Hailing the humble potato

CabSoup01[P]eople may joke about the Irish and potatoes, but the true story of what happened to the Irish in the 1800s is no laughing matter. If you know anything about the Great Famine, you know the Irish were oppressed on their own land, forced into tenant farmer-hood, working on properties reduced to such a size that the most lucrative crop they could grow was the homely but hearty potato, which they also consumed to survive. In the mid-1800s, a fungus or blight devastated Ireland’s potatoes. The Irish, as a result, were also devastated. One million of them starved to death. Another million of them emigrated to the United States. Their history and population was marked forever by their association and forced dependence on the potato. It is a tragic story, but what is left behind is a testament to Irish resilience.

potato09My mind often travels to Ireland, as my full self did some time ago (see blog of 3/11). I ponder my own Irish history, and the family who had to flee. And I remember some of the true Irish traditional dishes I had while in Ireland, including a delightful mash of potatoes and cabbage called “colcannon.” With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, I considered making some colcannon myself, but while noodling around on the Internet, I found a delicious-looking recipe published in Cooking Light magazine that turned colcannon into soup.

Cold pre-spring days are perfect for soup, and with the potato at the root of this soup, I felt optimistic about its flavor and comforting potential. Potatoes and onions (I also added a leek) are cooked together first, then salt and pepper and chicken broth added. The trick to this soup’s creaminess is the pureeing of the cooked potato/onion/broth mixture in the blender. I’ve done this before for other soups. It’s an ingenious way of adding richness without adding such fat-heavy elements as cream or cheese.
cabbage02 I think too many people disregard cabbage. Whenever I eat it, I marvel at just how good it is and, come to find out, it is so good for you, too. Raw (what would we do without coleslaw?) or cooked (my parents’ beef and vegetable stew is exceptional because of the humble cabbage nestled quietly and flavorfully within). In this colcannon soup, cabbage is sautéed with thyme leaves (flavors) until tender but still texturally sturdy.

cabsoup02The blended potato mixture is added to the cabbage and all heated through together. The soup came to fruition so simply and quickly, and the aromas of all these very simple things cooking in my kitchen brought me to a vigorous fervor of longing. That pureed potato base gave the soup a creaminess without cream; the cabbage gave the soup a freshness, body texture. The soup was hearty and delicious, earthy and flavorful. Upon eating the soup again the next day (the better day for any soup), I staged an act of rebellion that may have made an Irish forebear proud (and knock the soup off any vegetarian menu). I crumbled bacon on the top!

Irish Colcannon and Thyme Leaf Soup
(From Cooking Light magazine)
Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 1/2 cups diced peeled baking potato (about 14 ounces)
1 cup diced onion (about 4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
3 tablespoons water
8 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add potato, onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook 6 minutes. Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes or until potato is tender.
Combine 3 tablespoons water and remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large Dutch oven; bring to a simmer. Add cabbage and thyme. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Place half of potato mixture in blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining potato mixture. Add potato mixture to cabbage mixture; cook over medium-low heat until thoroughly heated.

Blogger’s Note: I added one chopped leek with the onions. Vegetable stock could be substituted for the chicken stock. You can garnish with extra thyme leaves and black pepper — and bacon!

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