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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Erwtensoep (Split pea soup)


Oh, the ubiquitous Dutch split pea soup......on my way from work I saw snow on the mountains and it made me think of erwtensoep, split pea soup. When it's cold in Holland and people go ice skating on the lakes and the canals, it is traditional that a small food shack called "koek-en-zopie" sits next to the ice, selling hot split pea soup, coffee, mulled wine and cookies. It's a great way to warm up for those tired and cold after such a wonderful day on the ice. I'll be darned, but each time I've gone skating I've never seen one of those shacks. May have something to do with the fact that I've only been skating once or twice in my life and the experience was so unpleasant that I may have blocked the memory of a soup shack. I fail miserably in the skating department, it is a very un-Dutch side of me.......

But I hopefully redeemed myself by making a very good split pea soup: it even passed the "wooden spoon" test! (i.e. the soup is so thick that a wooden spoon will stand up on its end and not fall over when stuck in the soup).  Hand over those bitterballen, I'm back!

Erwtensoep
2 cups of split peas
4 cups of water
1 carrot, peeled
2 ribs of celery
1/2 an onion, peeled
1 bay leaf
black pepper
pinch of salt

About 12 little smokies or half a kielbasa

Rinse the split peas and remove anything that doesn't belong (stones, sticks, dried up discolored peas...). Put the peas and the water in a Dutch oven. Mince the vegetables and add to the peas. Bring to a boil, add the bay leaf and simmer for about 40 minutes. When the peas are soft, remove the bay leaf and either puree or just stir the soup several times, the peas will dissolve and give it a creamy consistence. Stir in the smokies or the kielbasa (slice before adding), heat until warm and taste. Add pepper and salt if needed.

This is an easy, quick solution for when you come home and want a filling, comforting soup. I keep a pack of smokies in the freezer just for this soup. Split peas do not have to be soaked in order to cook quickly so you can have this soup on the table in less than an hour. If you have more time, use the same ingredients but simmer the soup with a smoked ham hock instead.....the soup will be so much richer and smokier for it, but little smokies will do in a pinch.

Traditionally, this soup is served with dark rye bread and pancetta.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Boerenkool met worst (Kale potatoes with kielbasa)

It looks like it froze for the first time last night. Bad news for the garden's summer vegetables, but this is the time that other veggies benefit from cold nights, like kale. The Dutch have a very solid and varied repertoire of winter dishes: solid in the sense that they all consist of the culinary trinity (meat, vegetables and potatoes) and varied because well....because there is scarcely a thing the Dutch don't add to their famous "stamppot". Literally meaning 'stomped pot", stamppot is a dish that consists of boiled potatoes mashed with a raw or cooked vegetable. The meat is either served on top, on the side or cut into small pieces and mixed in. If the choice of protein generates any type of pan juice or jus, it will be served in a small hollow made on top of the mashed potato dish, the so-called "kuiltje jus" (kinda like a pothole in the road but different).

Those that know me well will be surprised to see that I served up mashed potatoes with kale, a dish simply called "boerenkool". There are few things in the food world that I don't care for, and one of them is boerenkool. Or was, should I say. Somehow the American kale is not half as bitter as the Dutch one is, so after preparing this dish with Michiel for Idaho's Melting Pot, I was pleasantly surprised, enough even to go home and cook it for myself two days later.

Kale is a dark-leaf vegetable that will add plenty of nutrition to your diet: it is riddled with vitamins and minerals and contributes plenty of protein. The butter and the kielbasa....not so much.

