Thursday, 12 March 2009

Irish vegetarian food: is it an oxymoron?

With St Patricks Day not far away, my thoughts are turning to food, that is Irish vegetarian food of course. I have been to Ireland a few times, to be more specific Belfast, and it was all work related. I was fortunate one of the days to go and have a wander through the city centre and I came across Avoca, not a vegetarian place but very enticing indeed. The three places in Ireland that I would really like to go and eat at someday are Blazing Salads, Cornucopia in Dublin and Cafe Paradiso in Cork.

I do applaud Irish vegetarian chefs especially Denis Cotter of whom I am a huge and grateful fan. I know many vegetarians and cooks alike found his last book Wild Garlic a little too specialist, especially in relation to ingredients. For example, where can I get sea kale, Russian red spinach or sweet dumpling squash from? But for me its not an issue. If feeling ambitious, I can either grow some of these vegetables at my plot; or more realistically substitute them with something similar. I love Denis Cotters approach to vegetables and food. For me he and Nadine Abensur are vegetarian chefs that truly inspire me to cook food that is both creative and delicious to eat.

But back to the question is Irish vegetarian food is an oxymoron? Well lets delve a little deeper. What Irish vegetarian cuisine is there that is not meat based? The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is champ, boxty potato cakes, colconnan and soda bread. But these are not vegetarian meals in themselves; rather these are accompaniments to a main meal. I do think Irish food is very similar to Welsh and Scottish cuisine, being largely based on meat. Even the soups whether its leek or potato seem always to be made with either chicken or beef stock.

It is only in the last 10 years that there has been a revival in Traditional Welsh vegetarian cuisine with the comeback of the Glamorgan sausage. In Scotland, there is now the infamous Vegetarian haggis which is just as popular as the original meat based. But from Ireland what do we have? I know there are many meat dishes that have over the years become vegified, and its no different in Ireland with the Irish Stew becoming vegified. But in relation to traditional Irish vegetarian cuisine what is there? Please help me out here as I would really like to know. Please feel free to leave me feedback on this in order that I might pay homage to St Patricks and dish up more than champ and Irish whiskey coffee on the day.

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