Planning to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with some green beer and a plate of corned beef and cabbage?
That's fine, but Irish cuisine has so much more to offer. You won't find most people in Ireland eating corned beef and cabbage, according to award-winning Irish chef and food writer Darina Allen.
In the 1960s, Allen was one of the first chefs in Ireland to start working in a farm-to-table restaurant that focused on fresh, natural foods. Allen's mother-in-law, Myrtle Allen, was widely credited with establishing a new modern era in Irish cuisine and improving the reputation of Irish food around the world by recognizing the value of traditional Irish food ingredients.
The two worked together in the Ballymaloe House, which quickly became a world-famous restaurant. Now, Allen runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork and has just come out with a new cookbook called "Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection."
Allen spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about her pride and love of Irish cuisine, and shared a few recipes that we can all try this St. Patrick's Day: spring cabbage soup and dingle pie.
On what exactly Irish food is
We're so fortunate in Ireland. We're an island nation with a lot of fertile soil, long coastline, cold waters, so very good fish and shellfish. We can grow grass like nowhere else in the world. So basically our dairy products, you get our lovely Irish butter over here, and our beef and our lamb are fantastic quality. We're very famous for our breads as well, like our soda breads, which are made in just minutes. Everybody should be able to make a soda bread.
On the rise of Irish cuisine
It's no longer just corned beef and cabbage. There are lots of young chefs doing brilliant food. We're very proud of what's happening with our artisan producers, our cheese makers, people who smoke fish. Probably the most exciting thing that's happened to food in Ireland in the last 30 years now or 25 years has been the emergence of an art to some food sectors and specialist food producers.
On traditional ingredients like carrageen moss or "Irish moss"
We have enormous number of seaweeds around our coast in Ireland — about 600. The seaweeds or sea vegetables are much more nutritious than anything grown on land.
What we call "carrageen moss" and what you call I think "Irish moss" — it's just a lovely little tiny seaweed. Carrageen means "little rock" in Gaelic. After the spring tides, when the tides go furthest out, we harvest this little seaweed off the rocks around the coast, and then we bring it in and put it up on the grassy masses of spongy grass on the top of the cliffs, then leave it out and it's washed by the rain and bleached by the sun for about 10 days. It's an incredible food — we make this lovely pudding with this.
When people hear "seaweed" they think, "Oh it's going to taste all of the sea." It doesn't. It's a lovely gentle flavor. All of my babies were weaned onto it as well. For some people, it is still in the folk memory and it might even be remembered as a famine food. But we've been eating it ever since I was a child and it's so much part of our traditional food culture in Ireland.
On the importance of cooking
Cooking is magic. I think everybody, in every house, there should be somebody who cooks, because it adds such a different dimension to all our lives. It's the way to everybody's heart isn't it?
Spring Cabbage Soup Recipe
3½ tablespoons salted butter
4 ounces onions, peeled and chopped
4½ ounces potatoes, peeled and diced
3½ cups homemade light chicken stock, boiling
9 ounces spring cabbage leaves, stems removed, shredded, and chopped
¼ to ½ cup light cream or creamy milk
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
crumbled cured Spanish chorizo or gremolata to garnish (optional)
1. In a heavy-bottom saucepan, melt the butter. When it foams, add the onions and potatoes and toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a wax paper lid and the lid of the pan and let sweat over gentle heat until soft but not colored, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the boiling stock and boil until the potatoes are tender.
3. Add the cabbage and cook, uncovered, until the cabbage is just cooked, 4 to 5 minutes. Keep the lid off to preserve the bright green color. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavor and color.
4. Using a blender or food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Season to taste.
5. Add the cream or creamy milk before serving. Serve on its own or with a sprinkling of crumbled cured Spanish chorizo or gremolata over the top, if desired.
VARIATION: For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and use the gremolata instead of the crumbled chorizo to garnish. For a vegan option, use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter and omit the cream or creamy milk.
Dingle Pie Recipe
1 pound boned lamb or mutton from the shoulder or leg, bones reserved for the stock
9 ounces onions
9 ounces carrots
1 to 2 heaping teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¼ cups homemade lamb or mutton stock
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the homemade lamb or mutton stock
lamb bones from the meat
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled
outer celery stalk
1 bouquet garni made up of 1 thyme sprig, parsley stems, and 1 small bay leaf
For the hot water pie crust
2³/4 cups all-purpose flour pinch of salt
³/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, diced
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
beaten organic, free-range egg, to glaze
First make the stock:
1. In a stock pot, combine the lamb bones, carrot, onion, celery, and bouquet garni. Cover with cold water and let simmer for 3 to 4 hours.
2. Trim all the surplus fat from the meat and reserve, then dice the meat into small, neat pieces about the size of a small sugar cube. In a hot, wide saucepan, render down the scraps of fat until the fat runs. Discard the remaining solid fat pieces.
3. Peel the onions and carrots, then cut into slightly smaller dice than the meat and toss in the fat. Let cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the vegetables and toss the meat in the remaining fat over high heat until its color changes.
4. In a hot skillet, dry-roast the cumin for a few minutes. Using a pestle and mortar, crush the seeds lightly. Stir the flour and crushed cumin seeds into the meat and cook gently for 2 minutes.
5. Blend in the stock gradually and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Return the vegetables to the pan, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and let simmer, covered until the meat is tender. If using young lamb, 30 minutes will be sufficient; mutton may take up to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the pie crust:
6. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a hollow in the center.
7. In a saucepan, combine the butter and water and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid into the hollow all at once and mix together quickly; beat until smooth.
8. At first the dough will be too soft to handle, but as soon as it cools, roll out on a floured work surface about 1/8 to ¼ inch thick and use to line two 6-inch pie/tart pans, 1½ inches deep (or one 7-inch pie/tart pan to make one large pie). Keep back one-third of the dough for lids.