Kale with kielbasa
3 bunches of kale (or 1 lb)
6 large potatoes
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of milk, warmed
1 smoked kielbasa
Salt

Cut the leaves off the stems and slice the leaves into narrow strips. Peel the potatoes, quarter them and place them in a Dutch oven. Add water to barely cover the potatoes, then put the kale on top, add the kielbasa. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Boil on a low flame for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are done. Remove the kielbasa, pour off any cooking liquid that may remain and mash the vegetables with a fork or a potato masher. Add the butter and the milk and stir the whole into a creamy consistency. Slice the kielbasa and place it on top of the stamppot. Serve with mustard if desired.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bitterballen (Dutch deep-fried gravy)

In Holland, a night out on the town, or a social event with coworkers, usually starts out at a local cafĂ©, with a beer and something called a "bittergarnituur". The word translates as the slightly confusing "garnish for bitters", where bitters in this case refers to alcoholic beverages. The Dutch were one of the first to dedicate themselves to perfecting the distillation process, presenting the world with spirits such as Dutch gin (jenever) and a large variety of liqueurs and bitters, these last ones presumably with medicinal properties. Nowadays, one of the most famous drinks is Ketel One, a Dutch vodka that is especially popular in the United States.

Alcohol is traditionally consumed with something savory on the side, and thus the bittergarnituur was invented. This colorful platter will usually contain bite-size cubes of Gouda cheese, miniature eggrolls and meatballs, perhaps some slices of salami or chorizo and ofcourse, how can it not, the marvelous bitterballen.

Bitterballen are one of Holland's favorite snacks. In the early and mid-1900s, they were the housewife's perfect way to transform yesterday's meat leftovers into today's appetizer. Served shaped as a log (kroket) or in bite-size rounds, bitterballen were often served as an aperitif, or tapa, before lunch or dinner.

Nowadays, bitterballen are predominantly served outside the home, either as part of the bittergarnituur or as a snack on the side with a portion of French fries, but are no longer part of the housewife's culinary repertoire.

This deep-fried, crispy, bite-size ball of meaty gravy is to be eaten with a good, savory mustard. Take the bitterbal between thumb and index finger, dip one side into the mustard and pop the whole thing in your mouth. No double-dipping!

Bitterballen are traditionally made with beef, but can also be made with chicken, veal or even with mushrooms, for those that prefer a vegetarian option.

Bitterballen
2 sticks of butter
1 cup of flour
3 cups of beef stock
3 tablespoons of onion, minced
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, minced
2 cups of shredded cooked beef
salt
pepper
nutmeg

For the breading
1/2 cup of flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of bread crumbs

Make a roux with the butter and the flour (slowly melt the butter in a skillet or pan. When melted, add the flour little by little and stir into a thick paste). Slowly stir in the stock, making sure the roux absorbs the liquid. Simmer for a couple of minutes on a low heat while you stir in the onion, parsley and the shredded beef. Taste, add pepper and salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Taste again and adjust if necesssary.

Pour the meat gravy into a shallow container, cover and refrigerate for several hours, or until the gravy has solidified.

Take a heaping tablespoon of the cold, thick gravy and quickly roll it into a small ball. Roll lightly through the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Make sure that the egg covers the whole surface of the bitterbal. (If it doesn't, the filling will spill out into the fryer and you will be left with a hollow shell, and a messy fryer!). Set each ball aside on a plate. When done, refrigerate the snacks while the oil in your fryer heats up to 375F.

Fry five to six balls at a time, until golden brown. Serve on a plate with a nice grainy or spicy mustard.



Makes approximately 20 bitterballen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Macaroni (Dutch Macaroni)

Ten percent of the Dutch population thinks that macaroni and chili con carne are.......Dutch dishes. I kid you not. Eighty-seven percent of that same population eats macaroni at least once a week. When you ask children here in the USA what their favorite kind of food is, they'll usually say: Pizza! Dutch kids would tell you that macaroni was their favorite food.

A Dutch TV show called "Man Bijt Hond" ("Man bites dog") has a section called "Hond Aan Tafel", where the camara crew knocks on a random house door around dinner time and asks the surprised habitants if they can join them. Most often the answer is yes, and the short scene allows for a peek in the life of just an ordinary person. Nine out of then, the answer to "What's for dinner?" is...you guessed it.....macaroni.

And they're not the only ones that love macaroni. Yours truly enjoys a huge plate of the salty, warm, comforting pasta with a pickle on the side to provide some crunch, yummmmm!!!!!!!!!!!! It's one of the many reasons why I keep ground beef in the freezer: once the meat is thawed, this dish is quick and easy to prepare. Just what you need when you're looking for some comfort!

