The Irish knew how to take a few cheap ingredients and make comforting, hearty meals that could feed a whole household. Potatoes, pork and mutton supplied the foundation for many traditional Irish dishes, and — as you may have guessed — these foods tended to be high in calories.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve rounded up 10 traditional Irish dishes, provided some background on their origin and offered a slightly lighter version of each for you to test out in your own kitchen.
It doesn’t get more traditional than this. The national dish of Ireland for centuries, Irish lamb stew was cooked with either lamb or mutton — mutton is considered the meat of an adult sheep, while lamb is from a sheep less than 1 year old — plus onions and potatoes.
Some strict traditionalists believe the stew should be relatively plain and stick to those three main ingredients, but more modern recipes, like this one from Eating Well, use carrots and other veggies, like leeks. This particular recipe uses leg of lamb and is cooked long and slowly, as is tradition — save a full day for cooking since this recipe takes about 8.5 hours. Despite its heartiness, one serving of this stew totals 266 calories and only 7 grams of fat.
Many of these recipes contain a common ingredient: potatoes. Their affordability made them a staple of Irish cuisine, and using them to make shepherd’s pie was an easy way to create a fresh meal using leftover meat — most likely mutton at the time, though more modern recipes tend to use ground beef or lamb.
This recipe from Running With Tweezers was part of a project to cook an entire week’s worth of meals for under $30. This shepherd’s pie uses brown lentils, prosciutto de parma, potato, mushrooms, frozen peas, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper for a grand total of $1.45, which included two servings. (Clearly the recipe creator wasn’t shopping in New York City.) Next time you’re broke and want some comfort food, keep this in mind.
Soda bread is a type of quick bread, which means — you guessed it — this bread doesn’t take long to make. Unlike other breads, soda bread doesn’t require you to wait for hours while the dough rises before putting it in the oven. It tends to take on the flavors of whatever ingredient you decide to add to the flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. Nuts and currants are common additions, but this recipe from Skinnytaste uses raisins and stays under 125 calories per 2-ounce slice.
Pork was a mainstay of many traditional Irish meals, and only the wealthy could afford beef, according to DoChara.com. Ordinary Irish folk couldn’t afford to be picky eaters, and they didn’t let any parts of a pig go to waste — pig’s stomach and blood sausage were popular dishes back in the day.
This split pea soup recipe from All You uses pig’s head — we’re kidding, it uses non-offal ham — plus green split peas, onion, celery, carrots and lots of seasonings. Perfect for a cold winter day and clocks in at a mere 159 calories and 3 grams of fat per serving.