The Darina Allen Column

Darina Allen

The trend towards people growing their own food has sprung from a desire to eat healthily, says Darina, and she has some interesting seasonal recipes to tickle your taste buds

The ever more alarming obesity figures are spooking governments everywhere from Europe to the US, and India to China. As yet experts can’t seem to agree about the root cause or indeed the remedy.

Meanwhile, the public are completely bamboozled by conflicting messages and even more serious is the situation that many busy people find themselves in where they cannot access nourishing food easily.

The Americans have long ago coined a phrase — food deserts, the definition of which is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those without access to a car or local transport.

Desperation forces us to think outside the box and the results can be encouraging. When the bread in the US became so mass produced that it was virtually inedible, artisan bakeries bubbled up.

When food became so processed and ultra fresh nourishing food was virtually unavailable, a few ‘desperately seeking’ souls started the first farmers market.

The same with beer and cider, as those drinks became increasingly chemical laden and mundane, a demand for craft beer and cider was created.

So what to do if you live in an area with no choice but to buy your food from a multinational discounter which offers no fresh produce?

Well faced with a crisis the human spirit tends to come up with a variety of mini solutions; Guerrilla gardening allotments and urban farming are at an all-time high in cities from, LA to Shanghai.

There’s yet another initiative that has really caught people’s imagination particularly in the US — Grow Food not Lawns. This movement was started in 1999 in Eugene, Oregon by a group of avant-gardeners, including Heather Flores who wrote Food Not Lawns — how to turn your yard into a garden and your neighbourhood into a community in 2006. This initiative gradually inspired a global community

There are many related initiatives here in Ireland — Grow It Yourself (GIY) for example has enhanced the lifestyle of many, not to mention provided the nourishment also.

Growing some of our own food gives us an appreciation of the work that goes into producing beautiful nourishing food and one rarely complains about the price of food again. Not only is the food fresher but it tastes so much better when one has tended the garden for months on end - enough to savour every delicious mouthful.

The simple message from the Food Safety Promotions Board for children to drink water rather than juice is brilliant and empowers parents.

Radish Leaf Soup Radish Leaf Soup

Serves 4

Most people are unaware that radish leaves are edible and delicious. They need to be fresh of course.

1½ oz (45g) butter
5 oz (140g) peeled and chopped potatoes
4 oz (110g) peeled and chopped onion
salt and freshly ground pepper
1½ pint (900ml) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
½ pint (300ml) creamy milk
5 oz (150g) fresh radish leaves, chopped

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated.

Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk, bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the radish leaves and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the radish leaves are cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour.

Puree the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.

Variation: Radish Soup with Chervil Cream

Make the soup as above. Serve with a blob of chervil cream on top of each bowl just before it goes to the table (see recipe below).


Chervil Cream
Serves 6

large bunch of chervil
250ml (9fl oz) full-fat crème fraîche
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the crème fraîche into a bowl. Simply chop a large bunch of chervil very finely and mix with the crème fraîche. Season with some salt and a little freshly ground black pepper, to taste.


Smoked Mackerel Salad with Beetroot and Horseradish Sauce
Serves 8

4-6 fillets of smoked mackerel
a selection of baby salad leaves
pickled beetroot
horseradish sauce
sprigs of dill

Cut the smoked mackerel into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces and the pickled beetroot into 1cm (½ inch) dice.

To serve: Strew the base of a white plate with a mixture of salad leaves. Put 5 or 6 pieces of mackerel on top. Scatter with some diced beetroot and top with a few little blobs of horseradish sauce. A few sprigs of dill add to the deliciousness.

Serve with Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread.


Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

1 lb (450 g) cooked beetroot
8 oz (225g) sugar
16 fl oz (475 ml) water
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
8 fl oz (250 ml) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water and bring to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled beetroot and leave to cool.
Note: The onion may be omitted if desired.


Beetroot Tops

Serves 4
Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops
salt and freshly ground pepper
butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2in) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1½ teaspoons salt) for 3–4 minutes or until tender.

Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes.

Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil.

Serve immediately.

Strawberry Soup with Mint Chantilly

Serves 8-10
A simple and absolutely delicious summer dessert.

Strawberry Soup
450g (1lb) ripe strawberries
225ml (8fl oz) syrup (see recipe)
1 lemon
1 orange


Mint Chantilly

15 mint leaves approximate
1 tablespoon lemon juice
150ml (5 fl ozs) cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
icing sugar to taste

mint leaves

Macaroons (optional)

Hull the strawberries, purée with the syrup, freshly squeezed orange juice and lemon juice. Put through a nylon sieve. Taste. Cover and chill well.

To serve divide the strawberry pureé between 6 soup plates or glass bowls. Add a blob of mint Chantilly and some shredded mint leaves — serve immediately.

To make the mint chantilly, crush the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with the granulated sugar and lemon juice, add the cream and stir, the lemon juice will thicken the cream. If the cream becomes too thick, fluff a little with a whisk, taste and add a little more icing sugar if necessary.


'30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013

Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013

Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine 15- 17th May 2015


Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolThe Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2014. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.

Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.



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