Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chefs Take The Deprivation Out of Lenten Fridays

No matter how much you like fish and chips, they can get tiresome if you eat them every Friday during Lent. And there’s no need for monotonous fare, unless you choose it as a form of abstinence.

“People are looking for something different than fish and chips,” said Richard Daniels of Quincy, a chef at Stars on Hingham Harbor.

Daniels and other chefs cook up lobster mac ’n’ cheese, pan-seared scallops, linguine with shellfish and other fish and pastas dishes that have complex flavors but are relatively easy to prepare. And some chefs reinvent dishes strongly associated with meat by replacing the meat with a variety of fresh, high-quality ingredients and seasonings.

“I have fun playing with tons of ingredients and creating a contemporary fusion kind of food,” said Pankaj Pradhan, chef and owner of Red Lentil, a 2-year-old vegetarian restaurant on the Newton/Watertown line.

Years ago, Catholics might have felt unusual on meatless Fridays. But today, many non-vegetarians choose meatless meals at least once a week, prompted by concerns about fat in their diet, animal welfare and the environmental stress of meat production. About half his customers are not vegetarians, Pradhan said.

“People come who have eaten meat their whole life, but they want to try things unrelated to animal products,” said Pradhan, who prepares food inspired by the cuisines of Mexico, Italy, Greece, the Middle East and India, where he grew up. “They’re thinking about their health and the environment.”

Shepherd’s pie is one of the most popular dishes at Red Lentil. After experimenting with combinations of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates, Pradhan created a dish with layers of mashed Yukon gold and sweet potatoes, spinach, corn and soy sausage, served with a gravy made from ground cashews and soy milk and drizzled with cilantro sunflower pesto. Other meatless adaptations are sweet potato quesadillas, moussaka pizza and brown rice risotto with roasted butternut squash, red peppers, peas and goat cheese.

At Stars, Daniels serves vegetable risotto to complement pan-seared scallops.

“This method uses high heat and sears in the juices so the scallops don’t dry out,” he said.
Since Daniels introduced lobster mac ’n’ cheese several years ago, it has become the second most popular dish during Lent, after fish and chips. Bearing little resemblance to traditional macaroni and cheese, cavatelli pasta is baked with shiitake mushrooms, fresh peas and lobster pieces in a sauce of cream, white cheddar and parmesan. It’s topped with bread crumbs and white truffle oil.

Read the complete story here.

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