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More to Ireland than leprechauns and shamrocks

More to Ireland than leprechauns and shamrocks

STAFF PHOTO: BARB RANDALL  - Irish cuisine is based on fresh vegetables including cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions. The Irish have been accomplished cheese makers for centuries, too.

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the only logical plate to add to our virtual dining table this week is that of Ireland. Many Americans will be enjoying corned beef and cabbage, or corned beef or Reuben sandwiches March 17.

Those are foods we have come to regard as traditional Irish fare, along with a pint of good beer or a dram of Irish whiskey. But there is more to Ireland than corned beef and cabbage, shamrocks and leprechauns, and, unfortunately there is not a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow in Ireland. While I don’t want to dash that delightful impression, let’s add a little reality to the picture.

Ireland is a large island in the north Atlantic Ocean situated in the northwestern area of Europe. It is the 20th largest island in the world, and the second-largest in the British Isles archipelago. Although it is on the same latitude as Canada’s Hudson Bay, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and southern Alaska, Ireland enjoys a temperate maritime climate. This is caused by the Gulf Stream, the current of warm water and air that flows from the Gulf of Mexico towards Europe. This is what enables Europeans to live more easily in northern latitudes.

Ireland lies between 50 and 60 degrees north of the Equator and 15 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, so the difference in length between a winter day and a summer day is quite dramatic. A typical June day in Ireland is more than 18 hours long, while a December day can be less than seven hours long.

The weather in Ireland can be unpredictable and wet. It can be hot one day and cold the next, wet one hour and sunny the next. Sounds like spring in Oregon.

The island consists of two countries; the Republic of Ireland takes up most of the island, while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

Irish cuisine is natural influenced by the crops grown and animals raised. The basic cuisine is simple, hearty family cooking that follows the seasons. Most cooking is done without herbs or spices, except for salt and pepper, and foods are usually served without sauce or gravy.

According to foodbycountry.com, the staples of the Irish diet have traditionally been potatoes, grains (especially oats) and dairy products. Potatoes still appear at most Irish meals, with potato scones are a specialty in the north. The Irish have been accomplished cheese makers for centuries and offer about 50 types of homemade farmhouse cheese, considered delicacies.

Soups of all types, seafood and meats also play important roles in the Irish diet. Irish soups are thick, hearty, and filling, with potatoes, seafood and meats being common ingredients. Since the country is surrounded by water, the Irish enjoy many types of seafood, including salmon, scallops, lobster, mussels and oysters. However, meat is eaten more frequently at Irish meals. The most common meats are beef, lamb and pork. A typical Irish dinner consists of potatoes, (cooked whole), cabbage and meat.

Irish stew has been recognized as the national dish for at least two centuries.

Bread is also an important part of Irish cuisine, and tea is the most common everyday beverage. Popular alcoholic beverages include whiskey, beer and ale.

So what might you serve for St. Patrick’s Day? Irish stew, soda bread, champ (mashed potatoes with scallions and butter) and colcannon (mashed potatoes with cooked kale or cabbage) are all great choices. Pre-seasoned corned beef is readily available at grocery stores, and simple to prepare.

Your recipes today include Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread and Corned Beef with Cabbage.

To add a little zip, I’ve included recipes for Horseradish Cream and Guinness Mustard, which are great accompaniments to corned beef.

Beer and ale are popular drinks, but tea is still the favorite beverage in Ireland.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Bainigí sult as bhur mbéile! Dhéanamh ag ithe eachtra!

Traditional Irish Stew

Makes 4-6 servings

4 potatoes, thinly sliced

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

6 carrots, sliced

1 pound Canadian bacon, chopped

3 pounds lamb chops, 1-inch thick, trimmed and cut into small pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

2 1/2 cups water

4 potatoes, halved

Fresh parsley, finely chopped

To make Irish Stew, all the ingredients are assembled in layers in a large stew pot. Begin with layers of sliced potatoes, onions and carrots. Top with a layer of Canadian bacon and lamb. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Repeat these steps until all the ingredients are used. Add enough water to just cover the ingredients. Arrange the halved potatoes on top of the stew, but not in contact with the water, so they can steam as the rest is cooking. Simmer over a very low heat for about 2 hours. Sprinkle liberally with the chopped parsley and serve in soup bowls.

Irish Soda Bread

Serves 10-12

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup raisins

2 tablespoons caraway seeds

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F degrees. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add raisins and caraway seeds. Add buttermilk all at once and mix. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board. Form into a round loaf and place on a well-greased baking sheet. With a knife, carefully mark an X across the top of the loaf. Lay a piece of foil over the loaf. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower heat to 250 F degrees and bake 30 minutes more. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes, until the loaf is slightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve with butter.

Corned Beef with Cabbage

Serves 12-16

4 pounds corned brisket or beef

3 large onions, cut into large chunks

6-8 small onions

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon parsley

1 head cabbage (remove two layers of outer leaves)

Salt and pepper

Boiled potatoes as accompaniment

Place brisket in a large pot. Top with carrots, onions, mustard, thyme and parsley. Cover with cold water, and heat until the water just begins to boil. Cover the pot with the lid, lower the heat and simmer the mixture for 2 hours.

Using a large knife, cut the cabbage into quarters, and add the cabbage wedges to the pot. Cook for another 1 to 2 hours, or until the meat and vegetables are soft and tender. Remove the vegetables to a platter or bowl, cover with foil and keep them warm. Remove the brisket, place it on a cutting board, and slice it thinly against the grain. Serve the corned beef on a platter, surrounded by the vegetables. Ladle a little of the cooking liquid over the meat and vegetables.

Recipes courtesy of foodbycountry.com

Horseradish Cream

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup sour cream

6 tablespoons prepared white horseradish (about 4 ounces)

1 tablespoon finely chopped dill pickle

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion tops

Whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Guinness Mustard

1/2 cup coarse-grained Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons regular Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Guinness stout or other stout or porter

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 teaspoon golden brown sugar

Whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Recipes courtesy of Bon Appetit, March 2008

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. Contact her at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Shamrocks traditionally have three leaves and those with four leaves are considered lucky. This shamrock has 56 leaves, making it 14 times as lucky as one with four leaves.