The National Organic Centre


The National Organic Centre in Co Leitrim is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  The original concept was the vision of Rod Alston, one of Ireland’s organic pioneers who still lives close by.  It was he who asked me to join  the Board of the Organic Centre in 1995, which I did for a number of years and I’ve been a patron ever since.

Recently,  we packed up the van and drove north to Rossinver, passing through 10 counties on the way,  Cork, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Leitrim, Cavan and home via Sligo. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday and yet again we were reminded of the beauty and variety of our Irish landscape.

Loveliest of all, were the buttercup meadows of Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo – a heavenly sight and  rare in our neck of the woods where fields of nitrogen boosted rye grasses are more the norm.

Over the years, The Organic Centre has gradually established itself and built up the fertility of the soil in a 19 acre block of very marginal land close to Rossinver.

There are extensive herb and vegetable gardens, as well as fruit orchards with 50 native Irish apples, pears, plums and cherries specially selected to thrive in the north east.  There’s  a brilliant Horticultural Community garden scheme where local people can use the facilities, both raised bed and tunnels and tap into the considerable expertise of the Organic Centre team to grow some of their own vegetables, fruit and fresh herbs. For every hour they spend in the garden they donate an hour’s work to the Organic centre and help to pot up and plant seedlings for sale, a brilliant and mutually beneficial concept.

They run a year long Organic Horticulture Full-time Fetac Level 5 course and regular short courses on a variety of topics from Willow Workshop,  Home Preserving, First Aid from the Garden, Fermented and Cultured Food, Grow Your Own Fruit, Building a Cob Oven,  Foraging for wild herbs and plants …. Hans’ wife Gaby also runs courses on Fermentation, Cheesemaking and Sourdough. It’s quite remote but certainly worth the detour and there’s a little café where you can get a cup of tea or coffee

We were close to Blacklion so we couldn’t pass up Neven Maguire’s kind invitation to dine in his restaurant.  It was packed with glamorous diners in celebratory mood. Many had booked months ahead to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary and weren’t disappointed by the highly skilled and exotic food that Neven’s chef  Glen Wheeler and his talented young team prepared for dinner.

Many were also staying overnight in one of the nineteen bedrooms in Mc Nean House and the Neven’s lovely cookery School is next door. Neven’s combined enterprises highly enhance the image and prosperity of  Blacklion whose inhabitants are understandably proud of Neven’s many achievements.

On our way home we swung by Sligo where three of our past students have cafes, and bakeries.

Catherine Farrell & Annette Burke at Gourmet Parlour in Bridge Street are celebrating 25 years in business, this year makes me feel old…… There was a queue when we arrived. The shelves and display case were packed with delicious cakes, bread and plump sandwiches and there was a queue. The kitchen works through the night to supply the demand and a new café is planned at the Cooloney roundabout.

David Dunne of Café Knox in O’ Connell Street also gets great reviews but doesn’t open on a Monday so we headed for Sweet Beat on the corner of Bridge Street. Carolanne Rushe and her sister Deirdre and Simon the barista, were all beavering away in the recently opened Café that’s causing quite a stir in Sligo. There are just three tables on the ground floor but many more upstairs.

The fresh plant based salads and drinks are wooing vegetarians and everyone else besides.

We also picked up a pot of Wildwood honey from Tir na Nóg health food shop one of the first to be established in 1980.

Sligo is a buzzy, business town with lots of small shops and I was delighted to find that Cosgrove’s grocery shop was the same as ever, packed with produce with sausages and salami  hanging enticingly from the ceiling


Hot Tips

In response to many requests we’ve scheduled a week long ‘total immersion’ course at Ballymaloe Cookery School from Monday July 27th to Friday July 31st for those who would like to explore the organic farm and gardens as well as participate in both demonstration and hands on classes. You will learn how to cook many exciting dishes for family, friends and entertaining  but also how to sow a seed, the basics of organic growing and how to make compost. How to make your own homemade butter, cheese and yoghurt from the milk of our small Jersey herd. We’ll make sourdough and several other breads, pickles, jams, preserves……

We’ll spend lots of time in the kitchen but you’ll also help to pick vegetables and forage in the early morning and weather depending we may even go fishing……check out the details on the website


