When you think of Irish cuisine a lot of people automatically think of spuds. This is perhaps a little undeserved, but the Irish really do know how to cook a potato.

Colcannon is a supremely simple dish, not only its preparation, but its ingredients as well. It is basically potatoes, cabbage and onions, 3 of the most humble vegetables, but this traditional and hearty dish manages to achieve that most elusive thing in the kitchen - alchemy. You really do end up with a dish that is much more than spuds, cabbage and onions.

Considering the humble ingredients, I would imagine that colcannon started life as a peasant dish, or poorer people trying to make the best of the meager ingredients that were on hand. It is not without irony then, that an Irish chef who immigrated to Australia, Liam Tomlin makes a version of colcannon at his decidedly up market restaurant, Banc in Sydney. His version includes pancetta and king prawns and is served with a thick slab of roasted blue eye cod. It is a rendition of colcannon that the originators of this dish would have found both unimaginable and unobtainable.

It does serve to demonstrate however that colcannon can be as humble or decadent as you like. Here is a more humble version

Ingredients

  • 1 quantity of mashed potato
  • 1/4 savoy cabbage
  • 6 green onions (scallions) - (or try green garlic), sliced
  • 2 Tbs chopped flat parsley.
  • 30 gm (1 oz) butter
  • 4 rashers crisply grilled bacon (optional), chopped
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Method

    Prepare the mashed potato. I suggest LordOmars's recipe, using 4 large potatoes - about 1 kg. You really need to make your own mash; the powdered packet version just doesn't cut it. Make sure to keep the mash a little chunky.

    Remove the core from the cabbage and cut into small wedges. Bring a small pot of salted water to the boil and plunge in the cabbage for 2-3 minutes. Drain and add to a larger pot, along with the mashed potatoes, green onions, parsley and bacon (if using).

    Set over medium heat and warm through for 2 or 3 minutes, gently stirring to combine. Add the butter, salt and pepper, stir again and serve.

    Colcannon can be treated as a side dish, or the main event if you are really skint.

    "Death to the Red Hag!"

    In subsistence farming, the main goal is to subsist, yes? To survive. Occasionally, often seasonally, this means stretching things thin; and when the scarcity ends, this means celebration. In Ireland, the first digging of potatoes was such an occasion, and the celebration was called Lughnasadh or Lammas and was observed in early August with many celebrations of community.

    Food, food is powerful stuff. We can process it all we want, but we need it to stay alive, so we might as well enjoy it. Same goes for community. Powerful stuff, we can't live without it, might as well enjoy it. As sneff notes, this is humble but magical food. My version strays into what i fear sensei might even term "brown gack", but it's solid, easily feeds many (eager and happy eaters) and allays any fear of starvation.

    Boil:
    • salted water
    • 3/4 - 1 cup brown lentils
    • 4 or so medium potatoes
    • a head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
    Heat in a skillet:

    When the potatoes are soft, drain them, keeping the water for bread and soup stock. With the addition of lentils, it's richer and tastier than other potato water. Mash them, but not too well, and when the greens are wilted but not too wilted, mix them on in. I added a little asafoetida (oh-so-inauthentic), but if i didn't have any, i might have added brewer's yeast.

    This is a harvest meal, preparing us for a winter of tubers and such. But it's still summer. To signify that and because i like color, i added a chopped red bell pepper to the mix (with the green and purple of the kale). The whole mix can go back into the skillet, sprinkled with coarse black pepper, paprika, and turmeric, and baked at 350° F for 15 to 20 minutes.

    "The red hag" was the personification of the spectre of starvation. Most of us computer-age people don't farm and many have no clue when harvest seasons start, if we even know what time of year it is. However, most of my friends don't have much money. All of the important ingredients are easy to come by and relatively cheap. I'm lucky enough to be able to make this with locally-grown, organic veggies, but one makes do, right?

    Share this with your friends; we don't have enough celebrations. It is traditional to eat colcannon on Lughnasadh until you're stuffed to bursting, in order to foil that red-headed hag.

