes for flavors to fully absorb.
- Serve with a pinch of finely chopped dill or parsley.
- 2 large fresh beets
- 1-2 large carrots
- 3 large potatoes
- 3-4 dill pickles
- 1 can sauerkraut
- 1 large onion (can substitute green onions)
- 2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- Dash of salt and pepper
- Optional: 1 can green peas
- Boil the beets, carrots and potatoes in a large pot. The veggies should be slightly al-dente. You can test tenderness by pocking with a knife. Usually the carrots and potatoes will need to be removed first, giving the beets an extra few minutes to cook through. Let cool.
- Chop the cooled veggies into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Finely chop the pickles and onion, and add to the veggies mix. Drain and add sauerkraut to the bowl and mix well.
- Add green peas if desired and season with vegetable oil, salt and pepper to taste. Decorate with a few twigs of parsley or chopped green onion.
Salmon Kulebyaka (Fish Pie)
- 2oz butter
- 1 sm finely diced onion
- 1 cup of rice or buckwheat (dry)
- 1 Tbsp fresh dill (finely chopped)
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 lb puff pastry (not frozen)
- 1 lb salmon fillets (skinned)
- 3 medium hardboiled eggs (finely diced)
- 1 raw egg (whipped)
- Salt and black pepper
- Flour for the rolling pin and surface
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Pre-cook salmon and buckwheat or rice in separate dishes. You can sauté the salmon or bake in the oven. Boil the rice or buckwheat until al-dente.
- Melt butter in a saucepan and sauté onions for about 10min. Onions should be opaque, tender and slightly golden brown. Stir in the pre-cooked rice or buckwheat, adding chopped fresh dill, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste,
- On a lightly floured surface roll out the thawed puff pastry, to make a 12 in square. Excess flour will toughen the pastry as will excess working of the dough, so keep it light.
- Spread the rice or buckwheat mix over the pastry, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Arrange the pre-cooked salmon pieces on top of the rice, scatter the chopped egg over the salmon. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. You can also use crushed red pepper flakes for extra spice.
- Brush pastry edges with whipped egg. Fold the pastry to form a rectangle and press edges together to seal contents.
- Place pastry onto baking tray and glaze the top with beaten egg. Pierce the pastry on top to allow steam to escape while baking.
- Bake in the middle of oven shelf for approx 40min. Cover with foil after 30min to prevent the top from burning. Leave on baking tray to cool and serve.
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