Vegetarian Traditions throughout Catholic Christianity

Although Mardi Gras may bring New Orleans to mind, and Carnival may be associated with Rio de Janeiro, these February festivities occur across half the globe - almost everywhere that large groups of Catholic Christians have become established. This includes southern parts of the Netherlands, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Italy and Angola, to name a few. Carnival and Mardi Gras mark the beginning of the Lenten period, when many Christian religious groups enter a period of fasting leading up to Easter. Traditionally, this fasting period meant that observant Christians would avoid eating meat and other rich foods such as cheese. The word "carnival" likely comes from Medieval Latin carnem levare meaning "to remove meat." While Mardi Gras, which is French for "fat Tuesday" is a reference the practice of using up all the fat in the household (butter, lard) before the fasting period begins.

Both Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Christians are also expected to observe a meat- and dairy- free Lent. These institutions are separate from the Catholic Church and many of the Carnival celebrations which means that they may be unknown to many Canadians. But this cruelty-free practice by observant Orthodox Christians is familiar to many secular vegans and vegetarians. Whether or not you follow a religious path, consider joining your Christian brothers and sisters around the world this Lenten season and try these delicious and warm winter dishes:

Gumbo z'herbes - Unlike other gumbos that are made with chicken, sausage and seafood, gumbo z'herbes (pronounced: zurbs) is a dark green vegan variety made by Catholic Creole people in Louisiana. Although some recipes will call for 5 or 6 bunches of greens, the dish is traditionally made with seven (for luck) including parsley, kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard. The flavours come from the Holy Trinity: onion, green bell pepper, celery as well as fresh marjoram. Make it on a Sunday afternoon and you'll be eating it all week. Best served over rice. (Recipe here: )

Ye’ater kik alicha - The fasting tradition in Oriental Orthodoxy extends well beyond Lent. It involves other fasts during the year, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and breaking fast with vegetarian dishes only. As such, the cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea offer an array of nutritious and satisfying vegan meals. Try making a simple, mild "wot" with split peas and spinach. Flavour it with garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric and jalapeno. In all, the whole thing comes together in just about an hour - perfect for dinner on a weeknight. If you're not keen on making "injera," the flatbread that is traditionally served with wot, consider store-bought naan bread or roti. (Recipe here: )

Revithia sto fourno - Baked chickpeas is a rustic dish common in regions such as Greece where Eastern Orthodoxy is an important religion. Make this on the weekend when you have time to soak and cook dried chickpeas - the water used to cook them can be added to the casserole during baking to give the dish a creamy texture. Flavour the dish with fresh rosemary, caramelized onions, fresh pepper and olive oil. (Recipe here: )

Not to be outdone, many Protestant Christians also have an important culinary tradition that coincides with the Lenten season: Pancake Tuesday. If you’re hankering for pancakes, head to Gloria’s where vegan pancakes are served all day long, Tuesday to Saturday. Find them on Bouchard St in the South End.

Written by Madison Acker