Dutch Macaroni
3 cups of elbow macaroni or fusilli
1 lb of ground beef
1/2 a leek, white only, sliced thin
1 red pepper
1 sachet of macaroni spices*
1 small can of tomato sauce
Pickles, optional

Cook the macaroni according to instructions. Brown the ground beef in a skillet, pour off the fat and add in strips of red pepper and the sliced leek. Stir in the spices and the tomato sauce, simmer for ten minutes. Add the macaroni and mix with the sauce. Serve warm.



* I buy the macaroni spices in Dutch stores online, but the spaghetti spice mix packages that are available in your standard supermarket is practically the same.

Mosselen (Steamed mussels)

I don't actually know that there is such a thing as Belgian-style mussels but I'm not entirely making this name up either. The way these are prepared are very similar to how they're eaten on the Belgian coast. With a dipping sauce, some bread and, here I am majorly lacking today, some golden fries.

In the Netherlands, mussels are usually on the menu when the letter "R" is present in the name of the month: from September till April, you can find mussels on the menu at restaurants, for sale at the fish mongers and on the stove in Dutch kitchens all over the country. Well, I wasn't up for making fries what with one thing and another, but I didn't mind making the sauce and baking the bread. "R" has been in the months for a long time and I was really starting to crave these puppies!


I dug out a bag of mussels from the freezer. They're so quick to prepare and totally hit the spot today: their salty, oceany smell reminded me of summer, of holidays on the beach and of happy times. Get frozen ones if you can, they've been cleaned and scrubbed already and will save you a lot of time. Don't eat the ones that have broken shells or don't open up during the cooking process: they're likely to be bad and may make you sick.

Mussels
2 pounds of mussels
1 rib of celery, diced
1/2 carrot, peeled and diced
2 shallots, peeled and quartered
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups of white wine
2 cups of water

Dipping sauce
2 tablespoons of mustard
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of vinegar

Mix into a smooth sauce.

Put the water, the wine, shallots, carrots, garlic and celery in a Dutch oven with a lid. Bring to a boil. Lift the lid, add the mussels and boil for seven to eight minutes. The mussels will open up and will be ready to eat.

To serve, place the pan on the table with an extra plate for the shells. Serve with fries and a dipping sauce. Use your fingers to pull the mussels out of the shells or a small fork, dip into the sauce and eat up.

Bruine Bonen met Rijst (Brown beans with rice)

I love beans and try to eat them at least once a week: they're healthy, affordable, quick and versatile and tasty to boot, but that was not what I set out to prepare.

I pulled a pound of hamburger out of the freezer on Monday to make Dutch sausage rolls but I ended up making Brat buns instead. So I thought I'd make spaghetti tonight, but by the time I walked in the door, it was too late to get that started (plus I wanted to make sure I could catch the 6:30 pm episode of "The Office") so.....I'm rummaging through the fridge to see what I can scrounge up and here is this sad little piece of salt pork, just sitting there, all by its lonesome self. And immediately brown beans and rice come to mind: it's quick, it's tasty and mighty comforting on a cold, windy night like this one.

Brown beans and rice, or as we say in Holland, bruine bonen met rijst, is a typical dish from Suriname, a former colony of the Netherlands. Here in America, I don't have easy access to the Dutch brown beans, so I use pinto beans instead.

Brown beans with Rice
1 small piece of salt pork
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tomato, deseeded and chopped
2 cans of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup of water

1/4 cup of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 beef bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup of celery leaves
1 tablespoon of sugar

1 cup of instant rice
Water

Cut the salt pork in small dice, then fry in a Dutch oven until soft. Add the onion and the garlic. Stir until soft, then add the tomato. When the tomato has softened as well, add the beans, the water, the tomato sauce, ginger, pepper, the bouillon cube and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about twenty minutes. Taste and adjust (don't add any salt before tasting, the pork tends to be salty enough), add the sugar and the celery leaves, remove the bay leaf and stir everything together. Simmer for another five minutes while you prepare the rice.

