Published on March 14, 2018

Celebrate tradition with lamb for St. Patrick’s Day

By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

St. Patrick’s Day brings out green beer, shamrocks, corned beef and cabbage in the United States. This year, why not serve a traditional Irish meal featuring lamb?

Corned beef is an Irish-American creation. Immigrants found beef more available and less expensive than in their homeland. The British invented the term corned beef in the 17th century to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat. They were the size of corn kernels.

Corned beef is a processed meat that is very high in sodium. Three ounces has more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. The American Heart Association encourages us to limit our sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, with only 1,500 milligrams as ideal.

Lamb is a red meat that is not widely consumed in the United States. Americans eat less than one pound of it a year. Three ounces of lamb has only 50 milligrams of sodium. 

Around 80,000 small farmers in the United States raise lamb and sheep. Sheep are usually grass fed, which results in a higher level of omega 3 fatty acids that are known to be very beneficial for the health of our hearts and brains. These healthy fats also reduce inflammation.  Lamb is also a great source of lean protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc and selenium. 

Lamb has a unique flavor. If you’d like, use a mix of lamb and lean beef round steak or lean ground beef in these recipes. Try an Irish Stew, Irish Shepherd’s Pie or Cabbage Hot Dish for a heart-healthy holiday meal. If lamb does not make it to your table for St. Patrick’s Day, consider it instead of ham for Easter in two weeks.

Irish Stew

  • 1(21/4 pound) leg of lamb*
  • ½ pound eye of round beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 1½ cups onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (about ½ teaspoon)
  • ½ cup stout beer
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups unsalted beef broth (less than 200 milligrams sodium per cup)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups carrots, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 cups red potatoes, cut into ¾-inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 17-1/4-ounce package phyllo dough, thawed (optional)

Remove meat from lamb bone, cut into 1-inch cubes. Set bone aside. Brown all sides of beef and lamb cubes in oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, stirring beef and lamb occasionally. Add lamb bone, onion and next five ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add carrots, potatoes, and tarragon. Cover and simmer 30-90 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves and lamb bone. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and water until mixture is smooth. Slowly add flour mixture to stew, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.

Cut phyllo dough into shapes with a 5-inch shamrock cookie cutter. Place pastry shamrocks on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 400° for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

Spoon stew into individual bowls; top each with shamrock puff pastry.

*You can substitute 1-1/2 pounds trimmed boneless beef eye of round roast, cut into 1-inch cubes for lamb.

Nutrition facts (calculated using lamb)

Servings: 8; serving size, 1 cup; calories, 245; total fat, 10 grams; saturated fat, 5 grams; cholesterol, 60 milligrams; sodium, 100 milligrams; potassium, 570 milligrams; carbohydrates, 20 grams; fiber, 2 grams; protein, 18 grams

Irish Shepherd’s Pie

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3-4 large carrots, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 pound cubed or ground lamb (or 93% lean ground beef)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried leaf tarragon
  • 1 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups unsalted beef stock (less than 200 milligrams sodium per cup)
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes (about 1½ pounds potatoes, mashed with ¼ cup skim milk and 1/8 teaspoon salt)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place oil in large skillet. Add carrots and onions. Sauté about 2 minutes. Add meat, pepper and tarragon. Add in peas, tomato paste wine, and Worcestershire sauce.

Mix cornstarch with unsalted beef stock. Add stock to meat mixture. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Place meat mixture in 9-by-13-inch pan. Spoon on the mashed potatoes and spread evenly. Brush the top of the potatoes with the beaten egg. Bake 20-30 minutes, until nicely browned on top. 

Nutrition facts (calculated using lamb)

Servings: 8; serving size, about 1 cup; calories, 285; total fat, 9 grams; saturated fat. 3 grams; cholesterol, 60 milligrams; sodium, 170 milligrams; potassium, 650 milligrams; fiber, 4 grams; protein, 17 grams.

Cabbage Hot Dish

This recipe gives you a lot of vegetables that are flavored with lean meat. The antioxidants of the cabbage really pack this recipe with health. It’s a great alternative to corned beef and cabbage.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound 90% lean ground beef, ground turkey breast or ground lamb
  • 11/2 cups onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium carrots, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 11/2 teaspoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 3 cups green cabbage, shredded
  • 3 cups red cabbage, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger or 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes or hot sauce (optional)

Add olive oil to large skillet over medium heat. Add ground meat and brown. Add onions, carrots and garlic. Cook until vegetables are starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add cabbage, ginger, salt, pepper and hot pepper. Cook until cabbage is soft, about 15 minutes.

Nutrition Facts (calculated using lamb)
Servings; 6; serving size, 2 cups; calories, 215; total fat, 12 grams; saturated fat, 4 grams; cholesterol, 60 milligrams; sodium, 185 milligrams; potassium, 475 milligrams; carbohydrates, 11 grams; fiber, 3 grams; protein, 17 grams.