Eating Irish

Irish soda breadIn the next week or so more folks will think of eating Irish than at any other time of year. They’ll buy their Guinness and boil their potatoes. Corned beef and cabbage will grace many a table and fish and chips will be ordered in many a pub. But once St. Patrick’s Day has passed, the Irish recipes will, largely, be shelved again till the same time next year. I, for one, think that’s a shame.

Many cooks think of Irish food as bland and starchy, as lacking in nutrients and savor. Certainly, tough mutton and over-cooked cabbage are no one’s idea of a tasty meal. But over the last two decades or so, Irish cuisine has seen something of a renaissance — a rethinking of age-old cooking methods that’s now presenting traditional dishes in a fresh, flavorful way. I first came across these re-crafted recipes in Margaret M. Johnson’s The New Irish Table and then again a few years ago when celebrated DC-area chef Cathal Armstrong published My Irish Table, recipes from his home kitchen and his lauded farm-to-table establishment, Restaurant Eve.

These chefs and many others are inspired by ingredients that are staples in Ireland because they’re native to the land and woven into the culture for generations. Think oysters and trout and wild mushrooms, apples and parsnips, thick-cut bacon and artisanal cheeses. Then they’re creating delicious dishes as they select the best-raised ingredients and cook them simply to let these foods’ flavors shine.

Here’s the added benefit for those of us living in much of the East Coast of the U.S. — we share many of these same local foods. Especially in Virginia, where our artisanal cheeses are garnering notice, our oysters are experiencing a phenomenal comeback, our mountain-fed trout is top-notch and local apples grow in every hill and vale. Ireland’s beloved root vegetables — potatoes, turnips, horseradish — they’re our backyard crops as well. So for anyone looking for new ways to cook what’s coming from the garden, these Irish and Irish-American chefs can take what might be a tired food and make it sing again.

In our house, we adore Colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or turnips) and Braised Cabbage (which I often turn into Braised Kale) and Potato and Leek Soup. We love Apple Tarts and Potato Pancakes and Roasted Parsnips — all of which have their roots in Irish cooking.

Three of our favorite Irish foods are this amazing Irish Soda Bread, this updated Shepherd’s Pie and Turnips Anna Livia, which is so rich and delicious I challenge you to ever say you don’t like turnips again after eating it.

turnips anna livia


Here’s hoping you give these dishes a try — both next Friday and throughout the year. As an old Irish blessing might say: May the local ingredients rise up to meet you. May the best Irish recipes always be at your back….

What are your favorite Irish dishes?

Next week: Let’s grow together! How we can all garden — even just a little — this summer.

This post also appeared on the Virginia Bloggers and Fiesta Friday sites. This week’s cohosts at Fiesta Friday are Sarah @ Tales From The Kitchen Shed and Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons. If you love great food, stop by these sites for recipes and inspiration.

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