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Published: Tuesday, 3/9/2010

A traditional Jiggs dinner

Going green on March 17 may not help save the planet, but for those people who can claim Irish roots, and for the Irish at heart, it's nutritionally friendly.

Everyone joins in the St. Patrick's Day celebration to unwind with songs, dancing, and, more importantly, to enjoy the traditional meal, known nationwide simply as the Jiggs dinner.

The traditional fare that will be featured in several Irish pubs in greater Toledo as well as in private homes is a stunning mix in a one-pot meal. A savory blend of seasoned beef brisket with potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and usually onions, the time-honored combination also brings contrasting textures and color to the plate.

It is doubtful that many St. Patrick's Day celebrants are concerned about nutrition on March 17, but the meat-and-vegetable package is good for us. For that reason alone we should prepare it several times a year rather than put it on hold until St. Patrick's Day.

In early Ireland, beef that had been preserved in brine all winter was brought out for spring festivals.

Once upon a time I tried to make corned beef in the same crock that my grandmother used to preserve side meat in lard in winter. I may try it again in the refrigerator, but that test down in the basement was unsuccessful, and since then I rely on “store bought” corned beef.

I much prefer the brisket cut, which has more fat to the round. Both are prepared corned, a term that dates to before refrigeration. The large pieces of salt used to preserve the meat were called corns of salt. The brine also is made with pickling spice and brown sugar. You still have time to try to make your own before March 17. They say the beef will “corn” in a week in the refrigerator in water with pickling spice, but it may be wiser to postpone that experiment and take advantage of all the corned beef in local stores.

Nutritionally, a three-ounce portion — and it is doubtful if anyone can hold to that limit — is 213 calories, high in protein, and a good source of vitamin B12 and niacin. But it is high in fat too

The vegetables in our stellar dinner are nutrient-dense.

Carrots are loaded with vitamin A and are a good source of potassium. We know that the color orange indicates a high level of beta-carotene that is more valuable cooked than it is raw. The large carrots that require paring are more flavorful than small ones that are extruded for convenience in today's market. As for the cabbage from our Irish dinner, we will be eating a vegetable rich in vitamin A, calcium, and iron. It is also high in dietary fiber. The green-tinted, not red, cabbage is the preferred variety on St. Patrick's Day.

Potatoes are the most symbolic food in the traditional dinner. Potatoes ha vez ero fat, before seasonings and sauces are added. In 2008 the United Nations called the potato a hidden treasure, and declared it as the Year of the Potato to raise its profile in developing nations.

The potato's profile was raised considerably in the United States when Americans rediscovered mashed potatoes in the 1990s and chefs began adding garlic, onions, and even corn and peas along with butter, salt, and pepper. That was nothing new to the Irish. Colcannon is a broccoli and mashed potato blend that brings green to the table and is also tasty.

Justin Glover, director of produce at Walt Churchill's Markets at 3220 Briarfield Blvd. and 26625 Dixie Hwy. in Perrysburg, said potato sales are steadily increasing. The common variety used for the Jiggs dinner are the Ohio and Michigan whites that are smooth-skinned, mostly round, and considered an all-purpose potato. Tiny whites are called fingerlings and are not as commonly found in local supermarkets. Russets and Idahos are interchangeable names for the long, oval brown potato that are good bakers and also are favored for mashed because they beat up light and fluffy.

Potato cooks also have a choice of rainbow colors with yellow, red, and purple varieties. Yukon Golds are medium round potatoes with a creamy texture. Like the name implies, the skins are pale yellow, which follows into the flesh to give a buttery cast. Some cooks hand-scrub the thin skins instead of paring them.

Reds, which also are called boilers, are popular in salads and scalloped because they hold their shape when boiled. Reds are also used for smashed potatoes where a portion of the skin is left on.

Reds are packaged in two sizes. Purple potatoes, which also are called Peruvian, are not readily available, but they surely provoke curiosity and conversation at a dinner party.

But not on St. Patrick's Day.

— Mary Alice Powell



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