Darina Allen: Let’s concentrate on food that helps to strengthen our immune system

Darina Allen: Let’s concentrate on food that helps to strengthen our immune system

IT IS at times like this, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, that we need to concentrate on searching for the silver lining behind the black cloud.

Seán O’Rourke asked me to come on his RTÉ show recently. Ever since, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing with requests for simple homely comforting dishes to cook with the kids. I was intrigued by the variety of simple fool-proof recipes that people were longing for.

I shared my phone number after a conversation with a highly achieving young mother who found herself quarantined with her children and totally unable to cook. She was in desperation and felt helpless, although in her ‘other life’ she could virtually run the country.

Supermarkets have now put a limit on the number of items people can buy to curb panic buying all kinds of random food.

Pasta, tortillas and rice were top of many people’s lists and now some shops are in short supply but don’t forget about potatoes – super easy to cook, incredibly versatile and far more nutritious. Furthermore we are supporting Irish potato growers who like all farmers and food producers of perishable food desperately need our support.

Darina Allen: Let’s concentrate on food that helps to strengthen our immune system

Never was it more important to buy locally. Many Farmers’ Markets are temporarily closed but food producers are scrambling to find other ways to get fresh produce to their customers with whom they have built up warm relationships over the years.

Many are now selling from the farm gate and taking orders by phone and doing contactless deliveries straight to the boot of your car.

Let’s concentrate on food that helps to strengthen our immune system. We need lots of Vitamin A and D. Liver from lamb, beef, pork and poultry are all rich sources of both Vitamin A and D which work together to boost our resistance. Cod liver oil, neat or in capsule form, is also a brilliant source. As children in the 1950s we were given it daily to protect us from winter colds and flu but it’s popularity waned when antibiotics became more widely available.

Bone broth too is full of collagen. Eggs are very nourishing, particularly the wonderfully nourishing yolks from hens that are out on the grass. Try butter, lard and other good fats like fatty fish.

I love liver but know it’s certainly not everyone’s favourite, even those who have never tasted it tell me they don’t like it.

There are lots of delicious ways to serve liver rather than serving it unadorned, it can be minced and added to burgers or other delicious dishes.

Try it diced in this delicious tomato, fegato and bacon fondue, serve with lots of mashed potato or indeed pasta.

Cook up a nice big pot of stew, cover the whole top with potatoes so you have a whole meal in one pot. Use every single scrap, don’t waste a morsel of anything. If you are unsure of how to use up some leftovers email or telephone me (021-4646785 or darina@cookingisfun.ie). I’ll do my best to help with suggestions. See Ballymaloe Irish Stew in my recent St Patrick’s Day Article, online on the Irish Examiner website.

Here’s another delicious beef stew and easy chicken casserole that all the family will love.One of my most requested recipes was for scones, so here they are, my Mum’s recipe, the very best I know.

I also spoke about this delicious little recipe for tortillitas – little fritters, a perfect way to use up leftover boiled potatoes, make them with your kids, they’ll love making these tortillitas.

This is the perfect time to have fun in the kitchen with your kids, teaching them nifty skills — how to use a swivel top peeler, a kitchen knife, how to use the dishwasher, washing machine, dress the beds, hoover, lay the table. Better still, how about sitting down together to compile a Jobs List, pin it up on the wall — a given when I was a child. There were nine of us so it was essential that everyone realised the importance of playing their part. We learned so many practical skills and a brilliant work ethic.

Please continue to send in your requests. I’ll do my best to include them in my weekly column.

Keep safe.

Ballymaloe Beef Stew

Serves 8 - 10

A good gutsy stew which can be made in large quantities — it reheats and freezes brilliantly. Cover the top of the stew with large peeled potatoes if you would like a full meal in a pot.


