After eight and a half years straight of have a child dependant on me for nutrition through pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, I have window of time where I can practice a stricter form of fasting. I am learning firsthand how my soul is affected by my voluntary bodily Lenten practices so much so that I related to the collect in the Extraordinary Form Mass for Monday of the Third Week in Lent:

Pour Forth in Thy Mercy, O Lord,
we beseech Thee, Thy grace into our hearts:
that as we abstain from bodily food,
so we may also restrain our senses from hurtful excesses.

Scripture tells us that our fasting should be accompanied by an increase in almsgiving, but also that the discipline of our bodies, so inclined to concupiscence, leads to greater discipline in our souls. In the same way bodily excesses make it harder for us to live a life of virtue.

This Lent my husband and I decided to cut meat, cheese, and eggs mostly out of our diet and focus on simple meals based on beans and grains. We have found a large variety of really interesting, flavorful, healthy, and simple meatless meals that the whole family loves. Perhaps my children are weird, but I have gotten them to eat and love (even the picky ones) the strangest sounding of the recipes linked below.

A lot of these recipes call for a vegetable stock if you want to be completely vegetarian, since a lot of beef and chicken stocks or bouillons have meat in them. We have been really happy with vegetable bouillon cubes from our local grocery store, but you could also make your own vegetable broth base. The vegetable broth base really does add a lot to these recipes, so I recommend finding one that you like.

Here are some of our old favorites from over the years and new ones that have surprised us as delicious:

1. Ezekiel Bread- The first thing I learned to cook for this Lent was bread based on the Bible verse Ezekiel 4:9: “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentil, millet and spelt, and put them in a single vessel, and make bread of them. God commanded the prophet Ezekiel to eat this bread for 390 days as a message to the Israelites. It has been a staple of our Lent this year as it is packed full of grains and nutrients. I like this recipe, because instead of buying or making flour from all the grains, you cook the grains and beans and then put them in the bread.

2. Blackbean Chili- I first made this chili eight years ago; the first time I made it, my husband’s comment was that he hardly missed the meat! It has the right balance of flavors and spice and we often eat it over noodles with lots of cheese and sour cream or plain yogurt. It is also a great meal to take to gluten-free and vegetarian friends after having babies; I have quadrupled this recipe many times to feed a large family or two!

3. Lentils with Noodles, Onions, and Tomatoes: Syrian Rishta-This is another old favorite of ours; a friend made it for us on a Friday and we loved the complexity of flavors.

4. Rustic Cabbage, Chickpea, and Wild Rice Soup- This soup surprised me when I made it for my parents when they came to town last week. I thought it might be not very interesting and not very filling, but the flavor was quite delicious. It has a great balance of the cabbage, chickpeas, and rice with a good blend of spices.

5. Stewed Pinto Beans and Collard Greens- My husband has been asking me to make him collard greens for years, believing my hometown of St. Louis to be in the South, he thought I should know how to cook such things. I do know that they are packed with nutrients like other dark leafy greens. This meal made me nervous the whole time I was preparing it, but to my surprise, when topped with the tahini dressing and the suggested lime juice, it was really delicious. We ate it over millet.

6. Chana Masala- Some of the best meatless bean based meals come from the East (of the world). This Indian dish I first found in a magazine years ago, and we have made it again and again. It is chickpeas are cooked with onions in Indian spices and served over rice. The kids love it every time. The rice balances out the spice perfectly, and even my picky toddler eats this one.

7. Garden Minestrone- I am not really sure where I first found this recipe, but my family loves it and a crowd loves it. We have served it to large groups of people and everyone always loves the soup. Most recently made it with barley instead of shell pasta and I liked it even better than normal. It has so many vegetables and plenty of beans it stands alone as a meal with or without bread.

8. Falafel and Tabbouleh- I once attempted to make falafel from scratch with uncooked, soaked beans like the Lebanese cookbook that my family uses recommends. Perhaps I should try it again, but I remember it being a long, tiresome process, and not simple at all. Since then I have always used a mix from the Mediterranean section of the grocery store, which makes it a quick meal to prepare. I simply soak the mix of the ground beans and spices in water and fry then in oil. While they are soaking I make a tabbouleh salad and we serve them with yogurt. The salad I linked is just one way of making it; I prefer to make it without the mint.

9. White bean dip wraps- This is a simple, simple bean meal. We like to have hummus on wraps all the time, but have also developed a taste for white bean dip, or black bean, or any other kind of bean. I make the dip in about 10 minutes and we like to eat our tortilla wraps with sweet peppers, cucumber, lettuce, and feta cheese. You can serve this with whatever toppings you prefer. It is a simple way to have a balanced meal.

10. Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup--My husband brought home farro from his grocery shopping last month. We tried this soup and it was quite tastey with the chewy farro. I substituted great white northern beans for the borlotti since we did not find any at our local grocery store.

We are still looking for new bean and grain recipes, and I hope that you find these recipes as delicious as we have!