    Variation: at my parents' house, we'd eat this with generous amounts of cheese on top. Cheese and potatoes are an almost irresistable combination. (JudyT says Yay for cheese and potatoes. All else is luxury.) Without it, though, this is vegan, and most meat-eaters won't even care.
    Nutritional notes: Brewer's yeast (aka nutritional yeast) will add B vitamins. And for those who need iron, the dark leafy greens and cast iron pot will be a boon.

    Mmmmm, colcannon. A food not found all that often in the States these days, or in other words, not nearly enough. Strangely, like a lot of the old Irish dishes, the main reason colcannon seems to stick around at all is not so much because of its tastiness (which is considerable) but rather because of its close association with a traditional Irish folk tune, that goes...

     Oh, did you ever eat colcannon, 
     Made from lovely pickled cream? 
     With the greens and scallions mingled 
     Like a picture in a dream? 
     Did you ever make a hole on top 
     To hold the meltin' flake 
     Of the creamy, flavoured butter 
     That yer mother used to make? 
    
         Chorus:
         Yes you did, so you did,
         So did he and so did I
         And the more I think about it,
         Well the nearer I'm to cry
         Oh wasn't it the happy days
         When troubles we knew not,
         And our mothers made colcannon
         In the little skillet pot
    
     Did you ever take potato cake 
     In a boxty1 to the school,
     Tucked beneath your oxter2
     With your book, your slate an' rule?  
     And when the teacher wasn't lookin' 
     Sure a great big bite you'd take,  
     Of the creamy flavoured soft 
     And meltin' sweet potato cake 
    
                 Chorus
         
     Well did you ever go a-courting, 
     When the evenin' sun went down,  
     And the moon began a-peepin' 
     From behind the hill o' down. 
     And you wandered down the boreen3 
     Where the clúrachán4 was seen
     And you whispered lovin' praises 
     To your own dear sweet cáilín5...
    
                 Chorus

    A purely blissful ditty, for a purely blissful dish.

    Notes:
    1: A "boxty" is kind of hearty pancake made with potatoes and flour, especially handy for lumping other stuff inside of them (like colcannon)...
    2: ... thus making it easier to carry beneath your "oxter" (that is, your armpit) when you're loaded down with books.
    3: A "boreen" is a kind of small country lane. Barely a path, really.
    4: "Clúrachán" is an old Irish word for leprechaun.
    5: "Cáilín" simply means "girl". Generally implies a kind of simple country girl, though, one who is (of course) bonnie and sweet and fair and all things etc etc... you know, the ones that only exist in travel brochures and old folk tunes.

    A lovely, filling fall/winter dish that tastes far more than the sum of its parts. I have started traditionally making this dish for Samhain.

    Ingredients:

    8-10 white potatoes
    1 head cabbage
    1 large leek
    1 stick butter
    1 pint cream, or half and half
    salt and pepper, to taste

    Directions: Peel and chop potatoes, chop cabbage. Put in a large pot, add a couple of inches of water, and steam/boil the veggies. (For this amount of produce, usually takes 20-30 minutes for everything to be soft and good.) Leave on burner on high heat.

    Meanwhile, pour cream into a small pot, and add butter. Turn heat on LOW to melt the butter. You must be very careful to never let the milk reach a boil. Slice the stem of the leek into small rounds while waiting for the butter to melt. Once butter is melted, add leek to the mixture, and as much salt and pepper as you want. Keep this mixture at a low simmer--again, never boil--until leeks are very soft and have lost their shape.

    By the time the leeks have cooked, the cabbage and potatoes should be ready, as well. Drain the extra water from the pot, return pot to burner on low heat, and pour the cream mixture over it. Mash as you would potatoes. Taste, add more salt or pepper as needed, then let cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Also, taste occasionally. Suddenly, the mix will go from tasting like sort of bland potatoes, to a leeky, peppery delight.

    Makes great leftovers, the taste gets better with each day it sits. A side of sausages (I usually use Lil Smokies makes a wonderful dinner on a cold, rainy night.

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