Gluten Free + Vegan Irish Soda Bread

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For a few weeks in the late winter or early spring, I inevitably begin cooking more simply, or more simply than I usually do, and turn my meat and potatoes-snubbing nose towards the flavors of home, or of home in the old country. It’s been nearly nine years now since I lived in Ireland, a place that some deep ancestral vein in me recognized as home from the first moment I stepped out for an exceptionally early morning run there, in the late summer of 2008. I rarely talk so much about my time in Ireland any longer, but on rare days I find myself especially longing for that feeling I recognized there immediately, that of truly having an origin and belonging to a place in a way that goes beyond this lifetime.

Rather than dwell on the past, I instead tend to celebrate the memories I have. And just when I especially long for spring, it comes, and I invite it in all the more because the earliest spring vegetables here are the exact same as from the Irish countryside and farms, what with nettles, watercress, overwintered cabbage, sprouting kale, parsnips, potatoes, and the like. And then of course, I bake brown bread.

I read recently that Myrtle Allen of the esteemed Ballymaloe House in County Cork once said, I was many years married before I first triumphantly put a really good brown soda loaf on the tea table. I smiled when I read it because Myrtle’s Brown Soda Bread recipe was the one I baked on repeat before making major dietary changes. And it just so happens that six years after I first began experimenting with a gluten and dairy-free version, and incidentally nearly six years married, I baked a really, really good loaf.

 

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Gluten-Free + Vegan Brown Soda Bread
Brown bread is dense, craggy, and in the traditional recipes, contains no more than wholemeal flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. It’s the best bread for afternoon tea, with thick vegetable-heavy chowders, or simply to provide some extra nourishment to your Irish-themed march meal(s). When I lived in Ireland, it’s the item I’d always order when out for a midday meal, along with whatever pureed vegetable soup was on for the day. If you choose to make this, know that I’ve begun baking almost exclusively by weight these days, which makes the flours a little more interchangeable, if you’ve a kitchen scale. Amaranth and/or teff provide a good dose of nutrition and hearty flavor while the millet and brown rice flours lighten it up a little. I milled my own millet flour from fresh, as it’s a grain that tends to go rancid fairly quickly, but feel free to substitute with store bought millet flour. 

1 cup amaranth or teff flour (120 g)
1 cup millet (140 g), milled into a course flour
2/3 cup brown rice flour (110 g)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 Tbs. ground flax seed + 3 Tbs. warm water
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) plain non-dairy milk
A splash of apple cider vinegar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper on top; set aside.
  • Combine the ground flax with water to form a slurry, and then measure out the milk and add a splash of cider vinegar in a separate dish and allow it to thicken a little. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the flax slurry and milk into the bowl with the flours, and then mix, stirring gently until the ingredients come together and form a ball (sticky but not too wet). Work quickly and do not overwork the dough as it will make the end result more dense.
  • Flour your hands and work the dough gently to shape it into a round. Using a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, make a cross on top of the bread. (This as you may know, lets the fairies out). Transfer the round to the baking pan and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden in color and a thermometer comes out at 190-200 degrees F.
  • Let cool on a rack. Like all true soda breads, this bread is dense, and it’s best eaten within a day or so.

 

 

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Savoy-Savoy-Potato

 

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On V-Day 2004, I wore all black in solidarity, a statement of my disdain for a loved-up marketing ploy of a day. Also, I was single and in high school and just beginning to get the feel for rebelling against the world. Cue the dramatic trumpets.

 

Shepherd's Pie
Shepherd’s Pie

That same day, I was also asked to prom with a dozen-roses-and-a-singing-choir-disruptingly-traipsing-into-honors-English-to-sing-me-a-valegram. Well, call me sorta kinda not that nice, but I said yes, and then I said no. OOOPSSie, THE SAME CAN BE SAID FOR WHEN WILLIAM PROPOSED.

 

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Pistachio Raisin Muesli

 

That wasn’t the only year I did something quite mean on Valentine’s Day. In 2008, I pretended to fall asleep watching a movie with my date, and in 2009, I was chased out of class by a turfgrass dude I had never met. Upon being asked for a date, I simply replied, “No thank you”. Needless to say the guy huffed off in the other direction shortly thereafter and we never talked again. My girls gave me HELL for that response.

 

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Aghadoe, County Killarney

 

Somehow, thankfully, William knew of my disdain long before our first Valentine’s together and he did the sweetest, kindest, most-Rebecca-way-to-valentine. He bought me yogurt, an apple, and a teeny leather journal for list making. This guy gets me.

 

The River Liffey, Dublin
The River Liffey, Dublin

 

The Salthill Prom, Galway
The Salthill Prom, Galway

 

Since then, we’ve reverted back to not-celebrating mode and jump straight into all things green and my most favorite holiday of all. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE St. Patrick’s Day because it involves celebrating orange-haired fair-skinned people who eat cabbage and have a gift for malarkey. ;)

 

Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry
Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry

 

Cliff's of Moher, County Clare
Cliff’s of Moher, County Clare

 

Healy Pass, County Kerry
Healy Pass, County Kerry

 

I’ve significantly upped my meat and potato intake these last few weeks in preparation, and though I’ve mostly strayed from my floury-potato-three-different-ways-in-a-meal-and-a-big-hunk-of-meat roots, the country knows how to make simple fare taste delicious. When sourced as locally and as fresh as possible, those ingredients don’t need much fancying-up. William loves this time of year because meat, potato, and Ireland. His favorites.

