Friday, March 2, 2018

My Idol Darina Allen and Her Spicy Vegetable Stew

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post since I got back from Ireland last December. You see, I bought Darina Allen’s latest book, Grow, Cook, Nourish at the Skibbereen farmers’ market, where she was selling copies from a card table set up in the middle. I had to have a copy, even though it weighs five pounds (I checked) and is three inches thick and I had to carry it back on the plane with me. It contains 500 recipes, each one richly illustrated with multiple color photographs, and is rich with recipes from multiple countries using wonderful spices, not to mention the history of the food in question and where you can find it. Yes, I’ve read through it—it’s not just a pretty coffee-table book. And Darina herself writes that it “may just be the most important book I ever wrote.” It’s all about “the entire process of sowing plants and seeds, nurturing them, harvesting, cooking and nourishing yourself and others.”

Yes, she signed it for me!
According to her bio, she founded the first farmers’ markets in Ireland (and actually still shops at them—I’ve run into her more than once), is one of the leaders of the Slow Food movement there, and has been running the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork since 1983. One of these days I’m going to find a way to take a class there.

The Skibbereen Farmers' Market
Oh, right, we need a recipe. I skipped over a few in the book because I’d never heard of the primary ingredient and I was pretty sure I’d never find it in my local supermarket (medlars? Purslane? Borage? Cardoons?). But still left a few hundred to choose from. I landed upon “Spicy Vegetable Stew with Yogurt” mainly because I actually had all the ingredients, including all the spices.

Spicy Vegetable Stew

(Note, as usual I made a half recipe)

2 lbs potatoes (you may notice these are purple, but that's what I had)
1 lb turnips, cut into cubes
1/2 lb carrots

1/2 tsp sugar
2 oz. butter
2-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom seeds
8 cloves
1/2 pound onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1-1/2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
24 oz. tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 (liquid) oz. yogurt
1/2 cup whole milk
sea salt
1-2 Tblsp chopped coriander or parsley


Boil the (unpeeled) potatoes, then peel off the skins and cut into half-inch slices.

Cook the turnips in boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes (until tender).

Scrub the carrots and trim off ends. Cut into half-inch slices. Cook in a covered saucepan with a little boiling water with a dash of salt and sugar and a blob of butter.

Grind all the spices together to a powder, with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Yes, I actually have a spice grinder
Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden. Stir in the garlic, ginger and ground spices and nutmeg, turmeric, and 1/2 tsp sugar. Cook for a minute or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and yogurt.

Put the sliced potatoes, turnip, and carrots into the mix and stir gently (to keep the potatoes intact). Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Take off the lid and add the milk and cook to reduce (as thick or thin as you like). Season with the sea salt to taste. Stir in the chopped coriander or parsley and serve.

The result? A lovely, well-balanced blend of spices and flavors. But I will comment that this recipe could come only from a cook who has an entire cooking school staff (that is, dishwashers!) to clean up. Just count the number of pans used! But I think at home you could reduce the number without losing any of the flavor.

Did you know that the Skibbereen market has no organization to oversee it? People with something to sell (vegetables, old clothes, lots of breads, antiques--just about anything) show up Saturday morning, stake out a place, and set up shop. There's a small fee for each day, which I think is about five dollars. I plan entire trips to make sure I can go at least once, and I always come away with something unexpected. And it runs all year.


  1. Interesting and a different spin on vegetables from those of us stuck in a rut. Did you like it?

    1. I did! As I said, the flavors blended seamlessly, but the stew did not come across as an ethnic dish--it just tasted good. And I'm sure Darina Allen's vegetables are fresher than mine, since they're all grown outside the kitchen door. I would make this again, and I'm looking forward to trying a few of the remaining 499 recipes.

  2. Love your description of her, the book, and the concept, Sheila! Did you interpret cardamom seeds to mean the pods? And interesting to cook in the yogurt, rather than use it as the more customary topping --much like adding sour cream to a soup, thickening a bit and adding that tartness. Nice!

  3. I, too, have a spice grinder--we seem to have so many of the same kitchen utensils! This sounds delicious with all those yummy spices!

  4. You MUST make time for a class at her school! We all need to live vicariously through you. (And be rather jealous in the bargain.)

    This does sound lovely. Just right for a damp day.

    I finished Many a Twist last night. Fantastic job! Many thanks.

  5. That book sounds amazing. How wonderful to actually see her at the markets. Borage - now that is a recipe I would love since it is so good for you. Thanks!