Ireland is known for its meat- and starch-heavy diet. Many of the country's traditional dishes are loaded with meat and potatoes, which sounds amazing to many people—but not to us veg folks.
As a vegan and the proud granddaughter of an Irish immigrant, I know the struggles and family pressures of balancing dietary choices with my heritage. My decision to go veg as a young person wasn’t popular with my relatives, especially when I refused to eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day.
So I’ve watched with interest and enthusiasm as plant-based eating has grown more popular in Ireland. Nowadays, you can easily live in Dublin or travel through Ireland and stick to a veg diet. That's thanks in large part to folks like Holly White, a broadcaster and vegan cookbook author who's lived in Dublin for decades. White teamed up with Dublin’s five-star Merrion Hotel to serve crowd-pleasing vegan recipes like meatless shepherd's pie with lentils, crisp roasted cauliflower with coriander, and salted caramel tart with dark chocolate sauce. I chatted with her about Irish food, vegan-ish cooking, and the rise of plant-forward eating in Ireland.
Rachael Ray In Season: How long have you lived in Dublin, and what culinary changes have you seen in that time?
Holly White: I’ve lived in Dublin most of my life, with a few years spent in both London and Los Angeles along the way. Seeing the rise of healthy eating here has been wonderful. Health food stores are pretty abundant, especially in Dublin, and as someone who eats a vegan diet, it’s easy to navigate the restaurant scene now, whereas even a decade ago it was not.
What's the vegan scene like in Ireland?
The great thing is the movement is growing. More options are available, and from a sustainability point of view, consumers are becoming much more conscious of using keep cups and zero waste ways to minimize single-use plastics.
You've been cooking vegan food for years, and you wrote a cookbook in 2018 called Vegan-ish. Why did you choose that title?
The term is supposed to be engaging and present the idea that people can dabble in the lifestyle. I think the idea of things being all or nothing can be intimidating, and I am also aware that not everyone wants to be completely vegan, so this was a way to encourage people to try—and hopefully fall in love with—delicious vegan food.
Now you're taking the idea even further by collaborating with Merrion Hotel to create vegan takes on Irish favorites. What's that been like?
It’s truly been a dream come true and has created exactly what I want, which is abundant tasty vegan options where the service and setting is perfect. We are soon to launch vegan fine dining, which will be a first for Ireland and truly will elevate everyone’s perceptions of vegan food. It’s all stunningly beautiful, as well as incredibly delicious.
Speaking of traditional Irish foods, St. Patrick's Day is coming up. What are the go-to foods on this holiday, and how can people adapt them for a vegan or plant-based diet?
The most traditional option would be an Irish stew. I created a vegan version for the Merrion Hotel, which we serve with pea mash and crispy kale. It’s a really comforting dish. Making foods vegan is all about innovating and looking for ways to recreate certain flavors. I love miso paste, and a really good stock is essential as a base for all stews. Dairy-free butters, olive oils, and plant-based milks help make your mash equally as delicious as the traditional option.
What questions do people in Ireland ask you most about veganism?
Most people are concerned about the nutritional benefits. I recently collaborated with Meaghers Pharmacy, working alongside their pharmacists to create a vegan supplement bundle to reassure those transitioning to veganism that all their vitamin needs were being met.
What are your favorite resources for people living in or visiting Ireland who are or want to go vegan?
I recently launched vegan recipe bundles on my website where people can buy recipe guides for vegan baking and mid-week dinners, both of which donate 10 percent of the sale price to animal welfare charities every month. I also like Vegan Society of Ireland, Vegan in Ireland (for tours, travel, and dining), and The Irish Vegan (for vegans living in Ireland).