Irish stew purists might want to look away, but this stew does not in any way claim to be a genuine Irish stew. It is just an easy weekend dinner and the cheesy potato cakes are an optional accompaniment. The stew gets its brash purple tinge from the addition of chopped red cabbage and red onions, which also adds depth of flavour. But you can use green cabbage and white or brown onions – the beauty of a stew is that there is usually no need to panic if you haven’t got the exact ingredients. It is a very forgiving dish.

In fact, this is two recipes in the one post. The choice is yours – you can make the stew and the potato cakes to eat together or just make the stew and serve it with mashed potato, Colcannon mash, rice or pasta, whatever you like. Or just make the potato cakes and serve them with a different topping – I try very hard not to be too prescriptive with my recipes. Get creative, try some variations, experiment with different herbs and spices, I won’t be offended. And the stew can be made in advance and warmed through gently on the stove when you’re ready to it – I made mine at about 4pm yesterday afternoon and warmed it through later on so I could eat it while watching Strictly without missing any of the dances!

This is quite a thick stew, thanks to its buttery roux base, so it can also be used as a pretty handy pie filling – I often do this when I make way too much stew or casserole for my husband and I. At Munching Matilda, we cannot stand food waste. Making pastry is, I find, a massive faff so I tend to take the cheat’s option and roll out some store-bought shortcrust pastry, drape it over a pie dish, gently mould it to fit, use a fork to make a pretty crust and poke a few holes in the base. Then I blind bake it for 15 minutes with baking beans (you can use rise or lentils on baking paper to weight the pastry if you haven’t got any baking beans), add the stew as filling and bake again. Sometimes I use leftover pastry to create a lattice on top of the pie. Sometimes I cut cute shapes with the leftover pastry to pop on top. And sometimes I just toss some mashed potato and cheese on top. Again, there are no hard and fast rules here.

With the potato cakes, I made the mash from scratch last night with 500g of potatoes, sour cream and an egg. Then I chucked in the grated cheese and breadcrumbs to give the cakes some solidity. But feel free to mix this up too – there are all sorts of ingredients you can use to mash potatoes. If you don’t fancy using sour cream, alternatives include butter, milk, single cream, double cream, creme fraiche, cream cheese spread… You can also season the mash with pretty much any herb or spice that takes your fancy. Like a stew, you can mix it up really easily with mashed potato for equally great results. The potato cakes can also be a great way to use up leftover mashed potato.

When I tweeted a picture of the potato cakes merrily baking in the oven last night, an American follower let me know that they usually fry potato cakes in the US. I must admit that I am not a massive fryer of food, beyond sauteeing onions, garlic or bacon. These potato cakes would probably work just as well if they were cooked in a frying pan with a little oil. For me, baking in the oven is a personal preference – even with my Terrible Oven, I was able to get a nice crusty exterior with a soft, fluffy middle minus the excess oil. But if anyone wants to give these a go in the frying pan, please be my guest and make sure you share some pictures with us at @MunchingMatilda.


Purple beef and Guinness stew with cheesy potato cakes


For the stew

250g beef, diced

500ml Guinness (or any ale or stout)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, diced

100g bacon lardons

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

50g unsalted butter

4 heaped tablespoons plain flour

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Half a red cabbage, shredded with a knife,

200g carrots

Salt, pepper, sumac, marjoram and thyme to taste (but feel free to use whatever herbs and spices take your fancy)

For the potato cakes

500g potatoes, peeled, cut into large cubes and boiled

1 egg

3 tablespoons sour cream

250g/1 metric cup grated cheese (I used a mature cheddar but any hard cheese will do the job)

125g/1/2 metric cup breadcrumbs


For the stew

  1. Poach the beef in the Guinness until the pieces are nicely browned. Remove the beef and set aside. Save the Guinness (this is REALLY important!)
  2. Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan or stew pot and cook the onions, garlic and bacon lardons until the lardons start to go a little brown.
  3. Melt the butter and stir in the flour so it starts to form a thick paste.
  4. Gradually add the Guinness until you get a gravy-like consistency, stirring the whole time so it stays thick. You might not use all the Guinness – it depends on how thick you like your stew.
  5. Add the carrots, cabbage, herbs and spices. Keep stirring, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. It can be cooked in advance and reheated gently on the stove before serving.

For the potato cakes

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees C.
  2. Boil the peeled, chopped potatoes until they are soft but not soggy – you want a bit of firmness so the potato cakes don’t turn into a mushy mess in the oven.
  3. Put the cooked potato into a large mixing bowl, add the sour cream and egg and mash well.
  4. Mix the grated cheese and breadcrumbs through and set aside to cool.
  5. Using a non-stick baking tray or preparing a tray with non-stick foil or baking paper, use a ladle to scoop out mash from the bowl and drop onto the tray. Use your hands to slightly flatten the cakes on top.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden on the outside. Start checking at the 10-minute mark, especially if you have a temperamental oven. They can be served immediately or gently reheated at about 80 degrees C for 10 minutes.

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