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Meatless Fridays don’t have to be flavorless

Here’s 2 easy, plant-based recipes to give a try

By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: February 21, 2024, 6:02am
2 Photos
This easy, lasagnalike recipe deconstructs one of Pittsburgh&rsquo;s favorite Lenten side dishes &mdash; pieorgies.
This easy, lasagnalike recipe deconstructs one of Pittsburgh’s favorite Lenten side dishes — pieorgies. (Photos by Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Photo Gallery

What to serve for dinner on Fridays during Lent can prove something of a head-scratcher if you want to refrain from eating meat, but are not a fan of baked or fried seafood dishes.

Sure, you can order pizza or fill up on grilled cheese sandwiches, but that can get pretty old pretty quick. That’s especially the case when there’s so many wonderful plant-based dishes that are not only inexpensive and easy to whip up in short order, but just as filling as a meal centered around meat.

The recipes below offer two examples.

The first takes a favorite Pittsburgh fish-fry side dish — potato-and-cheese pierogies — and deconstructs it into a filling, stick-to-your ribs casserole.

This easy casserole boasts all the great flavors of an onion-and-cheese pierogi, but none of the hassle of having to make dough from scratch, roll it out and stuff into dumplings. It’s adapted from a recipe created by celebrity chef Michael Symon, whose mother grew up in Monessen, for the Food Network.

Symon’s original recipe calls for farmers’ cheese, a semi-soft curd-like cheese with a mild, milky flavor. I substituted cottage cheese, which is a lot easier to find in your average grocery store. I also omitted bacon to make it vegetarian and used lasagna noodles instead of homemade pierogi dough.

Be sure to let the casserole dish rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting it into slices. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a soupy mess on the plate.

The second is an easy, gently spiced onion-and-tomato curry that features chickpeas simmered in a fragrant blend of herbs and warming spices.

This naturally gluten-free vegetarian recipe has an incredible depth of flavor for something that comes together so quickly. I only added one jalapeño to keep it tame, but you could double the amount or use chopped Thai green, or bird’s eye, chiles for even more spice. Eat it right out of the pan or, to stretch out the number of servings, dish over white or brown rice.

Both are made in one pan or pot, making for easy cleanup.

Deconstructed Pierogi Casserole

Serves 8. Adapted from foodnetwork.com

12 lasagna noodles

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cup heavy cream, heated until hot

8 tablespoons cold butter, cubed

1/4 cup chopped chives, some reserved for garnish

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

11/2 cups shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese

11/2 cups cottage cheese

Sour cream, for garnish

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water.

Prepare filling: Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Bring to a boil. Season the water generously with salt. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until a knife easily pierces the potatoes, about 10 minutes.

Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Mash, slowly mixing in the hot cream and cold butter. Stir in chopped chives, then season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish or metal pan.

In large pan, heat olive oil and add sliced onions. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are caramelized and sweet, about 10 min. Let cool.

Assemble casserole: Have the cooked lasagna noodles, mashed potatoes, caramelized onions and cheeses ready on a work surface. Arrange one layer of 4 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the buttered casserole dish, slightly overlapping the edges of the strips.

Spread a 1/2 -inch layer of potatoes on top of the dough. Top with some caramelized onions and a sprinkling of both Gruyere and cottage cheeses. Repeat the layers to use the remaining ingredients, finishing with the Gruyere and cottage cheese. Season the top with pepper.

Bake until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese on top is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let rest 15 to 20 minutes and then serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives, if desired.

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Chana (Chickpea) Masala

Serves 4. Adapted from minimalistbaker.com

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

Sea salt

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish

1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 28-ounce can finely diced tomatoes

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained


1 teaspoon garam masala

Juice 1/2 lemon, plus more to taste

Rice or roti, for serving, optional

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add oil, onion, cumin and a generous pinch of salt.

Add garlic, ginger, cilantro, and chopped jalapeño and stir to combine. Add ground coriander, chili powder and turmeric and stir to coat. Add a little more oil at this point if the pan is looking dry.

Add canned tomatoes and chickpeas and another pinch or two of salt. If the mixture looks a little too thick, add a little water.

Increase heat to medium high until it reaches a rolling simmer, then reduce heat to low or medium-low and maintain a simmer (uncovered) for 15-20 minutes, or until thick and stewlike. Stir occasionally.

When the masala is thickened and bubbly, taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more salt for saltiness, chili powder for heat, or if desired, a bit of sugar for sweetness (and to offset the heat of the chilies).

Remove from heat and add lemon juice and garam masala. Stir to mix, then let cool slightly before serving. Enjoy as is or pair with white or brown rice and/or roti. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator up to 4 days, or in the freezer up to 1 month.