Contrary to what some may think, Spaniards have no problem with a meatless diet. Despite the fact that the country is famous for pork products, some of Spain's most famous dishes are fish or vegetable based. Spain's incredible coastline and countless farms and greenhouses mean that fresh fish, fruit, and veggies are plentiful. And Spain's long Catholic history has allowed plenty of time to perfect delicious meatless recipes for lent!
Starting on Ash Wednesday, the meatless menu begins (practicing Catholics won't eat meat on Fridays during this period). Like other Catholic countries, Spain celebrates the forty day period of prayer, penance, and fasting known as Cuaresma or Lent. Though these days many Spaniards are not practicing Catholics, the Lent traditions remain an important part of local culture. Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions are extremely important in Andalusia and are the focus of the entire month. Elsewhere, Spaniards recognize the Lent season because of the delicious pastries and local dishes that begin to appear in shop windows and on special menus. On Fridays, the most traditional places go completely meatless, as is the Catholic tradition.
These are nine of my favorite meatless lent recipes from Spain. Some can be found year-round, but others are Lent-only specialties!
1. Torrijas (typical Lent pastries)
Torrijas are definitely Spain's number one Lent food (maybe along with salt cod....). When the torrijas show up in the pastry shop windows, it's sure that Lent has begun! There are a few different types of torrijas (soaked in milk, cinnamon, and sugar, soaked in honey, or soaked in wine and sugar syrup). My favorites are undoubtedly the honey soaked variety, popular in Andalusia.
2. Bacalao (salt cod)
Salt cod is one of the most traditional Spanish dishes, and important to local cuisine across the country. Some of the most delicious salt cod dishes for Lent are:
- Fried salt cod fritters
- Salt cod croquettes
- Tortilla de bacalao (salt cod omelet)
- Cod and potato stew
- Cod and cauliflower
- Cod lasagna
3. Bocadillo de calamares (fried calamari sandwich)
Fried calamari sandwiches are said to have become popular when Spain's Lent laws were strictly enforced. The calamari that arrived in landlocked cities like Madrid may not have been in prime conditions (back then!) so it was marinated and deep fried, then stuffed in bread. Nowadays Madrid is famous for delicious calamari sandwiches in the Plaza Mayor area (we eat one on our Madrid food tours!) and also very easy to prepare at home!
4. Tortas de la Abuela (honey soaked fried dough)
Similar to their better-known cousin, pestinõs, these are an addictive Lenten pastry that is essentially fried dough smothered in honey. My mother-in-law makes the best ones-- here is her recipe!
5. Pimientos rellenos (stuffed peppers)
The possibilities for stuffed peppers are endless-- meat, fish, rice, veggies... My favorite meatless version is stuffed with rice and creamy tetilla cheese. Truly delicious!
6. Pisto con huevo (ratatouille with egg)
A classic Spanish dish all year round, pisto is sauteed vegetables (similar to ratatouille) with a fried egg on top. It's simple, quick, vegetarian, and the perfect meatless Lent recipe for breakfast, lunch or dinner!
7. Arroz de verduras (vegetable paella)
Here is Spain we love our rice dishes (arroces). There are countless vegetarian rice recipes (which most English speakers would call vegetable paella), and I guarantee no one will miss the meat! One of my favorites is this rice dish with garbanzos to add extra protein. You could easily add a flaky white fish like cod if you'd like to make it even more filling.
8. Espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and chickpeas)
A savory stew that's popular in Andalusia (where Lent traditions are especially important!) this plate is spiced with cumin and paprika, and an absolutely delicious meatless meal. Get the recipe here!
9. Berenjenas con miel (eggplant and honey)
Perfect for a meatless snack, these lightly fried eggplant slices are topped with sticky honey for a sweet and savory combination that's hard to beat. Perfect with a beer or a glass of sherry!
What are your favorite meatless Lent recipes where you live?