Lent is a time during which my family, as many Christian believers, focuses on religious disciplines of penance, prayer, renunciation, and charity.
It is a period of 40 days in which Catholicism suggests we give up the consumption of red meat (beef and pork). This is mostly observed on each Friday between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday. However, my family always tries to cook without red meat throughout the whole 40 days, which to me, means good eats!
All kinds of sea food - Fish or Shrimp Ceviche, Tortitas de Camaron con Nopalitos (dry shrimp patties with cactus), Fish Soup, Cactus Salad, Chiles Rellenos, and the traditional Capirotada (a kind of bread putting) are some of the favorites. This food is readily available throughout the year but is traditionally prepared during Lent. Most of the time the food is simple and easy to prepare but there are some dishes that are more complicated. While my mother and sisters are experts when it comes to preparing complicated Lenten food, I usually stick with the simple ones. But just because they are simple doesn't mean they are less flavorful, they are de-li-cious!
These two recipes are very similar but one is completely vegetarian. These are recipes that every Mexican knows and people add their special twist to them. I love them both!
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 green jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
3 large radishes
1 small red onion
4 green scallions
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. black pepper
salt to taste
1-2 T. olive oil
Clean and chop the shrimp in small pieces the size of a garbanzo bean. Spread out the shrimp in a non-metallic bowl and completely cover with lemon juice. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
After the 8 hours the shrimp will be completely cooked. Drain in a colander to remove the excess lemon juice. Pat it dry with paper towels and place in a large bowl. Cut the jalapeño, radishes, red onion in a small dice and thinly slice the scallions. Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds, then dice in small pieces . Finely chop the cilantro. Add all these ingredients to the shrimp and mix to combine. Season with garlic powder, black pepper and salt. Stir in the olive oil. Serve on tostadas as a main meal or eat with corn chips as an appetizer.
4 fresh nopalitos (cactus pads)
1/2 c water
3-4 sprigs of cilantro (flat leaf parsley can be a good substitute)
1 garlic clove
1 small lemon, sliced
1 green or red jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small white onion, diced in small pieces
3 small radishes, diced in small pieces
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced in small pieces
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 T lemon juice
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Holding each cactus pad with one hand (use gloves or kitchen tongs), cut off the bumps that contain the thorns with a sharp knife. Rinse the cactus well and then dice it. Place in a saucepan over the stove, add 1/2 onion, sprigs of cilantro, garlic clove, and lemon slices. Pour in the water, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cactus changes color. Drain and rinse a couple of times with cold water, discard the onions, garlic, cilantro and lemon slices. Place the cooked cactus in a large bowl, add the jalapeño, scallions, white onion, radishes, tomatoes and cilantro. Mix to combine all ingredients. Stir in lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on tostada shells as a main dish or use as a side dish or salad.
Note: Fresh nopales can be bought in Mexican grocery stores and sometimes in Farmers' Markets. Canned nopalitos can substitute for fresh. They come in a jar, packed in water or vinegar and are sold in most major supermarkets.