 

Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry

 

Below is a list of the Irish-inspired meals we’ve been enjoying and another of recipes I’ve shared on this site in the past. I use recipes more as a guide so we’ve been enjoying variations on the links. A few hints if you’d like to go all traditional for a Paddy’s Day feast: Darina Allen‘s Forgotten Skills of Cooking is my favorite cookbook of all time. I use it more as a DIY guide and get creative from there. Donal Skehan is seriously the most fun Irish guy to follow on YouTube and his books and recipes are great for what my girlfriends dub healthy man food. For beautiful photos, accurate history, and recipes contained in a coffee table cookbook, The Country Cooking of Ireland is a real treasure.

 

Gluten-Free Irish Scones
Gluten-Free Irish Scones

 

Celeriac, Mushroom, and Beef Stew from Ard Bia

Mushrooms and Garbanzos on Toast with Cider and Thyme

Ballymaloe Chickpea and White Bean Stew

Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Carrots and Savoy Cabbage with Caraway

Boxty

Irish Soda Bread

White Wine Chicken Roast with Asparagus, Parsnips, and Rutabaga

Colcannon

Rhubarb Cake

 

Irish-inspired Recipes I’ve shared in the past: (some are not gluten and dairy-free, though most can be adapted)

Breakfast: Irish Scones, Pistachio Raisin Muesli, Brown Soda Bread

Brown Soda Bread
Brown Soda Bread

Lunch : Mushrooms and Garbanzos on Toast with Cider and Thyme, Irish Vegetable Soup

 

Irish Vegetable Soup
Irish Vegetable Soup

 

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Mushrooms + Garbanzos on Toast with Cider and Thyme

 

Dinner: Shepherd’s Pie, Curry Pie

 

Curry Pie
Curry Pie

 

And for a touch of green: Spring Green Fennel Millet Cakes

 

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I simply can’t wait to Savoy-Savoy-Potato! How will you celebrate?

Irish Vegetable Soup

irish soup

There are experiences that move you. There are moments when you know. There are times when you take a leap and jump into the wide unknown beyond, certain you will be forever changed. On a particularly sodden and blustery day in the late winter of 2008, I knew. I was flying through the streets towards home from school on my bike, soaking wet, and mad at the never-ending Oregon rain. I slammed into our house, made straight for the fireplace where my roommate was curled up reading, threw down my bag, and proclaimed, “I am going to Ireland.”

And I did. Twice. Confidently. Decisively. Never-faltering in my belief that I just needed to be there. Experiencing.

Often, in the tiny spaces in between all the moments that make up each day, I catch myself. I look back at a fragment of time when the whole world was laid out and I knew my course. I knew how to make what I wanted happen, and the making it so came effortlessly.

There are only a handful of moments that I have experienced the kind of certainty I felt then. All the other days, I will myself to know which direction, which passion, which experience. Which one is the one?

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I often feel that our lives are meant to be permanately hazy in the living. Some days are fogged in. Other days the sun comes out, there is a clear way forward, and it becomes spring again in our souls.

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I am beginning to accept this nature of things; I am beginning too, to accept myself in the unknowing. After all, in both certainty and indecision, there is much beauty, and that, I think, should be lingered upon and celebrated.

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Irish Vegetable Soup, adapted from Cooks Illustrated.
 
This simple pureed vegetable soup is a comfort I seek in the harried moments when I crave simplicity. It is one of the meals I ate repeatedly in Ireland. It is ever on the menu at both small, quick cafes  or pubs, and nicer restaurants, always served with a slice or two of brown bread. It fills and warms you up, and can contain whatever sorts of vegetables you have on hand. This recipe makes a BIG OLE’ BATCH, enough to serve a crowd or eat for several meals.
 
small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup gluten-free oats
splash of olive oil
3 medium leeks, white and light parts, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. tamari
salt and pepper, to taste
9 cups of water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (about 5 medium potatoes)
2 turnips, peeled and diced
2 cups green cabbage, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, optional
 
1. Grind the porcini mushrooms in a spice grinder. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the resulting powder. Save the rest for another batch of soup.  
 
2. Toast the oats in a small pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and they become golden. Transfer them to a bowl to cool. Once they are somewhat cool, grind them up into a meal using a spice grinder or food processor. 
 
3. In a very large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add leeks, onion, carrots, celery, wine, tamari, and 2 tsp. salt. Cook this mixture, stirring it occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion and celery have softened a bit. You may need to add a little water in this process.
 
4. Stir in the ground mushrooms and oats. Add the water, herbs, and garlic. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
 
5. Add the potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Return the mixture to a simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnips are soft. 
 
6. Stir in the peas, vinegar and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, and let cool slightly.
 
7. Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender until it is mostly smooth. Pour back into the pot and heat, if necessary, before serving.
 
8. This is best with a good hearty bread. 
 
Other Irish Recipes that might be included in your St. Patrick’s Day Festivities include Brown Soda Bread, Shepherd’s Pie, or Hearty Winter Curry Pie. Sláinte!