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.