Banish the stereotypical Irish myths! In truth, this country's cuisine is hearty, healthy and deliciously varied—loaded with farm-style dishes that range from fresh lamb to garden veggies to home-baked breads.
So banish the stereotypical Irish myths! In truth, this country's cuisine is hearty, healthy and deliciously varied—loaded with farm-style dishes that range from fresh lamb to garden veggies to home-baked breads. Some of these recipes have been incorporated into Canadian cuisine for so long, we don't even think of them as Irish (Irish settlers arrived as far back as1536, when Irish fishermen from Cork traveled to Newfoundland). But with the winter winds blowing in, there's no better time to revisit these stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods that keep you warm, satisfied, and on the sensible eating track.
One caveat: the only way to eat Irish food is to know what to eat—and what to avoid. We've come up with five simple rules and recipes that you let you explore the flavourful possibilities of this traditional cuisine—minus the fat-laden Irish bacon or butter. In fact, some of these classic choices may surprise you, but all of them keep you full, satisfied and guilt-free. And that's no Blarney.
Hot Irish Pots
The first word to know about healthy Irish cuisine isn't potato. It's pot. The Irish love a bubbling soup, stew or chowder filled with rich mixtures of lamb, beef, fish, vegetables and (of course) potatoes. Due to long rural days, Irish farm wives developed a one-pot cooking style. Today, this tradition is perfect for working chefs (try adapting these recipes to your crockpot) and heath-conscious eaters (soups and stews fill you up faster and cause you to eat more slowly). Also, as we've done below, consider beefing up your pot with extra vegetables to add fibre—toss in as many carrots, celery, onions and beets as you can handle. Get creative with veggies like zucchini and spinach (so they're not traditional; they are as green as clover!)
Irish Beef Stew
Calories per serving: 324
- 1/4 cup flour mixed with 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp sage, black pepper to taste
- 2 tsp canola oil
- 3/4 pound lean stewing beef
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 1/2 16-ounce bag baby carrots
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 8-ounce pack mushrooms, halved
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup red wine
- Preheat oven to 275ºF.
- Dredge beef in flour mixture. Brown beef in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Remove beef. Add onions to the pot, and sauté. Add carrots, celery, mushrooms, zucchini and cook for 2 minutes.
- Return beef to pot. Add canned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and red wine. Cover and cook in the oven for 4-6 hours.
The second word in Irish cuisine. Though this tuber has been given a bad rap by no-carb eaters, potatoes provide a good source of fibre, as well as iron, and niacin. One of the most beloved of Irish potato dishes is colcannon—a traditional dish that mixes leftover vegetables (we increased the veggies) like onions, kale and cabbage, with mashed potatoes. Another variation: add garlic for a hearty punch.
Calories per serving: 132
- 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
- 2 small bunches kale, chopped
- 2 small leeks, white parts only, sliced
- 1 cup fat-free milk
- 4 ounces fat-free cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Boil potatoes in a pot of water until tender.
- In a second pot, boil or steam kale for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain, chop into small pieces, cover and set aside.
- In a third pot, simmer leeks in milk for 5 minutes. When leeks are soft, remove with a slotted spoon and put to one side, reserving the milk.
- Drain the potatoes. Add half the milk used to simmer the leeks. Mash the potatoes until all the lumps have gone. Add cream cheese and white pepper then mash again until blended. Use remaining milk if needed. Stir in kale and leeks.
This county is an island. The west of Ireland, in particular, is home to seafood lovers galore. And the varieties eaten are astounding: salmon, trout, pike, perch, cod, hake, whiting, mackerel and skate. Irish cooks also make use of edible seaweed found in the Atlantic, such as dulse, kelp or Carrageen moss, which they add to soups and sauces. Recently, shellfish from the coast has become popular, such as Dublin Bay Prawn and Oysters. But our favourite is classic salmon—invite a few friends over for dinner.
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup fish stock
- 1 small carrot, sliced
- 2 stalks celery, cut into quarters, leaves left on
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 salmon, 5 to 8 pounds, cleaned, gutted and scaled
- Lemon slices, fresh dill, and fresh parsley, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the dill, wine, fish stock, carrot, celery and onion.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Place the salmon in a double thickness of aluminum foil.
- Pour the poaching liquid over the salmon, and wrap it loosely. Seal by crimping the edges together all around.
- Poach in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes.
The Irish love their oats and barley. You'll see them on any breakfast table, along with cups of hot strong coffee. And with no salt, no fat and rich in fibre, this meal keeps your system stocked with energy.
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Pour oatmeal into the boiling water and stir until it begins to thicken. Add cinnamon.
- Lower heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Note: Don't overcook or you'll lose the nutty, traditional flavour.)
- Top with honey and milk.
Blarney Stone Breads
You haven't really experienced Irish food until you've tried their soft, hot breads. The most well-known varieties are soda bread, soda farls and blaa, a soft white bread roll from Waterford City. Soda bread is the easiest to prepare, since it's made with baking soda instead of yeast, which cuts down much of the time. Just be careful with your portions—cut the whole loaf into 12 pieces, first. That way, you'll be sure to eat exactly one piece (instead of sawing off a piece that's the size of two or three). Try a slice for an afternoon snack with a cup of steaming tea!
Irish Soda Bread
Calories per serving: 159
- 2 cup flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup margarine, softened
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 tbsp water and 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 tbsp water
- Preheat oven to 375°F
- Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Add buttermilk; blend to moisten all ingredients.
- Knead dough on flat, floured surface for several minutes. Form into a round ball and place on greased baking sheet. Flatten ball until dough is about 1 1/2 inches thick; brush top and sides with egg-water mixture.
- Cut a 1/2-inch deep cross in top of bread with a knife. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Cool; brush top with butter or margarine and cover with cloth, until cool.