How about this for a great idea …..Book-ears is a uniquely designed range of ‘book ears’ that save you from having to fold over the corners of a page. Orla Kerr, Bobby’s sister, came up with this brilliant concept. Each little cardboard sleeve is kept in place by a magnetic strip with enough space to write recipe notes or comments. See and


How to Cook Well with Rory O’ Connell

Rory O’ Connell’s TV programme created lots of excitement, so why not come and meet him in person from 29th-31st July.  In this 2½ day course Rory will teach you simple but essential skills to transform you into a truly good cook. At the heart of his approach are good ingredients, carefully prepared with an eye to detail that will make your dishes a success, See the website for the details.

A Slow Food Pop Up Dinner at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Sunday July 12th. Drink Reception at 6.30, dinner at 7pm. Our current 12 Week Certificate students will cook a ‘dream feast’….. Proceeds of the evening will go towards the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project.

Tickets €45.00. Booking Essential.

Phone 021 4646785 or email for the details.


Neven’s Prawn and Avocado Wrap

Serves 4


100 g (4oz) mayonnaise

1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce

1 tablespoon shredded fresh basil

½ lemon, pips removed

1 large ripe Hass avocado

4 large deli wraps or soft flour tortillas

50 g (2 oz) wild rocket

200 g (7 oz) large cooked, peeled prawns

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and add the chilli sauce, basil and a good squeeze of the lemon juice. Season to taste and mix until well combined.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone, then cut into slices and place in a bowl. Drizzle in a squeeze of the lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring. Heat a heavy-based frying pan. Heat each deli wrap or soft flour tortilla for 30 seconds on the frying pan, turning once.

Spread the flavoured mayonnaise all over each of the heated wraps or tortillas and stack the rocket, avocado slices and prawns down the centre. Season to taste and roll up to enclose the filling.

To serve, cut each one on the diagonal and arrange on plates or wrap in greaseproof paper to pack for lunch boxes.


The Nation’s Favourite Food by Neven Maguire



Neven’s Chicken Tikka Masala


Serves 4


1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

Knob of butter

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

5 cm (2 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated

100 g (4 oz) tikka masala curry paste

200 g (7 oz) canned chopped tomatoes

250 ml (9 fl oz) coconut cream

150 ml (¼ pint) chicken stock or water

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into thick strips

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

200 g (7 oz) natural yoghurt, extra to garnish

Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish


Saffron Rice

1 teaspoon saffron threads

Knob of butter

350 g (12 oz) basmati rice

6 green cardmamom pods, cracked


Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy based pan with a lid. Add the onions, garlic, chilli and ginger and cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat, until soft and lightly golden. Stir in the tikka masala paste and cook for 1 minute. Season to taste. Add the tomatoes, coconut cream and chicken stock or water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half and thickened.


Tip in the chicken strips and yoghurt and stir well to combine. Bring back to a gentle simmer, then cover with a lid and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is nicely reduced and the chicken is tender.


To prepare the saffron rice, place the saffron threads into a small bowl and pour over a little boiling water and leave to infuse. Melt the butter in a large heavy based pan with a lid. When it’s just starting to foam, tip in the rice and cardamom. Stir the rice for 2 minutes over a medium heat and season with a little salt. Pour over enough boiling water to cover the rice by 2.5 cm (1 inch), bring to  a simmer and put on the lid. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, then  pour in the saffron, including the water that it’s been soaking in. cover the pot again and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the rice is just cooked but retains some bite.


To serve, spoon the chicken tikka masala into warmed serving bowls and put the saffron rice into separate bowls. Add dollops of yoghurt into each bowl of chicken tikka masala and a good scattering of coriander leaves to garnish.


The Nation’s Favourite Food by Neven Maguire


Roast Summer Veg with Pearled Barley from the Sweet Beat Café in Sligo


Carol-Anne Rushe loves to serve this salad as part of our daily ‘Super Salad’ plate with our spicy hummus, onion pickle, sprouts and seeds.

It’s perfect for bbq season or feeding the family something light and healthy for a summery dinner.


Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side dish


500g Pearl Barley

2 Zucchini

1 large Aubergine

2 red peppers

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

pinch black pepper




30ml balsamic vinegar

90ml extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of black pepper


handful of coriander, chopped,

handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

Pumpkin seeds


Put the barley into a saucepan, cover with three times the amount of cold water and bring to the boil. simmer for 30 minutes.

Chop the veg into bite size chunks and place in a roasting tray with a drizzle of sunflower oil, thyme, paprika, sea salt and black pepper.

Roast in a preheated oven for 20 minutes.

When the barley is done, drain and rinse with cold water. Toss the dressing through and mix with the vegetables.

When it is cool, add in the chopped herbs and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

Serve at room temperature.



Gourmet Parlor Praline Cake


Serves 10 approximately


6oz (175g/1 1/2 cups) flour

5 1/2oz (160g/scant 3/4 cup) sugar

3 eggs

5oz (150g/1 1/4 sticks) butter

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) praline powder (see below)



6oz (175g/3/4 cup) sugar

6oz (175g) skinned hazelnuts or unskinned almonds


Praline Butter Icing

7 tablespoons (9 American tablespoons) water

8 tablespoons (10 American tablespoons) sugar

5 egg yolks

1/2 lb (225g/2 sticks) unsalted butter (softened and creamed)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) praline powder (sieved praline)


2 x 7 (18cm) inch cake tins                


First make the praline.

Combine the sugar and nuts in a heavy saucepan. Put over a low heat until the sugar turns caramel colour. Do not stir, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are covered with caramel. When the nuts go “pop” pour the mixture on to an oiled marble slab, cool. Crush to a coarse gritty texture.


Brush the cake tins with melted butter and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Brush the paper with melted butter also and dust the base and edges with flour.


Cream the sugar and butter and add in the eggs one by one.  Beat well between each addition.  Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Add two tablespoons of praline powder. Mix lightly adding milk to moisten if the mixture is a little stiff.


Divide equally between two prepared tins.  Bake for 25 minutes at 190°C/350°F/regulo 5. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack. Reinvert after a few moments so as not to mark the top of the cake.


Meanwhile make the butter cream. 

Bring the water and sugar to the boil stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup boil to the thread stage (115°C/238°F). Beat the yolks for one minute with an electric beater, add hot syrup very gradually. Continue beating until the syrup has all been added.  The mousse should be stiff and hold a “figure of 8”.  Let the mousse cool.

Beat the butter to a creamy consistency.  Gradually add the cooled mousse to the creamed butter and finally fold in the 4 tablespoons of powdered praline.

To Assemble

Split each cake in half. Spread with praline butter icing. Sandwich together.

Ice the top and sides with the remaining icing. Sprinkle crushed praline all over the top surface of the cake.


Praline Gateau

Alternatively for a wider gateau style cake, bake in a 2 x 8 inch x 2 1/2 inch deep (20.5cm x 6.5cm deep) tin.  Decorate with caramel shards or pieces of almond brittle.



Gaby Wieland’s Meadowsweet Lemonade-Champagne


This is a most refreshing summer drink


3 ½ litres of water

100g of honey

7 dessertspoons of cider vinegar

40-50 Hawthorn flower tops

(or 100 Dandelion Flowers or 8-9 Elderflower heads in full bloom, 100 red clover flowers, 9 Meadowsweet flowers)

2-3 organic or unwaxed lemons


  1. Pour the water in a large jug or pot (ideally earthenware), add the honey and vinegar.
  2. Squeeze the juice from one to one and a half lemons, cut one to one and a half lemons in pieces and add both to the mixture.
  3. Then put the flowers into the jug.
  4. Stir well. Cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.
  5. The lemonade is ready after 1 day. Just strain and serve ice cool.



To make champagne, leave flowers to ferment in the liquid for another 2-3 days. Then strain and bottle in champagne bottles with secure corks or use other strong bottles. Leave for a minimum of 4 weeks. The taste even improves after a longer period of time. Best before 1-2 years. You can mix the champagne with apple juice, mineral water or add orange juice ice cubes.



You can reduce the amount of honey when you make red clover lemonade.  Adjust to your taste!





About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes