Eat Your Greens: Irish Vegetarian Cooking

Hello I’m Erin. I work as a chef at the Skip Garden and also host regular beer and food matching supper clubs with my wife Jo at Leytonstone Brewhouse & Kitchen. To celebrate St Patrick’s Day on 17 March we jointly hosted an Irish Supper Club at the Skip Garden.

As a Northern Irish expat who did her culinary training in Ireland at Ballymaloe Cookery School, Irish food is very close to my heart, it speaks of comfort and of home, hearty, filling and economical dishes that don’t waste a thing yet deliver fabulous fresh flavours.  

Most of us don’t immediately associate Ireland with innovative vegetarian cuisine, and it is true that a lot of traditional Irish dishes celebrate either meat or seafood, the mutton in an Irish stew or a plate of native oysters served with a pint of Guinness. However, for most of the Irish population and for much of Irish history meat was a luxury item, only consumed on high days and holidays. The diet of poor rural farming communities would have been primarily vegetarian, think of potatoes (of course), carrots, cabbage and foraged ingredients (such as nettles, wild garlic and seaweed) supplemented with dairy products such as butter, buttermilk and eggs. 

The rich Irish soil, the moderate climate and the (never ending) rain help to produce some exceptional vegetarian produce. So there is plenty of scope in Irish cuisine for delicious veggie dishes, which I tried to showcase in our St Patrick’s Day menu, I’ve included a few Irish recipes and cooking ideas that you may want to try to bring a little bit of Irish hospitality into your life.

Irish Soda Bread:

To kick off our St Patrick’s Day menu we served a Creamy Celeriac Soup with Kale Pesto, Roasted Hazelnuts and Marigold Petals (green, white & gold!) and individual Rosemary Soda Breads.Soda Bread is a very quick bread to make, there is no need for kneading or proving as the rise is created by the reaction between the bicarbonate of soda and the lactic acid in the buttermilk. It’s best eaten fresh on the day it is baked, but is also delicious toasted for the following few days. 

Ingredients:

450g plain flour

1 level tsp salt

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

400ml buttermilk 

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Combine flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Mix to distribute the salt and soda through the flour.

Make a well in the centre of dry ingredients and pour in most of the buttermilk and using your hand in a claw shape quickly combine the ingredients until a soft dough is formed. Add the extra buttermilk if necessary, but you don’t want a sticky dough.

Wash your hands to get most of the dough off. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured baking tray and shape into a round loaf about 3cm deep. Use a long knife to mark a deep cross in the dough, the whole way across the loaf. At cookery school I was told this was to let the fairies out!

Immediately put the loaf in the oven and bake at 220 degrees Celsius for 15 minute and then turn the oven down to 200 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 30 minutes or until fully baked. Tap the bottom of the loaf to check the bake; it is ready if it sounds hollow.

You can also flavour the soda bread with herbs or seeds; just add your flavouring to the dry ingredients. 

Colcannon:

For the main event we served Colcannon Cakes with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise. Colcannon is an Irish dish of floury potatoes mashed with scallions (spring onions), kale or cabbage, milk and butter. 

Perfect in the winter months this seasonal comfort food has even inspired songs and poems, such as this traditional Irish ditty.

Did you ever eat colcannon

When ‘twas made with yellow cream

And the kale and praties blended

Like a picture in a dream?

Did you ever scoop a hole on top

To hold the melting lake

Of the clover-flavoured butter

Which your mother used to make?

Serves 4

Ingredients:

600g ‘floury’ potatoes (such as King Edward’s)

300g kale or savoy cabbage (or a mixture of the two)

100ml milk

6 spring onions (finely sliced)

Salt and pepper

Butter (to taste)

Peel and chop the potatoes into large chunks. Boil in salted water until cooked through.

Meanwhile destalk the kale and slice finely. Or slice the cabbage finely. Blanch the cabbage or kale in boiling salted water for a couple of minutes until just cooked.

Combine the milk and spring onions in a small saucepan and heat until the milk is just boiling.

Drain the potatoes and mash quickly, while still hot. Add the milk and spring onions, the kale or cabbage and mix well to combine. Add salt, pepper and butter to taste. Be generous with the butter!

Carrageen Moss Pudding:

And to finish our Irish extravaganza we served a Carrageen Moss Pudding with Poached Rhubarb and Pumpkin Seed & Cinnamon Biscuits. Carrageen Moss (Chrondus Crispus or sometimes called Irish Moss) is a seaweed harvested along the Atlantic coastline. It is a brilliant ingredient for a vegetarian menu as it is an alternative setting agent to gelatine. In Ireland it is traditionally combined with whole milk, eggs and a little sugar to make a set milk pudding, a little like a pannacotta. This is then served with some softly whipped cream and some soft brown sugar on top. If you are interested in making this unusual but delicious pudding you can find the Ballymaloe Cookery School recipe here.