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Easy, Low-carb, Lenten Friday Dinner

lent1 1For Catholics, Lent is a time of fasting and meditation leading up to the Easter holiday. Central to the tradition in modern times is refraining from eating meat on Lenten Fridays. If you are like me and on a low-carb diet, Lenten Friday meals can be a challenge. In normal times, a bread dish, (such as a cheese pizza), a pasta dish (take your pick), or even fried fish from the local parish are all off limits to the low-carb dieter. The breading on the fish has a considerable amount of carbs and the hush puppies and fries are all carbs. With that in mind, I took up the challenge and made a Lenten Friday meal that was delicious to even non-dieters and fell within the strict low-carb guidelines (which, for me, is fewer than 20 grams of carbs a day, less than the sugar most people would add to their morning coffee).



Pan-fried, Almond and Parmesan Crusted Cod Loins

lent 2The cod fillet is a marvelous fish. It contains a thicker portion at the head of the fillet (the loin) and the larger but thinner tail end of the fillet. In order to insure even cooking, I purchased the loin portion instead of whole fillets. The following recipe should feed four people pretty easily:

4 cod loins
1-1/2 C almond flour
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, scrambled well, with
1T half and half
Oil for frying (take your pick)

In one lipped dish, combine the almond flour and the Parmesan cheese. Pepper the coating to taste. In another lipped dish, scramble the eggs and half and half until fully incorporated.

In a 12" skillet, cover the bottom with about a quarter inch of oil and set aside to heat. The oil is ready when a bamboo skewer starts to fry when dipped in the oil. The oil will also have a shimmering surface that is visible.
Dredge the cod loins in the egg mixture on both sides and then coat them in the almond flour-Parmesan crust on both sides, pressing the mixture on to the loins with your hand.

Transfer to the oil, 2 loins at a time and fry until golden brown on both sides. Almond flour tends to brown quicker than all-purpose flour or cornmeal, so don't let a little deep color scare you. This is normal. When done, transfer it to paper towels to drain. Repeat process for the other two loins. Serve with lemon wedges.

I prepared two side dishes to serve with the cod. First comes:

lent1 3Curried Cauliflower

This dish was inspired by a similar cauliflower dish I had eaten at an Indian buffet. Not having the slightest idea of what or how much spice went into the dish, I improvised. The dish is easy, quick, and delicious. Cauliflower was a vegetable that I detested as a child, but I am discovering that my tastes have changed. I probably eat about four heads of cauliflower a week now.

1 large head of cauliflower, cored, separated into florets and cut so that the pieces are evenly sized
1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced in 1/8" thick strips
1 can of curry paste (NOTE: Asian markets have many different tinned curry pastes. All of them will work with this recipe, with variations of flavor. I generally choose red curry, which is readily available in most markets under the Taste of Thai brand. It's a small jar, but it is packed with flavor)
2 T oil
1/4 water or chicken broth.

In a 12" skillet, heat the oil for 4-5 minutes and then add the curry paste. You do not want it to be deep-fry hot, as it will spatter all over the kitchen. Frying the curry paste in oil releases the flavor in the mixture, as most of the ingredients are oil rather than water soluble. Fry until fragrant (a minute or two). Add the cauliflower pieces and stir to coat them in the spices. Add the onion and stir until the onion is spread out and starting to soften. Add the water or stock, cover and simmer until the cauliflower reaches the tenderness you desire. The liquid should evaporate mostly. Serve.

The other dish that I prepared was inspired by Cook's Illustrated magazine. I made some alterations to it, but the recipe is basically the same. Easy and addictively delicious.

Stir Fry of Asparagus and Shitake Mushrooms

lent1 42 lbs fresh asparagus, stems snapped and cut into roughly 1-1/2" pieces (spears around 1/4" thick seem to work the best)
1 carton of fresh shitake mushrooms
2 T oil
In a 12" skillet, heat the oil. Add the asparagus, spread it out on the bottom of the pan and leave it to brown a bit. Toss in the sliced mushrooms and stir occasionly for about five minutes. While that is on the stove, combine:
1 T soy sauce
1 T dry sherry
2 t brown sugar
2 t fresh ginger, peeled,and either grated or cut into rounds and smashed with the back of a knife
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 t water
1 clove of garlic, pressed

When the asparagus and the mushrooms begin to soften, add the sauce mixture. Stir occasionally until the moisture is evaporated and forms a glaze coating the vegetables. It can be garnished with sliced or slivered almonds and served.
I realize that this recipe does contain a bit of sugar, but when spread through the whole dish is a negligible amount.

Dishes like these can help the low-carb dieter stay faithful to the Friday sacrifice without turning away the rest of the family in the process. All of the three dishes can be prepared in less than an hour, so it isn't a chore either!

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