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Low Carb Solution: A St. Patty’s Day Favorite

Image of Parsnip Bubble & Squeak
By Dennis Linden

Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
In doing research for this article, I found that Colcannon is the Irish version of an English dish of leftovers called Bubble & Squeak. That is, unless one asks the Irish, who claim that Bubble & Squeak is just a cheap knock-off of the older Irish recipe! A recipe search on the ‘net produced many formulas for each dish that shared very similar ingredients and prep, which further muddled the culinary nationality of both! However, for us carb counters the question is moot since these two dishes call for a cabbage and potato base; the tuber’s extremely high glycemic score scratches both these dishes off the menu.

So, for your St. Patrick’s Day bill of fare, you can choose to serve a simple meal of beef brisket and cabbage, maybe washed down with green-colored beer…or…simply swap out the potato for a surprisingly low glycemic root vegetable alternative that will replicate the taste of the traditional cabbage and potato recipes without sending your blood sugar levels to new heights. I am talking about the often underappreciated parsnip – a member of the carrot family without the colorful personality of its cousin.

Parsnips are one of those rare starchy vegetables with a very high glycemic index score of 97, but containing almost no sugar carbs, so if you eat a parsnip your blood sugar isn't going to change much. Sure, all the sugar in the parsnip is very soon processed into the blood stream, but there was almost no sugar to begin with, so it won't cause any insulin spikes to the metabolism. While the root’s glycemic score is high, its glycemic load score is a very tolerable 12.

Though the parsnip contains no orange-producing beta carotene as its well-known relative, the root is still packed with many other nutrients. For one, parsnips have a high volume of insoluble fiber, which is important for a healthy digestive system as well as for regulating cholesterol and reducing blood sugar fluctuations. The vegetable’s high folic acid content can help reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia and, for pregnant women, decrease the likelihood of birth defects. Further, its high Vitamin-C content has been associated with improved lung function and even a reduction in asthma symptoms in children. Parsnip Power!

Recipe origins and nationality controversies aside, here’s a make-over of Bubble & Squeak in honor of St. Patrick’s Day using parsnips. Be it Irish or English, this dish is close enough in ingredients to qualify as either, and I much prefer the name “Bubble & Squeak” over Colcannon, which sounds more like a farm equipment company. The dish was apparently so named because the cabbage makes bubbling and squeaking sounds during the cooking process. While this was the first time I have ever listened to a dish during preparation, I was surprised to discover that it’s true!

This is a traditional dish of common folk, developed as a way of using leftovers. Since nothing can really replicate the special flavor that comes with cooking some foods a second time, I have always cooked the parsnips and cabbage for this dish twice too. That is, do the initial steaming of the parsnips and blanching of the cabbage at least several hours ahead of the final prep, or better yet the day before, and then refrigerate at least until chilled through i.e. mock leftovers! Smash the cold parsnips just before adding them in last to the pan of sautéing cabbage and the other ingredients.

Be aware that the forming of the pan-size patty requires some patience. Early in this process, especially after the initial turning over to the second side, your pan is going to look quite messy rather than a uniform, cohesive patty. Do not worry if it breaks a bit, just compress it back together. Follow my suggestion in the recipe of “sliding” rather than actually flipping such a large patty of ingredients as this technique was developed by trial and error; the technique will save you time and cabbage! Keep cooking and turning until a crispy, puck-shaped cake has formed on both sides. And, of course, keep that green beer flowing!

Parsnip Bubble & Squeak
Image of Ingredients

2 lbs. parsnip, peeled, chopped into chunks
½ head green cabbage, finely shredded
1 lemon, juiced
1 TBS cumin
4 strips of bacon, chopped
½ large Yellow onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, diced fine
6 oz. butter, divided

Image of parsnips and cabbage
Steam the parsnips until barely cooked through; at the same time blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 3 mins until tender. Drain and chill both in separate bowls in the refrigeration for at least 2 hours, overnight is best.
Image of mashed parsnips
Mash the cold parsnips adding in the lemon juice, cumin and half the butter.
Image of mixing ingredients
In a large not stick pan, cook the bacon, onion and garlic together until bacon begins to render its fat; then mix in first the cabbage, then the mashed parsnips and the remaining butter. Combine ingredients thoroughly.
Image of patty
Using a spatula, compress mixture into a pan-sized patty. Cook on low flame until patty is crisp enough underneath that patty can slide freely in the pan when shaken. To flip, carefully slide pan contents onto to a plate covered in wax paper, carefully cover the plate with the now empty hot pan, bottom side up, flip plate and pan together to cook other side. Repeats this several times until a crispy patty on both sides is formed.

Serve on a plate or board, cut into wedges.
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