My Irish roots are tied to my maternal grandparents who emigrated from Ireland in the late 19th century. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became their new home and St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated each year with what I knew to be traditional food and decorations.
In 2008 my daughter Jennifer and I took a trip to Cork, Ireland. From there, we traveled to the Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. I had always dreamed of visiting Ireland so, this trip was very special to both of us.
As the month of March arrives each year, I think of my family and my wonderful trip to Ireland.
Ireland is a colorful, stunningly beautiful country. The grass really is emerald green and the flowers are abundant.
Real Irish food is full of flavor and subtlety, based on prime ingredients with care and respect. Most everything is grown locally. Organic is a way of life there. There is respect for the land and the animals that live on it.
Based on my St. Patrick’s Day experiences, I came to expect corned beef and cabbage, along with boiled potatoes to be the basic fare in Ireland. Much to my surprise, it was never on the menu where we traveled.
I learned that there is only one place in Ireland, County Clare, whose residents do corned beef and eat it with cabbage. It is a highly specific regional dish. What the Irish do eat more across Ireland is bacon and cabbage. The cabbage used is tender spring cabbage similar to savoy versus the lesser tender green heads we find here in America.
I began to realize that meat, butter, eggs, dairy, fish, whole grains and sugar were all traditions in real Irish food.
The Irish-American immigrants found potatoes and traditional green cabbage, but could not find salt pork in their new home. Bacon, the closest substitute, was insanely expensive. Thus, they turned to corned beef. It was the one thing Irish immigrants could afford and would eat in the U. S. because it reminded them of home.
Jennifer and I were not eating animals or animal products at that time. We discovered an array of vegetable dishes and vegan stews that filled our stomachs and satisfied our palettes. Great versions of Irish soda bread were offered with every meal. We could always count on cabbage and potatoes as well and always dessert!
Classic Irish plant-based food, like this Farmhouse Vegetable Stew, showcases the array of cool weather vegetables better than any other culture: carrots, onions, parsnips, rutabaga and other root vegetables of unsurpassed sweetness, all types of potatoes bursting their skins with floury, flavorful goodness and gorgeous green leafy vegetables.
We tasted them all in the soups and stews that were on every menu in taverns, cafes and restaurants. Always with fresh made croutons. The butter and cream in the stew makes the flavor stand out from other stews.
Breads in Ireland are divided between soda and a yeast-raised bread called "pan." Soda bread is a round quick bread, brown or white, and raised with buttermilk and baking soda. Pan is a rectangular sliced yeast-raised loaf that is shaped and baked in a loaf pan.
The loaf pictured here is a soda bread that has been adapted to be gluten-free and vegan. I have added raisins to make it a little sweeter. Traditional Irish soda bread is not sweet and can be warmed or toasted and spread with butter, jam or honey.
The most important thing to know about soda bread is that it is meant to be eaten the day it is made. It can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator, or sliced and frozen. You will need to toast it after storing.
Remember to put a cross on the top before baking. Some say it is to let the fairies escape, but it also helps the bread bake evenly, and, after it has cooled, lets you break it into four even size pieces or “farls.”
If you are still looking for a good vegan alternative to corned beef and cabbage, find my article on this my Blog , “Celebrating cultures this St. Patrick’s Day”.
I hope you get to visit the Emerald Isle someday – until then, enjoy our Irish-American St. Patrick’s Day traditions. Erin go bragh!
Farmhouse Vegetable Stew
Recipe adapted from Real Irish Food by David Bowers
2 tablespoon vegan butter
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup diced rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
8 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried sage
¼ cup coconut cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 thick slices of bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
Heat the butter in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Stir in the onions and celery and put the lid on the pot. Cook the vegetables for 6 to 7 minutes, so they steam and soften but do not brown.
Add the potatoes and other vegetables, the broth, thyme, and sage. Bring to a boil, cover loosely, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or more, until the veggies are tender.
Add the cream, if using and season to taste with salt and pepper. At this point you may remove half of the stew and blender it to make it creamier. Add the blended stew back in, leaving a number of visible chunks. I prefer to keep the stew chunky without blending.
To serve, cut the crust off the bread and trim the slices into ½ inch cubes. Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the bread, and fry quickly, shaking the pan and turning the croutons, until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.
Spoon the stew into bowls and sprinkle with croutons. Serve with Irish Soda Bread.
Real White Irish Soda Bread
This is the original recipe for White Irish Soda Bread from Real Irish Food by David Bowers. The gluten free, vegan version is below.
1 medium loaf, 6-8 servings
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 -3 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ - 1 ¾ cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large bowl, stir together flour sugar, salt and baking soda,
Stir in enough buttermilk to make a stiff dough.
Lightly flour a rimless baking sheet and turn out dough onto it. Shape it into a large round. Slash the surface with a sharp knife to make an X about an inch deep across the entire top surface.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden and crusty. A tester should have only a few crumbs clinging to it, and the bread should sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. (If it doesn’t, remove it from the baking sheet and turn it upside down directly on the oven rack and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more.)
Remove loaf from the oven and wrap it in a clean tea towel and leave it, wrapped to cool on a wire rack. (Wrapping traps in the steam and keeps the exterior from being too hard).
Notes: To make this a Brown Irish Soda Bread, use 3 cups coarse stoneground whole wheat flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 ½ - 1 ¾ buttermilk. Proceed as instructed, but bake for 30-40 minutes.
Gluten Free, Vegan Irish Soda Bread
Recipe from rhiansrecipes.com
Servings 18 slices
1 ½ cup unsweetened almond milk (or other plant based milk)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups chickpea flour
2 ¼ cups all-purpose gluten free flour
6 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins soaked for 2 hours and rinsed (optional)
½ cup water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Measure out the milk and, leaving it in the measuring container, add the vinegar and stir – leave to sit for around 10 minutes, while you do the rest of the steps.
Place the chickpea flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and optional soaked raisins in a large bowl and mix well.
Add the milk and vinegar mixture to and the water, and mix again.
Grease a round baking pan with vegan shortening. Turn the batter into the pan forming a mound of batter. Shape into a round loaf.
Take a sharp knife and draw an X over the top of the batter about an inch deep across the surface of the entire top surface.
Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes, until risen and an inserted knife comes out clean.
Wrap in a clean dish towel and place on a cooling rack. Leave to cool before slicing.
Store in fridge for up to a few days – if not eaten on the day it is made, it is best toasted before eating.
Notes: To make a browner, sweeter bread, add ½ cup ground coconut sugar to the dry ingredients when mixing.