But it wasn't the cake that made me reflect on our Dutch kitchen. A comment from one of my coworkers last week triggered it. Someone, somewhere, had paired up the "wrong" vegetable with a particular sausage dish for one of the menus. Not being familiar with the meat dish, I asked what the traditional vegetable to serve would have been, and was told "cabbage". Looking at the menu, I pointed out that cabbage was exactly what was served. "But it's red cabbage", the answer came back. "and that's wrong. It has to be green cabbage".
I realized that, unless very familiar with a country's cuisine, building menus and pairing ingredients can be a tricky deal. Many of the culinary combinations are steeped in tradition, and all of a sudden cabbage is not cabbage anymore: it's either right or wrong for a particular dish. Would the red cabbage not have complimented the sausage dish well? It would have in any other part of the world. But when tradition dictates otherwise, it becomes an awkward accompaniment.
Think about our own cuisine. Hutspot goes with klapstuk, zuurkool goes with spekjes, spinach is traditionally served with fish. Boerenkool is accompanied by a smoked kielbasa. You wouldn't think of serving zuurvlees with anything but fries, or mashed potatoes. You'd be pushing it with steamed rice, which would be considered edible, but most certainly not traditional,and brown rice would definitely catapult you straight into the "geitenwollensokken" category, whether you wear them or not.
The question "Wat eten we vanavond?" (What's for dinner?) is, in Holland, traditionally answered with only mentioning the vegetable. If you know the vegetable, the blanks regarding protein and starch are automatically filled in. Bloemkool, cauliflower, is traditionally served with a white sauce, boiled potatoes and a gehaktbal. If the answer is zuurkool, you know it will most likely be mashed with potatoes and either rendered pieces of bacon or, if you're lucky, both bacon and a kielbasa.
But if the answer is "hussen met je neus ertussen", you are just going to have to wait and see!