Got a little Irish in you?

By Adria Kelly-Sullenger

Flickr/Dendroica cerulea
Flickr/Dendroica cerulea

People always give me strange looks when I tell them my favorite cuisine is Irish. When I traveled to Ireland a few years ago, I sampled some of the most delectable and unique food I have ever tasted, in a country that is steeped in tradition. Contrary to popular stereotypes, Irish cuisine is not just potatoes and corned beef (although potatoes play a large part in traditional Irish food). Ireland’s rich history is complemented by its equally rich food, and the variety in customary dishes extends far beyond that of the trite “Irish breakfast.”

Soda Bread
In most Irish households, you will find a recipe for soda bread: a simple and tasty addition to any meal. Like the chocolate chip cookie or apple pie in America, there are a lot of variations of soda bread, but the classic recipe consists of only four ingredients: Three cups of all-purpose flour, four teaspoons of baking powder, one egg and one and a half cups of milk.

When making soda bread, it is important not to over-knead the dough, which can make the loaf incredibly dense and hard. After kneading the dough lightly, brush the top of the loaf with a mixture of milk and egg, and bake it at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. The end result is a light, simple bread that can easily complement any dish or be enjoyed on its own.

Crab Bake
Another popular Irish dish is a crab bake. This is a relatively simple dish to make, especially if the crabmeat you purchase is already cooked.

Mix the white crabmeat together with lemon juice and fresh herbs like fennel, chives and parsley, for a zing of flavor. After the crab is properly seasoned, it can be scooped into small dishes and topped with a simple bechamel sauce. A bechamel sauce consists of a yellow onion, cloves, bay leaves, milk, butter and flour, and the mixture can be cooked down to infuse the flavor of the spices into it. After straining, the sauce is blended with Dijon mustard and poured on top of the crabmeat. Throw the dishes into the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the sauce on top begins to bubble. This light seafood dish can be served as an appetizer, dip or even a main course.

Beef and Stout Pie
Lamb, rabbit and beef are all popularly consumed in Ireland because of the country’s widespread farmlands. Beef and stout pie might be one of my favorite Irish dishes because it’s so rich and flavorful. Although it has a longer cook-time than other dishes, it is overall a pretty low-maintenance meal and is definitely worth the wait.

The pie filling includes round steak cut into cubes, meat stock, chopped white onion, sliced crimini mushrooms, tomato paste, thyme and thick stout beer. The flavor of the beer will define the entire dish, so choose carefully. I would suggest Guinness, Mackeson or any other Irish-style stout to complement the other flavors of traditional cuisine. Pan-fry the beef and vegetables until the beef is cooked medium-rare to medium while being careful not to overcook it, as the beef can become tough and inedible in minutes. Place all the filler ingredients into a crock pot with the stout and cook down for about an hour and a half. Once it’s thick and steaming, pour the filler mix into a pie pan and cover it with puff pastry. Brush the pastry with a blended mix of egg and milk, and cut a few small holes in the top to air out. Bake the whole thing for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Once it’s fully cooked, you have a delicious dish suitable for any major meal.

A traditional side dish in Ireland is called colcannon, which consists of mashed potatoes mixed with kale or cabbage. You really can’t go wrong with a recipe involving potatoes and butter, especially when the method of cooking is pan-frying.

For this recipe, you will need mashed russet potatoes, chopped kale or cabbage, a splash of milk, diced yellow onion and butter. As a side note, if you want a real taste of Ireland, get Irish butter. Kerrygold is a popular brand and is available at most specialty food stores. Once you’re ready to make colcannon, mix all the ingredients together in a frying pan. Once the mash is warm and the butter is integrated evenly, flatten out the mixture in the pan and fry until golden brown. The final mash can be served as a side dish or a dip or even enjoyed on its own as a flavorful update to plain mashed potatoes.

The cuisine of Ireland is notorious for its adherence to tradition and the enjoyment to be had from combinations of simple ingredients in stylized ways. Stretching far beyond the banal “corned beef and cabbage” stereotype, the classic foods of Ireland are equal parts flavorful and time-honored, and they reflect the rich history of a country steeped in the importance of culture. If you’ve never expanded your Irish culinary horizons beyond that of Bailey’s and Guinness, hopefully these recipes have inspired you to explore the flavors to be experienced from a different homeland.

Adria Kelly-Sullenger can be reached at [email protected]