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Cheese enchiladas are served with Spanish rice and refried beans at La Margarita in Fort Wayne.
Worldly Lenten meals

Meatless across the map

A vegetable platter at Das Schnitzelhaus has red cabbage, potato and cheese pierogis, spaetzle, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, asparagus and a fried egg.

During Lent, many Christians make small sacrifices out of respect for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Roman Catholics, in particular, abstain from eating meat on the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday), Good Friday and other Fridays during the 40-day season.

But that doesn’t mean meals on meatless days must be reduced to fish-fry takeout, tuna-noodle casserole, plain cheese pizza out of the freezer or macaroni and cheese out of a box.

If Americans turned to the cuisines of the cultures in Europe or Latin America, they’d find a wealth of tasty meals that don’t require meat or even fish – whether those dishes were originally used during Lent or simply to stretch budgets or ingredients.

Let’s start our grand tour.

Germany

While this cuisine tends to be meat-heavy, it also has potato pancakes and Himmel und Erde (Heaven and Earth), a mix of mashed potatoes and applesauce. Cornell Taubert, owner of Das Schnitzelhaus, 1522 W. Main St., says the dishes are often consumed with a fried egg on top and a side of pickled red beets. He includes a vegetarian platter on the restaurant menu – including sauerkraut, red cabbage, spaetzle (tiny, hand-dropped noodles) and a tomato-sweet red pepper sauce.

France

What could be more gourmet than quiche? Classic Lorraine uses bacon, of course. But there’s nothing wrong with substituting some earthy mushrooms (cremini, perhaps?) or sautéed spinach and onion. A favorite quiche recipe (try http://farmwifeatmidlife.blogspot.com/2011/03/quiche-lorraine) will be none the worse. Ratatouille with eggplant, onions, tomatoes and squash makes a hearty vegetarian stew served with French bread.

Italy

It’s the home of meatless manicotti, ravioli, stuffed shells, gnocchi, tortellini, fettuccine Alfredo and penne with pesto. These dishes, pre-made, can be close as your grocer’s freezer or refrigerator case. Don’t forget risotto (use vegetable broth), minestrone, frittata, polenta and pasta e faggiole.

Ireland

Colcannon, creamy Irish comfort food, couldn’t be simpler. My take – boil four or five good-sized russet potatoes and mash with about a cup of milk and salt and pepper to taste. Add three heaping cups of rough-chopped fresh kale leaves (or chard or cabbage) and three chopped green onions with tops to about 3 tablespoons of melted butter in the potato pot and sauté until softened. Mix with the potatoes, and add a good-sized pat of butter to melt in the center of each serving. Serve with salad, (Irish) cheddar and fresh fruit.

Eastern Europe

One word: halushki. This dish has as many variants as there are Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Romanian and Russian grandmothers. Chopped cabbage and onions are sautéed in butter and mixed with cooked noodles. A dish for when the larder was truly bare, halushki has a recipe at www.food.com/recipe/noodles-cabbage-and-onions-halushki-179227.

Mexico

Freddie Ochoa, of the family who owns La Margarita, 2713 S Calhoun St., says the restaurant’s go-to meatless pearl, made with canola oil (not lard) and served with Spanish rice and refried beans, is the cheese enchilada. Rolled corn tortillas are filled with Colby cheese and caramelized onion. Then the rolls are smothered in cooked-down red chile sauce from late matriarch Guadalupe Ochoa’s recipe. “She passed it down to us,” he says. (No, he’s not telling.)

rsalter@jg.net

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