The Charm of Colcannon

By Natalie R. Toney M.F.A., C.H.,
Healthy Planet Food Editor

Spring is near, with St. Patrick’s Day almost here, and green will be sprouting up everywhere to be seen. Rain or shine, parades will line the streets, while corned beef and cabbage simmer in area homes, churches, and pubs. Meanwhile in Ireland, it’s not likely that corned beef will grace the tables. Cabbage does find its way into a dish or two, along with potatoes and regional vegetables, lamb or beef roasts and stews, various meat or fish pies, soda bread (recipe for GF version in HP March 2023 archives), carry away fish and chips, burgers, sandwiches, even kebabs. There is no one “traditional” meal, aside from something a family might make from year to year. That’s generally Halloween, where colcannon and barmbrack (a type of spiced fruit loaf), are both filled with charms and when found, foretell of an individual’s fate. So why a colcannon recipe for St. Patrick’s Day? Because it’s eaten year long, can be made as decadent or healthy as one wishes, and the green of the cabbage or kale adds not only a festive touch, but several health benefits! Any leftovers can easily be made into potato cakes (add some grated raw potato, for a bit of a take on “boxty”), the following day for breakfast! White potatoes often get shunned in favor of the sweet variety, yet are loaded with vitamin c, as well as iron, potassium, fiber, and B6. However, for those that need a lower glycemic index, or want fewer carbs, I’ve included a cauliflower variation-which is quite lovely even if diet doesn’t necessitate! Potatoes or cauliflower, the addition of scallions and/or leeks marries the flavors of both colcannon and champ (mashed potatoes with spring onions), providing another source of antioxidants, fiber, and iron (both also have vitamin K, be careful if on blood thinners). If there are any uncooked greens leftover, they are perfect for soups, stews, salads, rolls/wraps, or with some fruit for a “green” smoothie (a good alternative to “green beer’, which also isn’t flowing in Ireland).Celebrating wearing of the green, or the ringing in of Spring, Colcannon makes for a lovely dish, brimming with the comfort and charm, often found in the Irish.

Tips: Use starchy potatoes, and it’s best to remove as much moisture as possible before mashing. Use a potato masher or fork, not an electric beater (to mash cauliflower, use a food processor). Do not overcook cabbage, kale, or greens. Remove excess moisture from greens with a paper towel, or towel. If adding leeks, cut away the dark leafy greens at the tip and root at bottom-use only the light green and white parts. To make colcannon cakes with leftovers, you can either use the potatoes as they are prepared (after having chilled in the refrigerator), or mix in 2 C. flour, 1 teas. baking soda, and 1-2 teas. salt for every 2 C. leftover potatoes, then form into patties to fry. An egg can be used for additional binding, and many people add 2 C. buttermilk, or cream (I do not, as there is already an abundance of flavor in the colcannon). For “puffs”, form into balls, and bake for about 20 min. at 425 degrees, or air fry. For a “boxty-like” cake, grate 2 raw potatoes, pat dry with a towel, and mix into colcannon (traditional boxty is made with mashed potatoes, grated raw potatoes, flour, baking soda, and buttermilk), before forming patties. When frying with the addition of raw potato, watch heat carefully as the cakes can brown more quickly than the inside is cooked. *Note that I have not made “cauliflower colcannon” cakes yet, there may be adjustments to additional ingredients and/or measurements.

Colcannon Ingredients:

  • 4-5 lg. Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes (or both), or 1-1 1/2 lg. head cauliflower florets
  • 1 head, or approx. 4 C. cabbage, de-ribbed kale, chard, or greens (or any combination of)
  • 5 Scallions, and/or leeks (opt.- If making Champ variation)
  • 1 C. Milk (heavy cream can be used, and adds a richer flavor), or Oat milk 
  • 6-8 Tbsp. Butter (pref. Irish butter), non-dairy butter, or ghee
  • 2-3 teas. Kosher, or Sea Salt
  • 1/4-1/2 Pepper (to taste)
  • Fresh parsley, or additional chopped scallion for garnish
  • *if making cauliflower, or vegan version, add 2 Tbsp. Nutritional yeast for a bit of savory flavor (similar to Parmesan)


Peel potatoes, chop into 1 1/2 in. pieces, and place into a pot. Cover to about an inch above potatoes with cold well-salted water and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until tender (about 20 min. for potatoes, 5 or so for cauliflower), then drain well in colander and set aside for at least 10 min. While potatoes drain, add about 2 Tbsp. of butter or ghee (or can also use a bit of olive oil) to pot or pan, sauté cabbage or greens until slightly wilted, and a bit darker (if adding leeks or scallions, cook those first for a couple of minutes after chopping finely, then add cabbage, etc.). Mash potatoes with masher or fork until lumps are gone, with about 6 Tbsp. Butter divided into pats, and milk, or cream. (*if using cauliflower, stir in nutritional yeast at this time). Gently stir in cabbage, kale, other greens, leeks or scallions, or anything else you choose. Transfer to a serving bowl, if desired make a well in the top with a serving spoon and place additional pat of butter in it. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, or scallions.

Can be stored in the refrigerator for three days. Do not freeze.

Yields approx. 6 servings.