Growing up in a true Irish house, a typical scene each morning featured my mother and grandmother peeling and washing vegetables and potatoes. There was always potatoes! On the cooker sat a huge pot of water (the seventies equivalent of a crock pot or Instapot) ready to receive a large joint of meat or said potatoes for dinner later that day.
Not a piece of pasta or a grain of rice were to be found in any of our kitchen food cupboards, ever! ‘Meat and two veg’ was the staple dinner and if you didn’t like it, tough luck sunshine, there was no other option.
Indeed, my father being one of nine children remembers his childhood family dinners when meat was only served once a week and was considered a real treat. They literally grew up on potatoes and vegetables alone.
Although my beloved grandmother has passed on, the scene is pretty much the same to this day.
Traditional Irish cooking has, of course, evolved over the years and people travel to Ireland from all corners of the globe to try it, but the essence of it is simply good homestyle comfort food. While I pride myself on enjoying a wider variety of international cuisine these days, when I travel back to my homeland, I look forward to the meals just like mom always makes.
If the St. Patrick's Day holiday has you craving an Irish-inspired feast, try these simple, traditional recipes!
Irish Soda Bread
First introduced into Ireland in the mid-1800s, soda bread was typically made in houses of poverty using the most basic of ingredients. The tradition was passed on for generations and breadmaking became part of daily life.
As a latch-key kid in the eighties, I can recall opening the door after school and savoring that distinct smell floating through the hallway from our kitchen. A typical afternoon snack consisted of a strong cup of tea and two slices of soda bread. Delicious on its own with lots of Kerrygold butter or accompanying soup.
7 ounces whole grain flour
10 ounces white flour
1 & 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 free-range egg
1 teaspoon of honey
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Grease and flour a 900g loaf tin. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. In a Pyrex jug, measure out the buttermilk and then whisk in the egg and honey.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and then pour in the wet mixture. Add a little extra flour if you find the dough is too wet and sticky. Using a wooden spoon, bring the mix together to form a dough. Shape into a rough oval and place in the loaf tin.
Sprinkle with a little flour on top and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. The bread is cooked when you can turn it out on a wire rack, and when the bottom is tapped it should sound hollow. Allow to cool before slicing.
A traditional potato recipe incorporating kale or cabbage into a cooked mash, my grandmother used to feed it to me in buckets and smile as it hit the table shouting, “that’ll boost your iron, lady!”
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
12 ounces curly kale, ribs removed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon of butter
Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring to the boil until they are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside. Return the same water to the boil and add the kale. Cook until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove, rinse under cold water, squeeze out the excess liquid and finely chop.
Mash the potatoes, salt, pepper and butter with a potato masher. Stir in the kale. You can also add some chopped spring onion for an extra bit of flavor too.
The ultimate comfort food! Very similar to cottage pie but the Irish version is usually made with ground beef. A variation would be to use lamb.
1 3/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed with butter and milk (optional)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup milk
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup beef or chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste or a dash of Ketchup (secret ingredient)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup frozen petite peas
Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a quart shallow baking dish. In a large skillet or pan melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes.
Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until browned. Pour off any fat (most important), then add the broth, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the peas.
Add the beef mixture in an even layer and then top with the mashed potatoes in an even layer. Use a fork to “ruffle” the top. Melt the remaining butter and brush over the top or sprinkle with some grated cheese. Bake until the filling is bubbling, and the top is golden, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
For a slight variation use the Colcannon (recipe above) instead of plain mashed potatoes.
Beef and Guinness Stew
1-2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil
2 pound joint/shoulder of beef, cut into one-inch chunks
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic finely sliced (optional)
2/3 cup beef stock
2 cups Guinness
Rock salt and ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 ounce plain flour
Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the meat in two batches. Remove and set aside on a plate. Add another drop of oil if you need it and then fry off the onion, carrots, and celery. Add the meat back into the pot along with the garlic if desired.
