The Great Lent is a 40 day spiritual preparation for Pascha (Easter) marked by reflection, personal improvement, repentance and fasting. Much like the Greeks and other Eastern European cultures, Russian Orthodox Christians begin observing Great Lent on “clean Monday”, a time to cleanse and purify everything from the clothes we wear, the pots and pans we cook with and most importantly, our bodies and souls.

Yes, Lent is the time for making auspicious changes. But it doesn’t have to be about complete deprivation. In Slavic tradition, the ritual of fasting for six weeks involves a progressive giving up of certain foods, beginning with meat. Fish, eggs and dairy, as well as olive oil are not allowed after the third week. Without getting into the nitty gritty of the Church rules, we’re helping you navigate through foods you CAN eat and sharing delicious recipes for Russian mushroom soup, cabbage soup and traditional eggplant ikra (veggie spread).

During the Great Lent, mushroom soup is a hearty substitute for meat based soups, like borsht. Foraging for mushrooms is practically a Russian sport. Low in calories, mushrooms are a good source of nutrients commonly found in animal products. Dried, pickled, and canned, mushrooms are preserved and served in many forms during the winter months.

Olga’s Flavor Factory serves up a traditional Russian recipe for a savory mushroom barley soup. Skip the bacon of course, during Lent!

Dried mushrooms can be rehydrated to make vegetable broth, and brined mushrooms served with thinly sliced onions and drizzled with oil make a tasty side dish or appetizer. For the true mushroom connoisseurs, the Wild Cask Mushrooms will be a deliciously wonderful discovery! These wild mushrooms are foraged in ecologically clean regions of Siberia and brined in fine sea salt to preserve the meatiness and natural flavor.

Cabbage soup (also known as Russian schi) is another amazing dish to cook and serve for Lent. Packed with essential vitamins and minerals, the root vegetables used in cabbage soup keep well for long periods of time and can serve a large group. We’ve tried this recipe using vegetable broth, and added just a squeeze of lemon in each bowl for a tangier flavor. Don’t forget the smetana (sour cream)!

Nothing beats the fresh flavor of homemade eggplant ikra. Remember the delicate fragrance of aubergines sautéed with garlic and olive oil? Completely vegetarian, eggplant spread is great as a zakuska (appetizer) served with rye or pumpernickel bread, or served as a side dish to mashed or fried potatoes. Natasha’s Kitchen spices up a traditional recipe with a bit of salsa.

Pickled veggies are perfect side dishes for any meal. Cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and even radishes are all winter favorites. While you can find dill pickles in many neighborhood markets, authentic Russian-style pickled cucumbers and tomatoes are cured in brine. This gives them a mild salty flavor, rather than a tartness that’s more common with vinegar based marinades.

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