Whether out of conviction or just by custom, many people around the world observe Lent (the liturgical season leading up to Easter) in some manner. One of the most common ways of doing this is by eating less red meat and more vegetarian and/or pescatarian meals. Mexican cuisine is replete with delicious ways to observe Cuaresma (Lent) and Semana Santa (Holy Week). Just for a start, try some of the following.
Learn more about the season of Lent and about Lenten observances in Mexico.
01 of 09
These portable hand pies are popular year round all over Latin America, but during Lent and Holy Week meatless ones are produced and known as empanadas de vigilia (“vigil empanadas,” referring to the “watch” kept by Catholics on Holy Saturday, when the crucified Jesus was alone in his tomb).
Empanadas de vigilia are made in the same way as “regular” empanadas except that their fillings are made completely of and/or fish or seafood. Try your hand at some ultra-Mexican ones made with poblano chile rajas or with some mushrooms sautéed with diced onion and sprig of epazote. Fish—either canned or fresh—sautéed with onion, garlic, and tomatoes also makes an excellent empanada filling. Or go vegetarian with a swiss chard and onion sautee, with or without cheese.
02 of 09
While not used much for everyday cooking in Mexico, fava beans (also called broad beans) make a much-heralded entrance into the country’s cuisine during Lent and Holy Week. Cooked until they are falling apart, then often deliberately deconstructed even more by a bean masher or even a blender, the beans are seasoned with onion, garlic, and tomato. Oftentimes, chopped, cooked nopales (prickly pear cactus pieces) are added to the soup. The result: a deliciously creamy, comforting, and hearty—yet simple enough for austere times—soup.
03 of 09
As happens with so many dishes that came to different parts of the New World from Europe, capirotada is made in a thousand different ways all over Latin America. This bread pudding is usually made with leftover white bread, some sort of syrup, and spices. It may or may not contain fresh or dried fruit and/or vegetables and/or some sort of cheese.
Most Mexican capirotada is made with day-old bolillos or simiar bread, a piloncillo syrup (although a version from northern Mexico uses sweetened condensed milk instead), dried fruit such as raisins or prunes, and cheese. It is eaten, usually on Fridays, during Lent, and especially during Holy Week. Capirotada is served warm or at room temperature and can be a dessert, snack, or breakfast item.
Legend has associated the ingredients in capirotada with the crucifixion of Christ, commemorated at this time of year. The bread used represents the Christ’s body, and the syrup His blood. The cheese (which is often one that melts into somewhat of a “sheet” over the top) symbolizes the holy shroud, the cloth Crist was wrapped in after his death. The cinnamon—traditionally in stick form—recalls the cross, while the whole cloves (or, in their absence, raisins) represent the nails used to nail Christ Jesus to that cross.
04 of 09
For economical protein, eggs reign, and Mexico knows how to make them. Take Ranchero Eggs (Huevos Rancheros) for instance—a delight at any time of day, not just for breakfast. Eggs scrambled with cooked, chopped green beans or cooked nopalitos (pieces of nopal cactus) are popular on meatless Fridays, too. Serve them with sliced avocado and slice or two of some sort of Mexican cheese, and you have yourself one tasty meal with an authentic Mexican flair.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Tortitas, little fried patties, and croquetas (same concept, different shape) are everyday food all over Mexico. They are sometimes made with meat or chicken, but often consist of leftover vegetables or leafy greens bound together with breadcrumbs and egg and fried or deep fried. Patties and croquettes are made year round by thrifty homemakers, but they really come into their own during the meatless days of Lent and Holy Week. Try your hand at some basic potato croquettes or some tuna (or salmon) ones.
06 of 09
Fridays in Lent are supposed to be meatless, and this is intended as a penitential exercise. Honestly, though, it’s hard to be penitential, with access to such delicious Mexican fish and seafood dishes! Don’t miss out on White Fish in Creamy Cilantro Sauce and Fish Veracruz Style. Don’t shy away from ceviche, either, whether it be Fish Ceviche or Shrimp Ceviche. Once you’ve got those dishes down pat, branch out with some other Mexican mariscos recipes.
07 of 09
Vegetable and Mushroom Sautees
Vegetable side dishes become main courses in Mexico during Lent, but to tell the truth, these foods are so flavorful that it’s anything but a sacrifice to feature them at a meal! Chopped calabacita squash is exquisite when sautéed with corn kernels and diced onions and tomatoes.
Then there's the perennial favorite a la mexicana treatment available for veggies—so called because it contains the three colors of the Mexican flag: green, white, and red. The green is usually a small amount of chopped fresh chile pepper (such as serrano chile or jalapeño); the red is generally peeled, chopped tomato; and the white is often diced onion. Sautee these three ingredients with some chopped squash, cauliflower, or chayote, and you are in for a real treat.
As for mushrooms, because of their “meaty” texture and rustic flavor, fungi make a great occasional substitute for meat. Sautee some chopped mushrooms and diced onion with a sprig of epazote in real butter (or good quality pork lard if you don’t need to avoid pork) to make a delicious filling for tacos or quesadillas. Mushrooms can also be prepared “a la mexicana” by sauteeing them until tender with diced onion, tomatoes, and fresh chile pepper.
08 of 09
Tuna croquettes (mentioned above) are always a favorite, and it’s easy to make tuna tacos. But did you know that canned sardines and canned mackerel can be just as tasty? Try your favorite meatloaf of meatball recipe with canned fish instead of meat, and you’ll see what I mean. Or toss well-drained canned fish with chopped lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, then drizzle with your favorite dressing for a great salad.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Lent is the perfect time to enjoy cheese-stuffed Chiles Rellenos, but peppers are not the only vegetable being stuffed in Mexico at this time of year. Round or oblong calabacita squash (similar to zuchinni squash, though lighter in color) are often hollowed out and stuffed with cheese and diced onions sautéed with the scooped out squash. This dish is often served with a spoonful of tomato-y broth as a sauce. Other veggies, like eggplant or chayote, can be treated in a similarly toothsome manner.