Friday, December 2, 2011

The Nativity Fast

We've always been drawn to the Byzantine rite. The liturgy is so beautiful, with so many traditions still intact. One of those traditions is Phillip's Fast. With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it may be easy to forget that Advent is actually a penitential period in the liturgical year. The purple candles of the Advent wreath, for example, represent penance, as well as prayer and sacrifice. In the Byzantine Church, members still observe St. Phillip's fast and abstain from meat on Fridays. The fast is a bit more lenient than the Lenten fast, but it becomes stricter in the final seven days of Advent. The fast begins on November 15th, which is the day after the Byzantine feast of St. Phillip.

Although St. Phillip's fast may not be observed as rigorously as it once was, it is still promoted in the Byzantine rite. And like all Byzantine traditions, it can also be observed by Roman Catholics. Fasting is such a simple way to enter into the liturgical year as a family and prepare for Christ's birth. Here's a great recipe that I like to make on fasting days, from this great book:

Portuguese Kale Soup

1 cup dry white beans (or two cans of cooked beans)
10 cups (2.5 quarts) chicken, beef or vegetable broth (more as needed)
2 large onions, chopped
1 pound chopped kale
2 peeled and cubed potatoes
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon vinegar
4 minced garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the beans. If you make dry beans and forget to soak them overnight (as I almost always do), you can do it the quick way by covering the beans in water in a large pot and bringing them to a boil for two minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and cover. Let the beans sit for an hour in the covered pot.

2. Drain the beans. Put the beans, onions, kale, potatoes, tomato paste, vinegar and garlic in a large pot. Add the broth. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook for about two hours or even longer. Check the soup frequently and add more water as needed.

3. Season the soup to taste and take it off the heat.

Like all the soups in this book, this is an extremely simple recipe. In fact, in the book it doesn't even call for broth, but I find that it makes the soup much more flavorful. I sometimes make whole wheat bread or rye bread to serve with the soup.  Bake it while the soup is cooking so that the bread comes out of the oven just before the soup is ready. Serve with a light salad.

And although I know that the point of this post was St. Phillip's Fast, I have to say that on non-fasting days this soup is even better with sausage, chorizo or ground turkey. But the vegetarian version is also delicious. Enjoy (in a penitential spirit, of course.)!

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