Monday, March 12, 2012

All Things Irish

In 1996 I had the distinct privilege of living in Dublin, Ireland for a few glorious months!  It was such a rich experience!  

The sheep actually posed for me on several occasions!

The lush, green, rolling hillsides, the fields that looked like patchwork quilts from a distance, the unique and decorative doors that houses sport in Dublin all drew me in!

Angela and I loved to read the inscriptions on the stones.

Angela and I loved strolling through the castle and abbey ruins – to stand in structures that were built in the 12th century certainly put things in an historical perspective!  

At Dublin Castle everyone thought Angela, Michael and I were the perfect Irish family until we spoke . . .
all that red hair!

Michael learned to love rugby, and we were all impressed with the level of education in the schools.  And I even kissed the Blarney Stone!  The warmth of the people, the friendly smiles from the shopkeepers, the amazing talents of the artisans are memories we will never forget!

Shopping was so much fun!

While many things are not so different than they are in the US, on our first trip to buy groceries we saw things that still make us chuckle!  We saw Tony the Tiger on a box of Frosties, we saw the strong bald man with his arms folded on a bottle of Mr. Proper, and we also saw an “American Style” pizza sprinkled with corn kernels!

New Grange

So every year as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I can’t help but remember, with fondness, our time in Ireland.  From the New Grange monoliths in Meath, to the craftsmen in Kilkenny, to the artistry of perfect crystal in Waterford, to our favorite castles in Offaly and Westmeath, to the Blarney Stone in Cork, to our favorite Abby in Wexford, to the beautiful doors on the homes in Dublin and the beautiful buildings on the campus of Trinity University, Ireland will always be in our hearts and our minds!

So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday, this week I’m posting information and recipes that remind me of Ireland – potatoes (or as they are pronounced in Ireland, padadas) and all things green!

I say Potatoes, you say Padadas . . .

To begin, I’d like to set the record straight on potatoes . . . they have long been maligned as fattening or unhealthy, but the opposite is true! 

Did you know that a single medium sized potato contains about twice as much fiber, Vitamin C and potassium as 2 bananas – and yet contains about half the calories?

You see, it’s not the potato that’s the problem, it’s how we cook and serve them that has given them their unfortunate and undeserved reputation! 

There are so many varieties of potatoes – more than 4000!  While living in Ireland I was introduced to some beautiful heirloom potatoes like creamy Rosas that are pale pink inside, starchy red fleshed as well as white Irish varieties.  I learned from the masters of potatoes that with so many varieties, it’s important to choose variety that’s well suited for your specific dish.

So before you automatically pick up a bag of Idaho potatoes (actually baking potatoes) try a few different varieties!  From German fingerling potatoes for roasting, to baby red potatoes for steaming, to Yukon gold for creaming, to Viking purple for presentation – there is a perfect variety for every purpose!  And the good news is that while they all look a bit different and they all taste a bit different each and every one of them holds an important spot in a healthy diet!

To Market, To Market . . .
As for greens – it goes without saying that emerald is a color we all associate with health (let’s not include green beer here).  I think that a day without greens is like a month without sunshine . . . come to think of it, maybe that’s why the Irish cook with so many greens . . .

This week I’m going to concentrate on the cruciferous varieties that we associate with Irish cooking . . . cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rappini and cauliflower (even though it’s not so green).

Cruciferous veggies are a great source of sulfur, one of the important building blocks of protein.  However, some of it is found in the form of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), which is responsible for the bitter taste of these veggies.  In fact there is a genetic trait that makes eating cruciferous varieties very unpleasant for some people.  So if you find them a bit too bitter, here are some suggestions to mellow it out a bit.

Braising (cooking low and slow with only a small amount of liquid) until tender and roasting (toss in a bit of olive oil and a few herbs) until golden brown both dramatically reduce the bitterness of these veggies.  Combining with tomatoes, herbs, fennel, onions and lemon juice are also fantastic ways to reduce the bitterness. 

The benefits of all cruciferous vegetables have been documented in countless studies and seem to concentrate on a chemical called glucosinolate that is found in abundance in these veggies.  When glucosinolates break down (or hydrolyse) they produce 2 very beneficial compounds - sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.  These chemical compounds have the ability to aide the liver in detoxifying the blood from cancer causing compounds – carcinogens – and then assisting the digestive tract in eliminating them from the body! 

These “wonder veggies” have also been linked to preventing both age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.   This may be because the wide array of nutrients found in cruciferous vegetables increases the body’s ability to defend itself against damaging free radicals that are associated with aging.

However, the healthful components are dramatically decreased during boiling and microwaving!  (But then you already know what I think about microwaves!)  So be sure to enjoy them raw, fermented (saurkraut), braised, roasted, steamed or sautéed to maintain their most healthful components!

Additionally, if you have any thyroid issues it’s good to keep in mind that cooking these veggies is a must!  It seems that in a raw state they can interfere with thyroid function in people who have diets low in iodine (especially Mid-westerners). 

If you would like to read more about the benefits of cruciferous vegetables here are some websites with some interesting info:

I hope you enjoyed this info and I look forward to sharing some delicious recipes with you over the next few days as we look forward to St. Patrick’s Day!

Sláinte Chugat!
(Good Health to You!  Just in case you don’t speak Gaelic!)

Dr. P

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