Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lekkerbekjes

"You are such a lekkerbek!" If someone says that to you in Dutch, just nod approvingly, wipe the grease off your chin and give them a big smile. A lekkerbek is someone who loves food, good food. And a not more appropriate name could have been given to today's dish, fried whiting, as it is indeed something an epicure might enjoy.

As a matter of fact, the whiting, is a bit of a lekkerbek himself, both in life and in eh....deep-fried afterlife, shall we say. Feeding primarily on shrimp and mussels, the whiting has a full and rounded taste, much unlike similar other white fish. You are, after all, what you eat.

Whiting was for the longest time the standard fish for this recipe, next to cod. A flavorful fish, cheap and abundant in the North Sea, it was battered, fried and served as Friday's meat replacement for the predominant Catholic south. Nowadays, whiting is not as abundant anymore and most lekkerbekjes are made from pangasius, not half as tasty as the whiting.

Fish stands and fishmongers are still easily found in cities and towns: most weekly markets will have at least one fishmonger who sells seafood, shrimp, herring and fish. People often buy a lekkerbekje to consume right there and then, or take it home for lunch or dinner. I guess it takes one to know one!

Lekkerbekjes
4 pieces of whiting or cod
1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 teaspoon of dried dill
Pinch of salt and pepper

Dry the fish on both sides and rub a little bit of flour on it. Make a thick batter with the flour, milk, dill, salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of milk if it's too thick.

Heat your fryer to 375F or heat oil in a cast-iron pan on the stove. Take the necessary safety precautions and keep kids and pets out of the kitchen! Try a little piece first: dip it in the batter and fry. Taste it and adjust the seasonings to your liking.

Put the rest of the fish in the batter, turn it over so that both sides are covered and drop it in the hot oil. Fry to a golden brown, remove from the oil and place it on a plate with some paper towels to drain the fat.

Serve with boiled potatoes and vegetables for dinner, or have it for lunch on a roll, with some tartarsauce on the side.



Friday, August 12, 2011

Kaas - Uienbrood

I'm always amazed at how one bite of something, or sometimes even just the smell, can so easily transport me back ages in time.....As you know by now, the Dutch love their breads. You can get such an amazing variety at the bakeries, and even at the much more limited supermarkets, that it's hard to imagine life without bread. The smell and taste of today's bread immediately whisked me back to my early teens, back in Holland.

During my lunchtime in 7th grade, instead of eating at school, I'd ride my bike over to the local bakery and try some of their breads: one day I'd buy a baguette, another day I'd choose two or three different soft rolls.....but always something different. I loved the clean, fresh taste of baked bread and all the different flavors and options.

One of the more elaborate breads, taste-wise, was a kaas-uien brood, a cheese-onion bread. A lovely flat bread topped with slices of onion and cheese, baked in the oven to the point that the cheese would melt and the onion would be cooked......It was a rich bite, but not much beats a warm cheese/onion slice of bread on a cold wintery day! Somehow that bread always stuck by me and reminds me of that small bakery in Blerick. You will find this bread at almost any bakery or lunchroom in Holland.

Kaas-uien brood serves well as a snack, as a quick lunch item or as a flavorful side to a bowl of split-pea soup, brown bean soup or even a good old-fashioned tomato soup. You can make a big slab and cut it in squares or make smaller loaves so that every person has their own. The bread is good either cold or hot. 

Your choice of cheese is personal. For this version I used an American Cheddar, but you are welcome to use whichever cheese you prefer.

Kaas-Uien Brood
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon of active dry yeast
1 cup of warm milk
Pinch of salt
1 medium sweet onion
2 cups of grated cheese

Place the flour in a bowl, add the yeast and the warm milk and knead quickly into a slightly sticky dough. Knead in the salt, cover and set aside to rise, until double its size. In the meantime, peel the onion, cut it in half and slice it into thin slices. 

Shape the dough into a log, cover and let it rise again, until about 2/3s of its former size. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough about 1/2 an inch high. Heat the oven to 375F.

Distribute the raw onion slices over the bread and cover with the cheese. Put the sheet to the side, let the dough rise one last time, until it's nice and puffy, then place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about twenty minutes or until the cheese is melted and has a nice golden hue to it.

Remove the bread from the sheet, and let it rest for five minutes before cutting in to it. Serve in small squares as a snack during a gezellige avond with friends, or serve for lunch or dinner with a side salad.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Gezelligheid kent geen tijd

"Time flies when you're having fun"
Gezellig is one of those typical Dutch words that defy translation and often confuse non-natives when confronted with it: it's not cozy, it's not comfortable, it's just gezellig. It describes a mood, a feeling and, dare I say, a national common purpose.

