We’re All Irish On St Patrick’s Day

12 03 2012

First things first, I’m not Irish. I have some Scottish blood mixed with my all-American mutt lineage, which may make me a stone’s throw from it. But when St Paddy’s Day rolls around, we can all be Irish for a day. The idea of a simple, rustic cuisine based on local, peasant ingredients appeals to everyone. For vegetarians, well, we skip the corned beef and go straight to the cabbage.

The story of the potato famine is well-known, a lesson we have been learning over and over since pre-history. A population dependent upon a single crop for its survival was devastated by a blight on that crop, and people were left with nothing to eat.

If you read the history of this terrible time, you’ll understand two things. One is why the Irish have been so angry with the British for so long. The second is that hunger in this big world is always politically based. During the famine, wealthy British landowners continued to grow crops for export, filling warehouses and ships with grain while Irish families starved and died in the streets outside. The British government did little to help, insisting that bailing out the people would create dependency, and preferring to follow a “laissez faire” philosophy. There was plenty of food to be had, if the people in power had been willing to bring it.  Thousands of people died.

Pretty good reason to drink some beer, huh? Well, while you’re Irish for a day, raise a glass to the indomitable spirit and strength of the Irish people. Maybe the next time you get a letter from an organization fighting hunger, consider eating potatoes and cabbage for a week and donating what you save on food to help.

I’ve always thought it was a tiny bit of justice that the foods that were relegated to peasants were often secretly nutritious. The 1% have historically lorded it over everyone by eating lots of meat and fat, while the hard working farmers were left eating plant foods. Of course, it’s cold comfort to know your greens prevent cancer if you are starving, but we have to look for something positive in all this.

Peasant Food for Today

So for St Patricks Day, let’s celebrate the lowly root vegetables and cabbage. Traditional potato dishes, like Boxty, a mash of potatoes with butter and scallions, are the kind of rib-sticking, easy food that fuels physical labor. Today, I thought it would be fun to eat a version of Colcannon, another classic Irish dish. Instead of white potatoes, I’m going to up the nutrition with a big sweet potato, and celebrate the cabbage, the most peasant of all peasant foods. Of course, you can use potatoes, too.

Yes, in a karmic payback, the cabbage that was fed to peasants and livestock is now known to be a superfood. Like all members of the brassica family, cabbage has a slew of anti-cancer chemicals and antioxidants. Cabbage offers up something called glucosinolates, which are allies in preveting colon, prostate and bladder cancers. Common cabbage is also rich in polyphenols, which are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals.  Cabbage also lowers cholesterol and helps create a healthy environment in the digestive tract, keeping good bacterial balance.

Cabbage is high in vitamin C, but really stands out for providing 66% of the vitamin K you need in one cup. It’s one of those very low-calorie foods that you can eat lots of to feel full and satisfied without gaining weight.

Especially with potatoes.

Peasant Food

Colorful Colcannon

For my updated colcannon, I roasted off a big sweet potato and then put it in the fridge to get completely cold. That way it will be easy to cut in chunks, as well as save me time in the kitchen. You can do the same thing with three medium yukon golds for a more traditional colcannon. If you are ovo-lacto, an Irish Cheddar would be a good thing to shred over the colcannon.

1 roasted sweet potato, cold (about 1 1/2 pound)

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups cabbage, chopped

1 teaspoon caraway seed or celery seed

2 cups spinach, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the cold sweet potato into chunks, reserve. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the fat, then add the onion. Stir for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat to soften and brown a little. Add the cabbage and caraway or celery seeds and keep stirring, let the cabbage get very soft and browned in spots. When it’s all soft and sweet, stir in the sweet potato and stir until heated through, then add the spinach and stir until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

In the cast iron pan, sizzling





Crunchy Sunflower Seeds, The Hippies Were Right

5 03 2012

The Sunny Seeds

When was the last time you thought about sunflower seeds? Were you cracking the shells at a summer picnic or ball game, or filling the birdfeeder with the shiny black seeds? I know that  I forget, sometimes, that sunflower seeds are such a nutrition powerhouse. I don’t think I am the only one who associates them with old-school hippie food, something we used to sprinkle in salads and bake into granola back in the day.

Well, sunflower seeds are much more than a little crunch on a salad, and they are just as exciting as the chia and flax seeds that are so hot right now. Recently, folks with peanut and nut allergies have been embracing sunflower seed butter, and in my neck of the woods, an enterprising farmer is making a lovely cold-press sunflower oil. (Read about it here.)

So, I am reminding myself to eat more of these tasty seeds. Sunflower seeds are a prime source for phytosterols. Phytosterols are the plant based compounds that lower cholesterol, so effectively in fact that they are made into special margarines and pills for that purpose. Phytosterols are so similar to cholesterol that they compete for absorption in the digestive tract, decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.The food highest in them is sesame seeds, followed by sunflower, which delivers  280 mg per 100 grams.

They are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium calms nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and helps with detoxification and cancer prevention, and recently was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The seeds also deliver lots of folate, the important B-vitamin that prevents neural tube defects and is good for your brain function.

Just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds has 61% of the Vitamin E you need for the day. Vitamin E is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant, reduces inflammation and helps with all conditions in which inflammation is a part. It also prevents cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries. Vitamin E rich foods have been linked to reduced risks of stroke and alzheimers disease.

Are you motivated to get some sunflower seeds into your life? The most common way to eat them is as a snack, and roasted sunflower seeds pack easily to accompany you on your busy life. Think of them whenever you might use nuts, whether in a muffin, cookie, bread or salad. Add them to your granola or hot cereal, or use them as a crunchy coating or casserole topping.

Try these tasty cookies, for a little bit of sunflower goodness.

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Info:

¼ cup/%DV

Vitamin E 61%,B1 34%Manganese 34%, Copper 31% ,Tryptophan 31%, magnesium 28%, selenium 26%, B6 23%, phosphorus 23.1%,  folate 19%, calories 11%

Sunny Cookie

Sunflower-Maple Cookies

Makes 12

Use toasted sunflower seeds for these, and check them for freshness before buying. The great taste of a fresh sunflower seeds is easily ruined by sitting in a bin for too long.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir the coconut oil, maple, and vanilla, then stir into the dry ingredients. Scoop 2 tablespoon sized portions of dough and form into 3/4 inch thick cookies. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. They won’t spread much.

Bake for 12 minutes, switching the position of the pan halfway. Cool on racks. Keeps for a week, refrigerated.








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