Sunday, 2 December 2012

Dutch Oven

As winter looms, what traditional Dutch comfort food will keep you warm?
Stamppot, a mash-up of potatoes and boerenkool (curly kale), served with rookworst (smoked sausage) or gehaktballen (meatballs). Or Hutspot, a mash-up of potatoes and carrots, also served with rookworst or spek (bacon). A very quintessential Dutch mainstay, you can buy a microwave-ready version at the supermarket, although it is simple enough to make yourself. Comfort food on many levels, as it is healthy, high in carbs and really does keep you warm on those cold nights!
Soups. There is quite an array of wonderful soups, including tomato with goat cheese, beet, lentil and more exotic fare like Surinamese peanut soup. But my all-time favorite is good old-fashioned Dutch pea soup, also known as snert. Traditionally, it is very thick, like stew, and you know it is especially good if your spoon can stand up straight in your bowl! My mother used to make a huge pot from scratch, soaking the peas, slow-cooking with sausage or an actual pigs foot. The huge pot being necessary because the older it gets, the more times re-heated, the thicker and better it gets. In later years, she used shortcuts, using quick-cooking peas and hot dogs, and as healthy eating became the norm, using turkey hot dogs. (This was California, after all.) But her most clever addition was a pinch of baking soda to alleviate the by-product of all that pea soup in a small house; the proverbial Dutch Oven effect!
Sandwiches. A  brodje kaas (bread with cheese), to go along with your soup. But also high on the comfort food scale, hagel slag. Literally meaning hail storm, hagel slag is actually chocolate sprinkles used as a sandwich topping. Yes, a chocolate sandwich! What could be better? Available in milk or dark chocolate, and my own twist on this childhood favorite is using peanut butter rather than regular butter. Pick your jaw back up and just try it!
A bucket of mosselen (mussels), hot and steaming. Admittedly an acquired taste, as is raw herring. (The latter being a taste I have never managed to acquire, not even when washed down with copious beer chasers!)
Kroketten. Deep-fried rolls filled with ragout, although you can get vegetarian versions and even satay versions. A staple of every Dutch Automat, they are quite ubiquitous, as are their small meatball-sized cousins, bitterballen. You can even buy them at McDonalds, which features a sandwich called, you guessed it, McKroket! And then there is the McFlurry Kruidnoten…
Which brings me to Sinterklaas comfort food. Speculaas are cookies or pastries made with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, topped with almonds or filled with almond paste. Kruidnoten are button-sized cookies featuring much of the same spices. One thing I miss is seasonal pumpkin-flavored everything, particularly pumpkin lattes at Starbucks. Pumpkins just don’t feature here, nor does Starbucks for that matter, except in train stations and the airport. My cousin informs me this is because Dutch people are far too sensible (and cheap!)  to buy such expensive coffee. But I recently went to Starbucks and had a seasonal speculaas latte. (You see, even Starbucks and McDonalds must give the Dutch their due!) Quite tasty, and quite a comfort!

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