Pour in the stock, Guinness, one bay leaf and season to taste. Simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the liquid has reduced. If the sauce isn’t thick enough strain the juices into a bowl and then transfer to a small saucepan.
Mix a little of the sauce with the flour over heat until you have a smooth paste, then whisk through the rest of the liquid. Simmer gently until you have a thickened sauce, then tip back over the meat. Serve with mashed potatoes or crusty bread.
Boiled Corned Beef or Bacon with Cabbage
Many would argue, both sides of the pond, whether this dish is truly considered a traditional Irish meal. It's more famous in North America than in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, but enjoyed on any dinner table and definitely top of the menu on most restaurants or pubs celebrating the holiday.
In my home, we ate both regularly – boiled, rather than oven roasted. Same goes for the cabbage but modern cuisine techniques suggest sautéing, which is equally good, if not tastier.
3 lbs corned beef or bacon
1 large head of cabbage, sliced into 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch wide slices
Additional vegetables such as carrots (cut to 1 inch pieces) or several new potatoes (quartered)
Olive oil and butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced
Place your selected choice of meat choice in a large (6 to 8 quart) pot. Cover with water, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 hours, until the meat is fork tender. Remove from pot to a cutting board. (Reserve cooking liquid for boiling the cabbage if you plan to boil and not sauté the cabbage.)
Cut slices across the grain, into 1/2-inch thick and serve.
Once you've removed the corned beef from the pot, add the cabbage and any other vegetables (carrots, new potatoes) to the pot. Taste the liquid. If it's too salty, add more water to the pot. Raise the heat until the liquid is simmering well. Simmer until the cabbage and any other vegetables are cooked through, 15-30 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil (enough to well coat the pan) on medium-high to high heat in a large, wide pot high-sided sauté pan. Add chopped onions, cook for a couple of minutes, then add garlic.
Add a third of the sliced cabbage to the pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir to coat with oil and mix with onions.
Spread out the cabbage evenly over the bottom of the pan but don't stir until it starts to brown. If the heat is high enough, this should happen quickly. When the bottom of the cabbage is nicely browned, use a metal spatula to lift it up and flip it, scraping the browned bits as you go.
Once the cabbage in the pan has browned on a couple of flips, add another third of the cabbage to the pan. Mix well, then spread out the cabbage and repeat. Add some more butter to the pan for flavor, and to keep the cabbage from sticking too much to the pan. Once this batch has cooked down a bit and browned, add the remaining third of the cabbage and repeat.
Serve with the corned beef and boiled potatoes. Can be made ahead and reheated.
Potato Cakes (Boxty)
It’s like an American biscuit and hash browns had a baby! It's considered a breakfast dish to be served with eggs and bacon, but can also be plated with a crisp salad for lunch or dinner.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup mashed potatoes, boiled in salted water (I prefer Idaho® potatoes)
1 1/2 cups grated, raw potato
3-4 ounces mild cheddar cheese
1 cup buttermilk (or more if needed)
6 spring onions finely sliced (optional)
A little butter for the pan
In a small bowl, place the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with the grated raw potato and spring onion if desired. Then add the flour and mix well. Slowly add the buttermilk and stir gently (don't overmix). The mixture should be like a very firm, thick batter; almost like a dough, so add more buttermilk if needed.
Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, and add a pat of butter, just before scooping out some of the boxy batter onto the pan. Flatten and shape into a nice, round pancake shape and fry until golden brown on the bottom. As they fry, add some grated cheese allowing it to melt before turning on to the other side, and repeat.
Turn and continue to cook until golden brown on top too, turning the heat down if they are browning too quickly (remember there is raw potatoes included which need to cook). Continue to add a little butter and fry the boxy until all the batter is finished. Serve hot.
Everyone wants to be a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day so besides donning some green attire why not dabble in a little homestyle Irish cooking? What are you creating in your kitchen on March 17th?