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A look at traditional Irish food: the good, the bad and the ugly. (And some classic recipes too!)

Ask about Irish food and you'll probably first think of the potato. While this certainly is a feature of the Irish diet, prior to its introduction to the fair isle in the 16th century, oats formed the basis of Irish peasant fare. Here's the nutritional lowdown on these staples and some ways to enjoy them.

The Spud

The good: potatoes have gotten a bad nutritional rap lately -- not surprising, since we tend to load them up with fats by frying them or adding butter and sour cream. But the potato itself is a source of carbohydrates, minerals such as potassium and iron, and vitamin C (when potatoes are new; after 9 months of storage the amount of vitamin C is reduced). The trick is to prepare the potato without a lot of added fats and salt -- and to keep the skins on. So break out the scrubber and go ahead and indulge.

And although the traditional colcannon is not precisely the healthiest way to eat potatoes -- it contains fat in the form of butter and the potatoes are peeled -- it adds nutritional punch by including kale, a leafy green which contains high levels of antioxidants and is rich in beta-carotene, iron and potassium (cabbage may be substituted instead). Here's a recipe to enjoy:

1 1/4 pounds (about 2 large) russet (baking) potatoes
2 cups chopped kale
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup milk, scalded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits and softened
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces; place in saucepan. Cover with salted water and simmer until tender (15 minutes). Mash with milk and butter. While the potatoes are simmering, steam kale for 10 minutes, or until it is tender, and sauté onion in olive oil. Once potatoes are mashed, stir in kale and onion; season to taste. For an extra-decadent treat, fry up leftover colcannon the next day in two tablespoons olive oil.

The bad: A traditional recipe for potatoes in Ireland is boxty. While boxty does not qualify as the healthiest way to eat potatoes, it is certainly one of the yummiest, and has even inspired the verse:

Boxty on the griddle,
boxty in the pan,
if you can't make boxty,
you'll never get a man.

Boxty recipe:
1 1/2 cups raw potato
1 1/2 cups mashed potato
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Milk
1 egg
Salt and pepper

Grate raw potato and mix with the cooked mashed potato. Add salt, pepper and flour. Beat egg and add to mixture with milk to produce batter that drops from a spoon. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a hot griddle or frying pan. Cook over a moderate heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.

The ugly: boxty is often served as part of an Ulster Fry, with fried bacon, fried sausage, fried eggs, fried black pudding and fried soda bread. This is not recommended for anyone concerned with heart health, except perhaps once in a great while.

NEXT: Slow cooker oatmeal

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Jennifer Gruden