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Continuing a tradition

(wendy maeda/globe staff)

Along with soda bread and Guinness, corned beef and cabbage is a dish associated with Irish heritage, and one that many cooks feel compelled to prepare around St. Patrick's Day. The salted beef brisket -- boiled with cabbage and root vegetables such as turnips, carrots, potatoes, or beets -- is also called boiled dinner, and was a mainstay of early New England diets .

Corned beef has been cured in a salted brine, and before New Englanders shopped at markets and stored meat in freezers and refrigerators, they preserved beef and pork by smoking, drying, and corning enough of it to last through the winter. Although it's simple to make corned beef at home by submerging a piece of brisket in a seasoned brine and leaving it in the back of the refrigerator for a week or so, many markets stock corned beef, and in mid-March, it's easy to track down.

For the uninitiated, boiled dinner can be a tough sell. The ingredients and the finished product are hardly sexy, and the name lacks the lyricism of its European counterparts: Italy's bollito misto and the French pot au feu. But this old-fashioned meal is one of those dishes that makes sense. Brisket is a tough cut that fares better when cooked with moist heat, and after simmering for a couple of hours, it gives the broth a delicate beefy flavor. Carrots and turnips are earthy additions that give another light layer of flavor to the pot, and cabbage rarely tastes as good as it does after a quick simmer in the tasty broth. Just before serving, glaze the top of the brisket with a mixture of mustard and maple syrup and slip it under a broiler until golden.

Somehow, the humble boiled dinner manages to be both hefty and light, which makes it a great dish for the tail end of winter. And whether you make Irish-accented corned beef and cabbage or add lots of root vegetables to the pot, the leftover beef can be used for hash the next morning and Reuben sandwiches the following afternoon. Perfect with a pint. -- LEIGH BELANGER

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