People like to eat different things at Christmas time, foods that we don’t get the rest of the year. Not that the traditional turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes aren’t welcomed, but often our taste goes international. We at the Irish Fireside of course crave Irish dishes. But no use recommending the dishes we already know about. What about something different?
Adding something to your traditional mashed potatoes can make things really interesting. How about:
A Spoonful of Mustard
But know what you are getting if you are using mustard from Ireland or the UK. I was amused by the international offering I found at an Irish pub, but my friends warned me off the English mustard, telling me it would burn my socks off!
However you like your mustard, 1-2 tablespoons added to your mash will spice things up and complement your roasted meat.
There are many other things you can add to mashed potatoes, including some of the things below. But if you start out with a good quality, fresh potato, you might want them plain or just with salt and butter. Or consider not mashing them at all, but roasting it as I described in my previous Christmas food post.
An Uncommon Veggie
Celeriac is a root vegetable grown in the wild. I can’t tell you if you can find it where you live, but you can buy it Ireland. Martha Stewart calls celeriac “a highly underrated vegetable.”
It’s perfect alongside parsnips and leeks in soups. Add it to casserole dishes, and of course potatoes. Blanch it and add it to salads.
The Irish American News shared this recipe, which also talks about this “ugly duckling of vegetables.”
Sure there’s mint tea, mint in your Bailey’s, and fabulous mint in your chocolates, but this herb has many more uses.
The Irish seem to be found of mint, and why not? It complements lamb well. If you add mint to your peas or carrots you’ll add a distinctive Irish flair to your meal quite easily. But for that matter, why not add a wee bit to the mash?
Less popular here in the U.S. than in Ireland, turnips are still readily available. Just peel them, chop them into chunks and boil or steam for about twenty minutes or until tender. Then you can mash them with your potatoes, as the Irish do, or add them to stews. Turnips are high in Vitamin C, and if you want to cook the greens you’ll get some bonus nutrition as well.
You may have had Irish black pudding with your traditional Irish breakfast, but there are other ways to enjoy it. For the uninitiated, it’s really a type of sausage made from pig’s blood, fat, onion, cereal grains (usually oatmeal,) and seasoning.
If that doesn’t make you squeamish, you might want to try it. Try making appetizers or tossing a few slices into a salad. I’ve heard it blends well with apples, like pork, I suppose, but I wouldn’t know. Black pudding seems to be readily available, though, even on Amazon.
Another traditional dish you may not have heard of if you were not raised in Ireland or the UK is bread sauce. Much like it sounds, it’s made with breadcrumbs, cream, onions, and spices and served along side the roasted Christmas meat. Here in the US we’d probably think of this as a type of white gravy. I can’t give you a recipe because I’ve never tried it, but here is one to try. If this one of your favorites, please leave a comment and tell us all about it.
One of my favorite things about visiting Ireland is the smoked salmon. My friend Irish novelist Kate Kerrigan says, “Christmas dinner here is the traditional turkey, ham – but we start with smoked salmon; it is something of a speciality here. The River Moy is one of the finest salmon fishing rivers in Europe and we have a great smoker at the end of our street – so I serve it with my homemade brown bread.”
You can get smoked salmon in your local market, although perhaps not from County Mayo, depending on where you live, but there are sure to be some good choices.
Irish Christmas Cake
I’ve probably left the best for last, but if you think like my husband (dessert should be eaten first because life is short!) feel free to start with this. My friend Kate is a great source for Irish cooking. She wrote a novel that incorporates some recipes, and she also makes an incredible Irish Christmas cake for friends and family every year. She bakes these cakes right in cookie tins for easy mailing and a nice presentation. You can watch her do this from her kitchen in County Mayo, and she’s so entertaining you won’t want to miss a minute. Watch how she alleviates her Christmas stress while grinding nutmeg!
I’m not the greatest chef, but I do like trying new things. I would love to hear your suggestions and/or comments about whipping up a traditional Irish Christmas meal!
Cindy Thomson’s love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series: Grace’s Pictures (available now) and Annie’s Stories coming July 2014. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland, and is co-author of Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story. Cindy has written on a regular basis for numerous online and print publications and is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Visit her at: www.cindyswriting.com and on Facebook and Twitter.