Ok, a little late, but I started this journal entry over a week ago, and its contents are still timely.
The pleasure of little things.
Pascha season fasting rules.
Difference in services in the Paschal season.
Repetition is necessary.
The safe way to saut? with Olive oil.
Rutabagas are great.
A recipe that has no name.
As I was eating one of my creations and enjoying it with relish tonight, realized that the dish was so good because of the onions and garlic that I had browned in a mixture of olive oil with a little water.
Adding oil to the pot is a little thing, but it can give so much pleasure during certain seasons.
During “Paschal-tide”, which is the period from Pascha till the day before Ascension, all fasting days are lessened; on Wednesday and Friday, we fast from the usual stuff, but can have wine and oil. This is not the usual case; during the rest of the year, all Wednesday and Friday fasting days are so-called “strict fast” days.
Most fast days we do not eat animal products, which include any kind of mammal, reptile or avian flesh you can mention, and anything they produce, such as milk, or eggs. This prohibition also includes fish, but we have always considered “shell fish” to not be fish (they do not have scales) so they can be eaten any day (but no lobster with butter or fried shrimp!). If it is a “strict fast” day, we also refrain from oil and wine (basically all alcoholic beverages, but some will drink beer on any day)
It was such a pleasure to have olive oil in my food today precisely because it is Friday, and this is a rare occurrence in the year. We can benefit from fasting and also not fasting, but only if we fast. The old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is very true.
The temperate person actually finds more enjoyment out of less. The indulgent man is never satisfied. In many ways, our entire struggle against ALL sin is summed up by: “Do not indulge yourself! Learn to be satisfied with less!”, therefore, fasting is a particularly useful “tool” to teach the soul to avoid ALL sin.
If a person does not fast, or rarely fasts, or often does not fast when a “temptation” occurs (such as a business meal, or a meal out of the house), then their “normal” is to not have any extended period when they do not eat something. It is not a “new” thing for such a person to have olive oil; this is just “business as usual”, or “SOP” (standard operating procedure”).
The Paschal season is full of little treats that the observant person notices and takes great pleasure in. These things can only be noticed if we know what the “normal” is. If a person does not fast, or has not attended matins and vespers many times, these little treats would not be understood; they could not be savored as the delicious morsels that they are. Even Divine Liturgy, which a person may be more familiar with, has subtle changes that are not fully understood and enjoyed unless a person has attended the liturgy and prayed attentively MANY times.
We human’s miss a lot; we are constantly distracted; we are constantly thinking about and valuing ephemeral and useless things. This is why we understand so little spiritually and why constant attendance at the services is so important. We come, and sit at the Lord’s feet, and pay attention as best we can, and even if it is five minutes in a two and a half hour vigil, we have “redeemed the time” well.
As a pastor and a person, I try very hard to be a “glass half full” kind of guy. A vigil spent with little attention is not stellar spiritual work on our part, but those five minutes are precious and will help us save our souls (and they were the most important minutes of the entire day!). Besides, maybe next time, we will pay attention for SIX minutes!
Over the course of time, the outstanding beauty and intricacy of our theology seeps into our souls and softens them, and we begin to understand and to be the things we are listening to. This process takes years; it never really ends, and it gets sweeter and gives us more peace as we change from carnal to spiritual persons.
Commonly, people who love the services and attend them often notice the ebb and flow of the church year. Every period just “feels different”. There are great and small differences in the services, and over time, one begins to savor them., much as a mother savors the last, subtle “baby things” her youngest child does as they leave infancy and grow into being a young child.
Maybe another time I will go over the “all” major and minor changes in the services during the Paschal period. There are a lot of them. One was already mentioned: we fast less strictly on Wednesdays and Fridays. Of course, we sing “Christ is risen” a lot, and usually three times. For instance, “Christ is risen” (3 times) replaces “O Heavenly King” in all prayers. Anybody care to reckon why?
One of my favorite changes is that the dismissal given by the priest for any service always begins: “May He Who rose from the dead, Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ…” Usually, on various days, we start the dismissal without mentioning the resurrection, which is reserved for Saturdays and Sundays only, but the Pascha period is like one big Sunday. There is a special commemoration for most days, but I am poor at details, so I like the simple privilege of mentioning the resurrection every time.
There are especially a lot of differences in Bright Week services (the first week after Pascha), and sometime I will go over them.
Now, what we have all been waiting for, the recipe for my creation. Anytime I create a recipe, one must use the term “recipe” loosely. I sort of throw things together usually in a big saut? pan.
“The recipe with no name”
The principle flavor in this recipe is a great Indian flavoring sauce:”Patak’s GARAM MASALA Curry Paste, with Ginger and cinnamon (Hot)”. You can get Patak’s sauces and pastes at most groceries, but Indian store will have a zillion of them you cannot find elsewhere.
It consists of just about any veggies you want, as long as you include lots or garlic and onions, and black beans, or some other protein source, like shrimp or scallops.
Onion, as much as you want, but at least a large onion, diced. Let it sit for 15 minutes before saut?ing it, because it allows really beneficial sulfur containing phytonutrients to form. They stop forming as soon at heat is applied.
Garlic, several cloves, diced (NOT pressed through a garlic press). I used 6 cloves.
Rutabaga, at least half of a large one, diced. This is an awesome vegetable, with a taste like a potato and turnip at the same time. It takes on flavors real well in dishes, just like potatoes. You could also add or substitute any of these: potato, turnip, sweet potato, but do try the rutabaga sometime!
Fresh Jalape?o’s diced. Get rid of the seeds if you don’t want it to be too hot. I used two fat ones.
Anise bulb, diced. I had it, so I used it. Tastes like licorice.
Fresh spinach, a big handful (from my garden), cut into reasonable pieces. You could also use collards, but they need to cook about 2 minutes longer than the spinach.
Cilantro, lots, diced (again from the garden, I’m bragging now).
Black beans, 1-2 cans, drained.
Diced tomatoes, with the juice, 1 can or fresh if you have them.
All cooking is done with the cover on the pan except the browning of the garlic.
Saut? the onion with medium heat in a TBS (or more, during Pascha, oil does not have calories) of Olive oil and some water until the onions are soft and brown. Add water as needed.
Move the onions to one side of the pan, put a bit of olive oil on the other side, and brown the garlic. Keep turning it over and over until it just gets brown. This takes only a minute or two. Do NOT use a metal utensil if you are using a Teflon pan, unless you want to get in a lot of trouble!
Mix the garlic and onions together. Add Indian sauce, rutabaga, jalape?os and diced tomatoes, mix real well, and simmer until the rutabaga is soft, but not mushy. This is the time to put in long cooking vegetables, such as the ones I used, or carrots)
Add black beans and anise and cook for a couple of minutes, then the spinach, and cilantro, and cook on high for a couple minutes more.
If at anytime the mixture seems too dry, just add a little but of water.
I saut?ed some scallops in Olive oil and added them in later, my wife does not like scallops; she just ate it without scallops. I always make a lot, and this kind of dish gets more flavorful and hotter with age, so it does not go to waste.
This dish can also easily be made without oil. I just saut? in water, and skip the browning of the garlic.
You really do not need to use oil for saut?ing on fast days. Try it, and you will see.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 I usually saut? with oil by adding water and keep adding it, so the mixture never gets hotter than boiling water. When olive oil or any oil is cooked at high temperatures, it breaks down into toxic free radical containing compounds and some of the beneficial compounds are lost as well.