If you're one of the people perennially pissed off about the Christmas creep, the St. Philip's Fast might offer you a cure. Beginning 40 days before the Feast of the Nativity (i.e. Christmas), it is a time of prayer, almsgiving and fasting for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians around the world. It starts today, Nov. 15, for many (but not all) Orthodox churches. The culinary impact of this fast is that, except for the occasional weekend fish fillet or popcorn shrimp, believers don't eat meat, eggs or dairy for a month and some change. So while it may seem weird to write a diner's guide for a period defined by what you don't eat, a few limitations may help you find fare you wouldn't have been likely to try otherwise.
So what can you have during St. Philip's Fast? The list of don'ts is lengthy. No red or white meat, no dairy and no eggs for 40 days. Fish is OK on the weekends, and, thanks to their reputation in antiquity as the cockroaches of the sea, shellfish are OK for every meal. Besides those ground rules, there are shifting dates on which days you can't drink wine or use olive oil; in their wisdom, the church fathers placed no prohibition on beer, so that's fair game all 40 days. In practice, the only folks expected to keep the fast to this degree are priests, bishops and monks, but for those believers who go hard in the ascetical paint, it can be a challenge to eat anything outside one's own kitchen.
Thanks to the broad scope of DFW restaurants that come from Orthodox cultures, you've got options that range from familiar favorites to some that may be pleasant culinary surprises. Even if you're not doubling down on the full 40-day fast, give some of these dishes a try. If nothing else, you may end the 40 days by making restaurant recommendations that would even impress the office vegan.
The vegetarian combo at Sheba's Ethiopian Kitchen (pictured above)
8989 Forest Lane
The Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church has been keeping this fast since the 400s, which might account for why this fasting dish is better than most regular food we've eaten in the past six months. Red and yellow lentils sit alongside collard greens, pickled cabbage and carrots and beets (there's a little garden salad too, if you like), all set to be gobbled up with never-ending strips of the sourdough flatbread injera. If fasting is intended to prepare the diner for heaven, the vegetarian combo gives a beautiful foretaste of the divine banquet.
The Fasolatha at Stratos Greek Taverna
2907 W Northwest Hwy.
As you're easing yourself into the Saint Philip's Fast, visit Stratos Greek Taverna for a bowl of fasolatha. Similar to minestrone, it's a white bean-based soup also filled with carrots, onions and garlic. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the bowl and give the soup a stir, then slurp down its hearty goodness. The bean protein will help ward off grouchiness, and the garlic and lemon will give your immune system a boost. Use the ubiquitous side of pita bread to soak up the last few drops of broth, then order a Greek coffee (we recommend medium-sweet) to help power you through the day.
The pomegranate tabouleh and falafel at Baboush
3636 McKinney Ave.
Wednesdays and Fridays are the most hardcore fasting days in Orthodoxy. To remember Christ's betrayal by Judas Iscariot (Wednesdays) and his crucifixion by the Romans (Fridays), the calendar adds wine and olive oil to the list of no-nos. For this first full-on fasting day, dishes we typically take for granted can become lifesavers. In this case, we look to the falafel patties and pomegranate tabouleh from the Moroccan/Lebanese kitchen at Baboush. On a day where you might feel tempted to subsist on filtered dirt instead of food, the gentle lemon tart and pomegranate seed sweetness of the tabouleh offer a tastier option. So does the falafel, rendered even more beloved for its dairyless tahini-harissa dipping sauce.
The Vinegret at Russian Banya
2515 E. Rosemeade Parkway, Carrollton
Carrolton's Russian Banya is your one-stop shop for everything Rus in North Texas. One half of the house offers an authentic Russian steam bath. The other offers the authentic taste of the motherland, including some fasting staples.
On the vegan front, there's vinegret, a leafless salad of diced mixed root vegetables, sunflower oil and sauerkraut, dressed with a few fronds of dill. It's hearty, it's healthy and since the church fathers in their infinite wisdom never forbade beer at any point in any fast, it pairs well with a bomber of Baltika 8, Russia's finest wheat beer export.
If you happen to visit Russian Banya on the weekend, when the fast permits fish, try ordering the fish platter. It comes with a generous helping of smoked salmon and a smaller helping of smoked herring, dressed with lemon slices and more dill and centered on a kind of horseradish mustard. True, smoked herring isn't set to become the ingredient du jour of Dallas dining, but it has a smoky umami quality that is well-served by the tangy kick of the sauce.