Everyone has a wish list. Be it written on paper, or only a vague dream in the back of your mind, I think everyone has that secret list of “if I could do anything, I would. . .” Places they dream of visiting, things they would love to do. And not just the silly intangibles, like winning the lottery, or meeting a movie star (not that I would turn down either one of those), but the things that could actually happen if one were to try hard enough. One of mine, along with perfecting a foreign language and finishing a novel, has been, wait for it, to visit Ireland.
And I can’t even really explain why. The water? The eye-popping, nearly neon green landscape? (or maybe it just seems that way to those of us in the desert?) I’m still not sure, but it just always seemed like an amazing idea.
For the moment, I guess I’ll just have to make do with longingly flipping through guide books and day dreaming of any place where it is currently raining, and real, lush green grass carpets the ground — compared to brown scrub, cactus and the ever present, highly irritating (for anyone who lives here, you know exactly what I’m talking about) juniper bushes! Maybe it’s becoming clearer that I am not the happiest desert dweller?? Not to complain too loudly, I mean, it is only March. Though this will never be anything like Ireland, England, or Seattle, the first signs that there is any green plant life in this moonscape, are definitely beginning to emerge.
This is where the first part of the title to this post comes in. As a new project on our website, at least for the rest of this year, and being the proverbial (mostly by necessity) armchair travelers, we have decided each month to explore some of the recipes and food culture of a different country. Learning more about the history and especially food culture of any country is like a diverse and exciting trip in itself. Coming from an immigrant family, when you look even at old family recipes, the similarities across many cultures, more than the differences, quickly appear. No matter where you are in the world, what you do, or what dietary guidelines you ascribe to, food has the most amazing way of uniting nearly everyone. And it is this that we wanted to celebrate.
As March is considered the “green month,” the end of Winter, and of course celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, we thought we would start things off with Ireland.
When thinking about especially Irish food, the first thing that comes to mind for many is potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes, along with corned beef and cabbage, all washed down probably with whiskey. While there is definitely that side to it, many other foods, along with a great variety of different greens and root vegetables are very popular. Like in many countries, the cuisine of Ireland is largely influenced by the crops grown and the animals raised in the island’s mostly temperate marine climate (sort of similar to the Pacific North West in this country).
From the middle ages on, herding cattle, made up a huge part of the economy, so the regular consumption of dairy become a large part of the every day diet. Then of course with the introduction in the mid-sixteenth century of a seemingly innocuous tuber, the potato, which can be grown in even pretty rocky soil, everything was set on its head, and the entire cuisine changed all over again. Modern Irish cuisine has grown to include influences from many different immigrant groups, along with a large focus on fresh vegetables, fish and seafood. Though, in Ireland, potatoes are still, and will always remain a favorite, consumed at the highest rate of anywhere in Europe.
Because of this, the first recipe of several that we wanted to try, was a very ordinary side dish called “Champ” – sort of the unique Irish twist on mashed potatoes. Though most versions of this recipe seem to call for cream, we toned it down by adding yogurt instead, and cutting down the amount of butter used. Light and creamy, with chopped green onions, and our further addition of fresh cilantro, our version of champ is a great twist on a simple dish.
We adapted the original recipe, found in this beautiful book “Ballymaloe Seasons: Cooking from an Irish Country House” by Darina Allen
For our adapted version of this recipe, you will need:
- 6-8 potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh scallions
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (So Delicious)
- 4 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. Half and Half
- 2 Tbsp. Thick Greek yogurt
- salt and pepper to taste
Steam the already peeled and chopped potatoes until very soft. In a separate saucepan, cover the chopped scallions with cold coconut milk and the Half and Half, and slowly bring to a boil. Stirring occasionally, let simmer for about 3-4 minutes, then take it off the heat, and let the flavors infuse, covered, for another 5 minutes. Pour the steamed potatoes into the food processor, along with the yogurt and butter. Pulse until it just starts to incorporate, then add in the coconut milk and scallions, along with the fresh cilantro. Pulse until blended and creamy. Season with salt and pepper, and serve. As you can tell, this recipe is very simply and makes a great side dish along with a green salad, meat, fish, or other vegetable dishes.
Throughout the rest of this month, look out for more recipes continuing our Irish culinary adventure. Looking forward to seeing you soon.