Gezellig is going shopping with a girlfriend to the market, seeing new products from stall to stall and then relaxing on a café patio with a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie.

Gezellig is an evening at home with friends, talking over a nice dinner, a glass of wine, some snacks. Before you know it, it's 3am in the morning, you get ready to go home and everybody agrees that it was very gezellig and that you should do this again soon . In English you would say "time flies when you're having fun". In Dutch, it's Gezelligheid kent geen tijd. (Gezelligness doesn't keep track of time).

Gezellig is making time for each other, for connecting with like-minded people, for exchanging ideas, thoughts, visions without anybody getting upset or annoyed. You can't be gezellig alone, you need someone else there with you. If you get your panties in a twist or somehow easily upset the idyllic environment, you will be quickly classified as "ongezellig", or not gezellig at all. Not good if you thrive on other people's company, great if you're a hermit.

British-born Marianne Orchard from Like A Sponge, a fantastic blog about the Dutch language and living in Holland, discusses this national characteristic in her post about the Avondvierdaagse (a national four day evening walking event that is held throughout the country) and mentions the following:

" Then I have a sudden flash of enlightenment and I understand the avondvierdaagse better than I did last year: I just need to see it in terms of gezelligheid. (...) We are missionaries of gezelligheid. There will be no ungezelligd territory. On Dutch maps of yore it doesn’t say ‘here be dragons’ for unchartered territory: it says ‘here be ongezelligheid’."

It's almost a national decision to be gezellig, and very much the core of our culture. And let's face it, in these challenging times, shouldn't we make some time to deliberately be gezellig, with our family, friends or casual strangers.......So go forth and be gezellig today!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Aardappelsalade

As much as we like our potatoes, you'd think aardappelsalade, potato salad, would have a huge place in the Dutch kitchen. The potato as an edible tuber was introduced to the Netherlands in the late 1500's and since, thrifty housewives have found numerous ways of implementing potatoes into their daily menu.

Nevertheless, neither potato salad nor mashed potatoes are big in the Netherlands. Leftover boiled potatoes are usually just sliced and fried golden in butter and served with lunch or dinner the next day, and mashed potatoes still are most often made from a bag instead of fresh potatoes. I'm not saying that we don't eat potato salad, it just doesn't seem to have much of an appeal somehow.

This would explain why not many Dutch cookbooks, whether they cover modern, traditional, regional or last-century cooking, mention potato salad at all. Out of the random twenty books I pulled off the shelf only three books mentioned potato salad: one was a student cookbook, one a book on Limburg dishes and one was a general, basic cookbook from the early eighties. Any of the other books, not a word....

But aardappelsalade is not altogether absent either. Served as a cold salad on the side with an order of uitsmijter, you can still find it here and there, most often in road restaurants, or served with bread as a late evening snack at a party or a get-together. Aardappelsalade is also traditionally the basis of a more elaborate dish called "koude schotel", cold tray, that is often served at barbeque or grill backyard parties, summer lunches or rural weddings or funerals.

The aardappelsalade consists usually of a few main ingredients: boiled potatoes, onions, pickles and mayonnaise. Anything else beyond that is up to someone's own interpretation of the salad, and often depends on family or regional favorites. Some add leeks, spring onions, celery, or carrots ....others add bacon, roast beef, kielbasa or chicken. A lighter version can be made with yogurt instead of mayonnaise, or a more complex salad flavorwise is achieved with adding mustard or piccalilly.

This potato salad is one that my oma, grandmother, would make. Adding apple to a potato salad seems to be a more southern tradition and will not be liked by all, at first. However, the incredible flavor marriage between the salty and creamy potato, the crunch of the apple, the tanginess of the pickle and the slight sweetness of the onion.....it all comes together beautifully and will win over many a potato salad loving heart.

A refreshing, easy to make salad for those hot summer evenings, this potato salad will be a welcome addition to your backyard barbeque menu, or as a quick lunch snack with a slice of bread.

Oma's aardappelsalade
8 medium potatoes
1/2 of a small onion
8 dill pickles, whole
2 small red apples
6 tablespoons of mayonnaise
3 tablespoons of pickle juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes and boil in salty water until done, about twenty minutes. If a fork easily goes through the skin and hits the center of the potato without resistance, the potatoes are done. Pour off the water and set the tubers to the side to cool.

In the meantime, mince the onion and the pickle. Scrub the apple but leave the peel on, core it and dice. Peel the warm potatoes, then cube them into bite-size pieces. It's best if the potato is still slightly warm. Mix the mayonnaise with the pickle juice and carefully stir the potato cubes into the dressing, and add the minced onion, pickle and apple. Carefully fold the salad until all liquid is absorbed. Taste. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or preferably overnight. Serve cold.