19. The Netherlands

When I started to plan a week of meals I asked my Dutch colleague for advice on typical Dutch food. His response was something akin to “Oh goodness I don’t know, chips and mayonnaise?”. With that daunting proclamation ringing in my ears, I turned to trusty old Google to find options that may be a bit more interesting and nutritious. One admirable thing about the Dutch attitude towards food is its ready acceptance of international flavours. For instance, the history of Dutch colonisation of Indonesia has meant that Indonesian flavours are heavily ingrained in the modern cuisine. Nothing exemplifies this fusion more than one of the most common bar foods: chips with satay sauce. However, other Indonesian staples such as nasi goreng and rijsttafel are also commonly considered “national dishes” in The Netherlands nowadays, and this ready acceptance and integration of International cuisine reminds me fondly of Australia. A lot of traditional Dutch food seems to be specially designed to be consumed during or after a night of heavy drinking. Purportedly the beer in The Netherlands is good and prolific, so perhaps it’s a reflection of that. I therefore found the cuisine a little heavy for regular meals, but certainly welcome on a cold night with a couple of crisp beers.


Pannekoeken

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Pannekoeken are large and thin dutch pancakes that generally have toppings cooked into one side of the batter. They can be made with either sweet or savoury ingredients, but I obviously opted for savoury given my strict dessert policy. I made the batter with buckwheat flour, which has a great savoury flavour, and added yeast for fluffiness, which I hadn’t done previously for pancakes, but found it worked really well. One legend that has always bugged me is that the first pancake is always a dud. This fact has reached such a status that it is frequently trotted out as a parable for life experience, e.g. when your friend fails their first driving test, you might say “oh well, you always have to throw out the first pancake”. However, I must confess, I’ve always found that my first pancake is very representative of all that will follow. Maybe it’s because I use nonstick pans, or that my usage of butter could conservatively be described as “generous”? Regardless, I thought I would mention it in case any other pancake cooks out there felt isolated and maligned by this persistent rumour. I topped my pannekoeken with various combinations of ingredients, including black trumpet mushrooms, field mushrooms, pancetta, bacon, apple, smoked gouda, chives and parsley. As far as I can tell, all of these ingredients are fairly traditional to The Netherlands, and I particularly appreciate the inclusion of apple with savoury ingredients, as I have always thought that it goes well with pork and cheese. I served the pannekoeken with appelstroop, which apart from having a delightful Dr. Zeuss-esque name, is a sweet thick apple syrup that is often served with both sweet and savoury pannekoeken, and offsets the savoury flavours very well.


Snert and/or erwtensoep

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I have put two dish names in this title, because try as I might, I still don’t really understand whether there is a difference between them. Whichever it may be, what I made was a split green pea and ham soup with carrots, onions, potatoes and celery. The recipe was very similar to the pea and ham soup that my Mum frequently made when I was growing up, and which I have made many times in adulthood in vain attempts to recreate the snuggly warm comfort it delivers. This recipe wasn’t any match for the one made by Mum with love (although are any recipes ever really as good?) but it was still pretty delicious in ways that only the combination of pea and ham can be. I always find the best ham to use is a ham hock, rinsed to get rid of excess salt, and then cooked in the soup for many hours until it’s falling apart. A necessary step in the process is therefore to take out the ham hock, and separate the meat from the fat, skin and bone. No matter how many times I make pea and ham soup, I never seem to learn to wait for the ham hock to cool before separating it with my bare hands, and I therefore associate the process with mild-to-moderate expletives and slightly burnt fingers. I topped the soup with traditional adornments of Dutch sausage and celery leaves, and served it with fingers of Dutch rye bread. I found the addition of a different type of pork product to a pork-based dish slightly unnecessary, but not entirely unwelcome… 


Stamppot

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Stamppot is a dish of mashed mixed vegetables, commonly served with a smoked Dutch sausage. I like the idea of stamppot, because the ingredients don’t seem to be too strict, and it’s exactly the sort of dish economic home-cooks frequently find themselves making when they need to use up what’s left in the fridge, some of which may be looking a little worse for wear… I put parsnip, turnip, carrot, potato and cabbage in mine, and I think that the resultant mash has a much more interesting and deep flavour than simple mashed potatoes. The traditional sausage that stamppot is commonly served with is rookworst, which is made with seasoned pork and smoked. Try as I might, I could not source rook worst in Brisbane, so I settled for knackwurst, which is a smoked pork sausage from northern Germany that I successfully convinced myself was basically the same thing. I think that this would be a hit with kids, and perhaps a good way to covertly sneak extra vegetables into their diets (or the diets of some grown ups?). Regardless, I urge the cooks of the world to make this easy dish when you have excess vegetables that are on the turn, and proudly declare it “stamppot!” to your friends and families.


Bitterballen and mustard sauce with a lettuce, celery and apple salad, and rode kool met appeltjes

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Bitterballen are a typical Dutch bar snack, made of shredded beef roux rolled into balls, crumbed, then deep fried. So essential is this snack to Dutch cuisine that I broke my deep fry rule and simply had to make them. I slow cooked a cut of beef, then shredded it into a thick sauce made of butter, flour, beef stock, spiced with nutmeg, pepper and parsley. I then refrigerated the mixture so that it reached a gel-like consistency, then rolled it into balls, floured, bread-crumbed and deep fried them. The result is an extremely indulgent crispy golden exterior and gooey lava-hot interior that is very difficult not to respond positively to. It is traditional to serve them with mustard, which cuts through the oil nicely (although perhaps not quite enough…). The lettuce, celery and apple salad was my weak attempt to invent a “typical Dutch salad” by combining ingredients commonly used in The Netherlands. Forgive me, I needed some vegetables after the bitterballen to break up some of the hot gravy in my circulatory system. Rode kool met appeltjes, translates quite simply to “red cabbage and apples”, and consists of these two ingredients braised together with red wine or apple cider vinegar, sugar, cloves and cinnamon. I’m a sucker for pickled things, so I loved this side, and again the tart flavours always go well with rich and fatty meals.

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