Put the rice in a microwaveable bowl, add enough water so that the rice is covered, then microwave on high for two and a half minutes. Let it sit to dry for a minute or two, then stir.

Serve the beans on top of the rice. Nice with some crunchy slices of cucumber.


Yummmmm....that totally hit the spot. Now I have to think of what to do with that thawed hamburger meat....

Hutspot met klapstuk (Carrot mashed potatoes with braised beef)

Yesterday, the city of Leiden celebrated the victory in 1547 over the Spanish invaders. It's an annual celebration during which the Leideners consume large amounts of white bread with herring and even larger amounts of something called hutspot, a colorful mashed potato dish. It's not only eaten on the 3rd of October, but is an extremely popular evening meal during the cold winter days. Hutspot is traditionally served with klapstuk, a piece of braised beef, but sometimes will also be eaten with a typical Dutch meatball. The best carrots to use for this dish are winterpenen, a larger and thicker variety of the orange carrot that is harvested shortly after the first frost. The sugars in the carrot add a hint of sweetness to this dish that will appeal to almost any eater, young or old.

The origin of this particular choice of starchy food goes back to a small remainder of stew that was presumably left behind in a large copper pot by the fleeing Spanish army. A young man found the still warm stew and shared it triumphantly with the rest of the starving Leiden-ers. Or at least with those that didn't like herring, I'm sure.

The name of this dish does not sound very appetizing, not even in Dutch. Loosely translated it means "hotchpotch with slap piece". Well, there you go, see what I mean? Who wants to eat that?

But, as is often the case, appearance deceives. In this particular example, the name is not very flattering and quite honestly, neither is the picture. But the taste will convince anyone that there is more to this dish than a silly name.

It is said that the original stew contained parsnips and white beans, and that the meat in the stew was mutton. How it came to be carrots with potatoes and beef.....only history knows. The carrot appeared in Holland for the first time in the 17th century, out of Iran, and was cross-polinated until it had a bright orange color, to honor the royal family, the Oranges. At that point, the carrot was introduced to the rest of Europe and hey presto! Long live the Queen and orange carrots for all!

As for the "slap piece": klapstuk is the meat that is cut from the rib. I used slices of beef chuck rib roast and it worked beautifully. The meat is marbled and during its 90 minute braising time will release all kinds of wonderful flavors and most of the fat. You'll love it!

Hutspot met klapstuk
For the meat
1 lb of sliced beef chuck rib roast
2 cups water
1/2 beef bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
8 black pepper corns, whole
1 tablespoon flour, dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Add the water to a Dutch oven or a braising pan, add the bouillon cube and stir until dissolved. Add the beef, the bay leaf and the pepper corns and braise on low heat for approximately 90 minutes or until beef is tender.

Remove the meat to a serving dish, discard the bay leaf and peppercorns and stir the dissolved flour into the pan juices. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan, loosening any meat particles that may be stuck. Bring the heat slowly up until the gravy starts to thicken. Pour the gravy over the meat and set aside, keeping it warm.

For the hutspot
6 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
8 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 cups of water
Pinch of salt

Place the peeled and quartered potatoes on the bottom of a Dutch oven. Pour in the water so the potatoes are just covered. Add the pinch of salt. Put the carrots on top, and finish with the onions. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and boil for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Pour off the cooking water, but save it. Mash the potatoes, carrots and onions until you achieve a mashed potato consistency or leave larger lumps, that's a personal preference. If you need more liquid to make it smoother, add a tablespoon of cooking liquid at a time. Taste, adjust with salt and pepper.



Now place a large scoop of hutspot on a warm plate. With the rounded side of a spoon, make an indentation on top of the hutspot, like a pothole. This is the famous "kuiltje". Put a slice of beef on top and pour a tablespoon or two of gravy into the kuiltje, and serve your beautiful, Dutch dish. All you need now is a pair of clogs and a picture of the Queen on the wall :-) Nah....not really.