Le Careme is the religious season of Lent before Easter. Roman Catholics participate in fasting and contemplation during the 40 days before “le dimanche de Paques,” or Easter Sunday.

Le Careme culminates during “la semaine sainte,” or Holy Week.

Fridays during le Careme are when the faithful abstain from eating meat.

Franco-American mothers have a history as creative cooks who prepared tasty meatless meals during le Careme and la semaine sainte.

My husband recalls Lenten meals served during the austere days of World War II when butter was rationed. His mother, Rose, prepared baked haddock, creamed eggs or salmon pie Fridays during le Careme. Haddock cooked without butter made the fish taste bland, he recalls.

New vegetarian variations expand the traditional Lenten recipes by improving the flavor of some old-fashioned meals. Two meatless meal variations my family added to le Careme menus include poutine and a vegetarian pate Chinois.

Poutine seems too delicious to be a sacrificial fasting recipe, but it meets the criteria for satisfying the palate while observing the meatless meals of le Careme.

Poutine is a traditional Quebecois potato recipe. It’s simple to make with modern freezer-to-oven-ready french-fried potatoes.

Cook the potatoes according to package directions and keep them warm. Prepare vegetarian gravy using butter or olive oil as the base thickened with flour. Season the gravy with salt, pepper plus other desired flavorings. Spices like sage or garlic can be added.

Place a heaping serving of hot french-fried potatoes on a plate or in a bowl. Drown the potatoes with as much flavored gravy as you desire. Top the entire dish with shredded cheese to taste. Practically any cheese topping will taste good, but shredded cheddar is preferred.

We created the idea of a vegetarian pate Chinois after receiving a copy of “Le Mystere Insondable du Pate Chinois” (“The Unfathomable Mystery of Pate Chinois”) by Jean-Pierre Lemasson. Pate Chinois means “Chinese pie.”

The source of its name is unknown, reports Lemasson. Perhaps the recipe was named by Chinese workers who came to North America during the 19th century to build railroads. Another theory is the name came from Quebec immigrants who worked in Augusta and lived in the nearby China Lakes of Maine.

Pate Chinois is the most popular recipe in Quebec, writes Lemasson. Ingredients include a simple trinity of seasoned ground meat layered with corn and mashed potatoes. Our vegetarian pate Chinois recipe substitutes lentils for the meat.

Lentils don’t take long to cook, and they are a good source of protein. Two cups of dried lentils are covered with vegetarian bouillon, which is flavored with one minced clove of garlic, one chopped onion and a stalk of sliced celery.

Simmer the lentils on low heat for about 45 minutes until the broth evaporates and the lentils are tender. A little extra water can be added if needed. Taste the lentils for flavor before draining in a strainer.

Spread the cooked lentils in a lightly greased pie plate. Mix together a small can of cream-style and whole-kernel corn. Spread the corn mixture over the lentils.

Top the pie with a layer of mashed potatoes. Some cooks use instant mashed potatoes, even when cooking with a meat base. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Le Careme ends on le dimanche de Paques, when old-fashioned ham is traditionally served to break the meatless fast.

Joyeuses Paques.

 

Juliana L’Heureux can be contacted at: [email protected]