Now, preheat the oven to 425°F:
9. Fill the pastry shells with the meat mixture, which should be freshly cooked and slightly cooled. Brush the edges of the dough lightly with water and place the dough lids on top, pressing them tightly together. Roll out the dough scraps to make leaves or twirls to decorate the top of the pies; make a hole in the center.
10. Brush the lids with beaten egg and then the decoration also.
11. Bake the pies for about 40 minutes, until the crust is well browned. Serve with a salad of fresh seasonal greens.
VARIATION: Puff pastry can be substituted for the hot water crust pie crust.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you were planning to celebrate this St. Patrick's Day with a glass of green beer and a plate of corned beef and cabbage, well, you go right ahead. But, these days, Irish cuisine has a lot more to offer, as we're going to hear now from our next guest, award-winning Irish chef and food writer Darina Allen. She's been called the Julia Child of Ireland. She's co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. She's the author of many, many cookbooks, and she has a new one just out. It's called "Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection." And Darina Allen is with us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.
DARINA ALLEN: Thank you for having me on. Thank you very much, indeed.
MARTIN: Well, I'm guessing that a lot of places will have corned beef and cabbage on the menu. But, really, is that even really a thing?
ALLEN: Well, funly (ph), it'll be on the menu much more over here in the U.S. than it will be in Ireland. I mean, it's wonderful, corned beef and cabbage. It's so good, and we make it from scratch at the cooking school. But, basically, lots of people don't eat corned beef and cabbage from one end of the year to the other in Ireland. But I think it's sort of got a nostalgic thing. It's like an immigrant's memory, food memories so to speak.
MARTIN: Oh, well, that's a nice way to think of it. So you've chosen something with cabbage as a starter for our Irish meal - spring cabbage soup. How is it made?
ALLEN: A lot of our soups - and we're kind of famous for our soups in Ballymaloe - are made on, you could say, a formula. Say, take one cup of chopped onions, one cup of chopped potatoes, three cups of any vegetable of your choice - in this case, it's cabbage - and then five cups of stock and then a nice bit of seasoning. And you just put the onions and the potatoes together first. Then, while that's happening, just add a little good Irish butter and - until they're soft but not colored.
In the meantime, bring the stock to the boil, and then add that into the potato-and-onion base. Bring it to the boil, and cook them until the potatoes and onions are just cooked. And then, add in the chopped cabbage. Boil it for just two or three minutes on this - just tender but still green. And then, whiz up the whole lot, and maybe add a little cream and, of course, season it up.
MARTIN: One of the things that I'm hearing you say is, like, don't boil everything to death, you know? (Laughter).
ALLEN: Oh, totally, don't.
MARTIN: Let it still live.
ALLEN: I did a lot of television in Ireland for many, many years. And I think the thing I'm most remembered for is showing the Irish how not to boil the hell out of cabbage.
ALLEN: But with that soup formula, you can use all sorts of vegetables. I mean, it could be radish tops. It could be just scallions. So it's a fantastic formula, and that's in the - of course, in "The Classic Collection."
MARTIN: And for the main, you're talking about dingle pie. What is that?
MARTIN: And where do we - where does it come from?
ALLEN: Oh, well, Dingle, as you may or may not know, is in County Kerry. And this is a pie that - we were given the recipe from an old lady a number of years ago who said that her mother, a lot of farmer's wives used to make this pie with lamb or with mutton and a little carrot and onion, all diced, and then with a mountain of thyme and salt and pepper. And then, they'd make a crust, actually, with the lamb fat and butter and water, a hot water crust pastry. But we actually changed it to - instead of using the lamb fat, which is a little heavy for people, nowadays. We use butter, and it's a fantastic pastry, that one.
MARTIN: And for dessert, my fave. I understand you're reccomending something that, to be candid, doesn't sound great that appetizing - but Irish moss pudding. Please tell me there's no moss in it.
ALLEN: Well, no, this is actually a seaweed.
MARTIN: Oh, OK.
ALLEN: And they're what we call carrageenan moss and what you call, I think, Irish moss. It's just a lovely little tiny seaweed. Carrageenan means little rock in Gaelic. And after the spring tides, when the tides go the furthest out, we harvest this little seaweed off the rocks around the coast. And they we bring it in and put it up on sort of spongy grass on the top of the cliffs and then leave it out. And it's washed by the rain and bleached by the sun for about 10 days, turning it every now and then. And it's basically - it's a natural gelatin.
But anyway, we make this lovely pudding where we steep it in whole milk and then cook it for about 20 minutes. Then it gets kind of gelatinous. We put that through a sieve. And then we enrich it with a lovely - one of our own lovely organic egg yolks. Add a little vanilla sugar, or you can flavor it with a sweet geranium leaf or whatever. And then enrich it with an egg yolk. And then whip up the egg, fold that in so it's lovely, light and fluffy.
MARTIN: Where are we going to get the moss here?
ALLEN: You can get it in any - in a lot of health food shops you can get it.
MARTIN: Is this one of those recovered foods that people used to eat back in the day and then they didn't want to eat it because it reminded them of bad times?
ALLEN: Well, indeed it would be for some people. It's still in the folk memory. It might even be remembered as a famine food. But yes, it is one of the recovered - but we've been eating it ever since I was a child. And it's much-loved, so much part of our traditional food culture in Ireland.
MARTIN: Well, you've turned me around on that, on the moss pudding. Well, Happy St. Pat's to you. That's Darina Allen. Her latest cookbook is "Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection," and she was kind enough to meet up with us at our NPR bureau in New York. Darina Allen, thank you so much.
ALLEN: Thank you.
MARTIN: You can find more detailed recipes for Darina Allen's St. Patrick's Day feast by going to our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.