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1.35kg (3 lb) well hung stewing beef or lean flank

4 large carrots cut into ½ inch (1cm) slices

2 parsnips cut in ¾ dice

285g (10 ozs) sliced onions

1 heaped tbsp flour

150ml (5fl oz) red wine (or use all beef stock)

150ml (5fl oz) brown beef stock

250ml (8fl oz) homemade tomato purée, otherwise use best quality tinned tomato — pureed and sieved

175g (6 oz) sliced mushrooms

1 tbsp chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper


Trim the meat of any excess fat, then prepare the vegetables. Cut themeat into 4cm (1½ inch) cubes. Heat the olive oil in a casserole; sweat the sliced onions, carrots and parsnips on a gentle heat with a lid on for 10 minutes.

Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan until almost smoking. Sear the pieces of meat on all sides, reduce the heat, stir in flour, cook for 1 minute, mix the wine, stock and tomato puree together and add gradually to the casserole. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook gently for 2½-3 hours in a low oven, depending on the cut of meat, 160C/325F/gas mark 3.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms and add with the parsley to the casserole, 30 minutes approx, before the end of cooking. Serve with mashed potatoes or noodles and a good green salad.

Note: Cover the surface of the stew with 8 –10 whole peeled potatoes laid on top and cooked for about an hour before the end of the cooking. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cover with a lid.

A Very Simple Chicken Casserole

Serves 6-8

This casserole takes 10 minutes to prepare. So simple and so nourishing.


1 whole organic chicken or 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks and 2 breasts

700ml (1¼ pints) homemade chicken stock or water

olive oil for frying

4-5 carrots, peeled and cut into thick chunks

2 onions, peeled and quartered

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roux (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Joint the chicken into 8 pieces or use chicken pieces, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the chicken stock or water into a large casserole dish and heat on the hob.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and begin to fry the pieces of chicken until golden brown. As they brown pop them into the casserole dish, at this stage you can also add in the chopped carrots and quartered onions. Add another pinch of salt and twist of freshly ground black pepper.

When the liquid comes to the boil, put the lid on, transfer to the preheated oven for 1- 1½ hours. Chicken will come easily off the bone when cooked and the carrots will be tender.

Pour off the liquid and let the fat rise to the top — spoon this off. (If the chicken is organic, save to sauté cooked potatoes.) Now you can either thicken the liquid with a little roux if desired or leave the juice as is.

Note: Lots of other ingredients may be added to enhance the flavour — a sprig of thyme, lots of chopped parsley, haricot beans, spices, but this basic version works brilliantly to be shared with little ones.

Gary’s Fegato, Baconand Tomato Fondue

Serves 6 – 10


2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

110g (4oz) onions, sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes or 2lbs of fresh tomatoes, peeled

Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

2 tbsp of any combination of the following: Freshly chopped parsley, thyme, marjoram

350g (¾ lb) nice fat streaky bacon

225g – 450g (½ lb – 1lb) fresh lambs (or chicken) liver (cut into ¾” cubes)


Heat the oil in a casserole or stainless-steel saucepan.

Add the onions and garlic and toss until coated.

Cover and sweat on a gentle heat until the onions and garlic are soft but not coloured.

Slice the tomatoes and add with all the juice to the onions.

Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Add a generous sprinkling of herbs.

Cook, uncovered, for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until tomatoes soften.

Meanwhile cut the cooked streaky bacon into ¾-inch dice. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry until slightly crisp at the edges. Add to the tomato base. Toss the diced liver in the bacon fat and add to the pot.

Bring back to a simmer, taste, correct the seasoning.

To serve, sprinkle some freshly chopped parsley over the top and serve immediately with pasta, orzo or mashed potato.

Note: Cook the piece of bacon in simmering water for 30-45 minutes or until the rind will peel off easily.

Tortillitas à la Patata

Makes 26

This is a totally brilliant way to use leftover boiled potatoes. The tortillitas are made in minutes and can be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper.


4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) cooked potatoes, cut into 5mm (¼inch) dice

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and chives

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

Maldon sea salt, to serve

For the Garlic Mayo

10 floz mayo

2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley

1 – 2 cloves of crushed garlic


Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.

Heat about 5mm (¼ inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning. Correct if necessary.

Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.

Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of garlic mayo (see recipe below).

To make the Garlic Mayo

Stir the crushed garlic and parsley into the mayonnaise, taste and put into a bowl.

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