Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dutch butter

My time in England is winding down. I've been on a discovery tour of the British kitchen: fabulous cheeses, great baked goods and plenty of good butter. As always, out of curiosity, I wonder how much of an influence the Dutch kitchen has had on the English one. After all, there is only a small stretch of water between the two monarchies and they've often spent time sailing the seas together.

In the mid-1500's, Dutch and Flemish protestants fled religious persecution and arrived in Norwich, close to the east coast of England. Over time, close to 6,000 "strangers", as the Dutch were called because of their different clothing and customs, settled around the area. But they did not only bring clothing and customs, they also brought their own pots, pans (such as a frying pan) and dishes. In the book The North Sea and Culture (1550-1800), part of a letter from Claus van Werveken from Norwich to his wife says: "Bring a dough trough, for there are none here.....Buy two little wooden dishes to make up half pounds of butter: for all the Netherlanders and Flemings make their own, for here it is all pigs' fats."

Imagine that. We presumably introduced butter to Norwich. We brought frying pans. Can you visualize the possibilities?! Lard is good, but butter is so much better. It warms my heart to think that such small items of comfort made these refugees feel at home in their new country, and that it left a lasting culinary contribution.

The picture is of a Limburg dish called Kruimelvlaai, or better known in the Venlo dialect as "bôttervlaaj", butter pie. On a cold, rainy and dark day like today, it's seems like an appropriate pie to salute these friendly "strangers" with, and thank them for introducing this significant spread.

 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Huzarensalade

And it's (drumroll)....summer!!! News arrives of sunny skies, warm weather, and even some sunburnt skins. When the sun's out in Holland, you never know how long it's going to last. If they can, people will drop anything they had planned and head out to the parks, the beaches or their own backyards and balconies to make the most of the sunshine.

The last thing you want to do in such a case is spending hours in the kitchen, preparing a meal. Today's dish, huzarensalade, is a perfect dish to serve on a day like this, and using up any leftovers  you may have laying around. It only needs the minimum of attention and dedication, but will be a welcome sight on your table.

Huzarensalade, or hussar's salad, was supposedly invented by the Hussars, a light cavalry regiment. As their tactic was to be inconspicuous and since they were always on the go, they would not build fires to cook their food but chop up whatever they had and mixed them together: a boiled potato, a piece of meat, some pickles and created this cold salad, perfect for leftovers..... Whether the story is true or not, is almost irrelevant: the result is a tasty, filling and refreshing dish with a minimum of effort!

Preferably use leftover veggies for this salad. If you don't have any leftover roast, ham or cold steak, simmer some beef the evening before. Depending on the cut of meat, this can take up to two hours: just let it simmer on low under tender. If you simmer the beef with some carrots, celery and onion, you can use the remaining broth for a light, flavorful groentesoep.

Huzarensalade
10 oz beef, cooked
2 large potatoes, boiled
1 small sweet onion
8 medium dill pickles
1 red apple
1 small can of peas and carrots (if you don't have leftover veg)
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill pickle juice

For the garnish:
Boiled eggs
Mayonnaise
Cocktail onions
Tomatoes
Paprika

Cut the beef and potatoes in small dice. Chop the sweet onion and pickles. Peel the apple (or not, as you please), core it and cut it in small dice. Drain the liquid from the peas and carrots and mix everything together with the mayonnaise and the dill pickle juice. Taste and adjust if needed.

Rest the salad overnight. The next day, put the salad on a big plate, slather lightly with mayonnaise and decorate with garnish, sprinkle with the paprika. Serve it with buttered toast and a smile :-), you can now enjoy the rest of the day without anybody going hungry!




Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Krentjebrij

It's quite the summer in the Netherlands! Cold and rainy one day, and sunny and warm the next. It's of no surprise to the Dutch ofcourse, as often summers are a mixed bag of blessings, weatherwise. Nevertheless, no need to worry food-wise, as fresh fruit is abundantly available, and summer desserts often reflect the rich bounty of these lowlands. Strawberries, cherries and red currants preceed the rich apple and pear harvest in the fall, and neighboring countries supply any produce and fruits that the climate does not allow for.

This week's recipe is a traditional, old-fashioned dessert, made with a variety of summer berries and grains. It is a very convenient dish, given the season's fickle atmospheric conditions, as it can be served either cold or warm. The dessert is called krentjebrij, or watergruwel. Although a pleasant and filling dessert that is sometimes served as a main dish, its names do not entice one to grab a spoon and dig in. Neither name sounds appetizing, quite honestly, with the first one called a currant brij, i.e. a thick, sticky goop, and the other one named watergruwel or water revulsion....Gruwel however is an adaptation of the English word "gruel" meaning thin porridge, and not a description of aquatic abhorrence: not a practical attitude in a country that's partially below sea level!

Krentjebrij is also sold readily made in supermarket stores, in the dairy section, as one of the few non-dairy based products, under the name Bessola. When several years ago the company decided to take it off the market, as it wasn't selling as well as other desserts, a national uproar caused the company to rethink their decision.

Use a mix of fresh berries such as strawberries, red currants, raspberries and blackberries to simmer with the barley. Blend the rest of the fruit to mix in afterwards.

Krentjebrij
1/2 cup of pearl barley
1 1/2 cup of water
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup of raisins and currants
1 strip of lemon peel, no pith
4 cups of fresh mixed berries, chopped
1 cup of mixed berry juice
2 tablespoons of sugar


Rinse the pearl barley and bring to a boil with the 1,5 cups of water. Turn down to a simmer, add the cinnamon stick, the lemon peel, the dried fruits and a quarter cup of the fresh fruits, stir and let it simmer for forty minutes, or until the barley is soft. You may want to keep a little bit of water on the side to add, in case it needs more liquid.

When the barley is cooked (soft, with just a bit of a bite), add in the blended fruits, the sugar and add enough water to cover the barley, and simmer for another ten minutes. Taste (watch out, it's hot!), adjust the sweetness to your liking and remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick.

Serve hot or cold. A splash of heavy cream will make this dessert even lovelier.