Irish Vegetable Soup

irish soup

There are experiences that move you. There are moments when you know. There are times when you take a leap and jump into the wide unknown beyond, certain you will be forever changed. On a particularly sodden and blustery day in the late winter of 2008, I knew. I was flying through the streets towards home from school on my bike, soaking wet, and mad at the never-ending Oregon rain. I slammed into our house, made straight for the fireplace where my roommate was curled up reading, threw down my bag, and proclaimed, “I am going to Ireland.”

And I did. Twice. Confidently. Decisively. Never-faltering in my belief that I just needed to be there. Experiencing.

Often, in the tiny spaces in between all the moments that make up each day, I catch myself. I look back at a fragment of time when the whole world was laid out and I knew my course. I knew how to make what I wanted happen, and the making it so came effortlessly.

There are only a handful of moments that I have experienced the kind of certainty I felt then. All the other days, I will myself to know which direction, which passion, which experience. Which one is the one?


I often feel that our lives are meant to be permanately hazy in the living. Some days are fogged in. Other days the sun comes out, there is a clear way forward, and it becomes spring again in our souls.


I am beginning to accept this nature of things; I am beginning too, to accept myself in the unknowing. After all, in both certainty and indecision, there is much beauty, and that, I think, should be lingered upon and celebrated.

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Irish Vegetable Soup, adapted from Cooks Illustrated.
This simple pureed vegetable soup is a comfort I seek in the harried moments when I crave simplicity. It is one of the meals I ate repeatedly in Ireland. It is ever on the menu at both small, quick cafes  or pubs, and nicer restaurants, always served with a slice or two of brown bread. It fills and warms you up, and can contain whatever sorts of vegetables you have on hand. This recipe makes a BIG OLE’ BATCH, enough to serve a crowd or eat for several meals.
small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup gluten-free oats
splash of olive oil
3 medium leeks, white and light parts, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. tamari
salt and pepper, to taste
9 cups of water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (about 5 medium potatoes)
2 turnips, peeled and diced
2 cups green cabbage, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, optional
1. Grind the porcini mushrooms in a spice grinder. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the resulting powder. Save the rest for another batch of soup.  
2. Toast the oats in a small pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and they become golden. Transfer them to a bowl to cool. Once they are somewhat cool, grind them up into a meal using a spice grinder or food processor. 
3. In a very large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add leeks, onion, carrots, celery, wine, tamari, and 2 tsp. salt. Cook this mixture, stirring it occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion and celery have softened a bit. You may need to add a little water in this process.
4. Stir in the ground mushrooms and oats. Add the water, herbs, and garlic. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Add the potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnips are soft. 
6. Stir in the peas, vinegar and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, and let cool slightly.
7. Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender until it is mostly smooth. Pour back into the pot and heat, if necessary, before serving.
8. This is best with a good hearty bread. 
Other Irish Recipes that might be included in your St. Patrick’s Day Festivities include Brown Soda Bread, Shepherd’s Pie, or Hearty Winter Curry Pie. Sláinte!

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Shepherd’s Pie

I’ve always been a big fan of St. Patrick’s Day.  Chalk it up to green being my favorite color since the beginning of time (hello emerald birthstone), my bright orange hair, and seriously Irish last name.  Then there was the actual living in Dublin for study abroad and then summer internship.  I’d like to say I’ve gotten familiar with the cuisine–and the St. Patrick’s celebrations that go on there versus here (hint:  we Americans like an excuse to throw a big party).

Though a great deal of people think first of Corned Beef and Cabbage when it comes to traditional Irish food (which you’d be hard-pressed t0 actually find in Ireland these days), I’d like to introduce  you to one of our true favorites–Shepherd’s Pie.  This is an awesome end-of-winter comfort food and a g0-to for myself and W when we are feeling the need to use up extra ground beef.  Truly, we eat it all the time and it’s always special.  Perhaps because our version showcases a few of W’s favorite ingredients–in a pie (okay not a true pie, but still).

Though our version wouldn’t exactly be in the way of the traditional form (not a big fan of eating lamb here), and we like to stir in lots of extra vegetables, I’d have to say we truly enjoy this version better than those you’d find in a standard Irish pub.  Serve it up with some nice Irish Cider–or Guinness, if that’s your style.  Sláinte!

Shepherd’s Pie
For the Topping:
1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped, (about 1 large potato)
3 oz. parsnips (about 1 large), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup plain yogurt or any type of milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Filling:
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 tsp. dried thyme
rounded 1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 heaping Tbs. potato or arrowroot starch
1 cup frozen peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Make the topping:  Bring potatoes and parsnip to a boil in a medium pot, covered with water.  Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of potato liquid. Mash the potatoes and parsnips and stir in the yogurt or milk along with about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Season with pepper.
  • Make the filling: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms, stirring until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the ground beef. Cook, breaking up any large pieces, for about 5 minutes. Stir in 3/4 tsp. salt, the thyme, chili powder, and then season with pepper.
  • Whisk together the potato starch separately in a small amount of cold water. Then stir it along with the reserved potato liquid into the beef and veg mixture. Boil for about a minute and then stir in the peas.
  • Transfer the filling to a 2-quart baking dish and top with the mashed potatoes and parsnips.  Bake until bubbling and the top is beginning to brown; about 35 minutes.