Wat eten we vanavond?

When I was working on a culinary project in England, studying the traditional cuisine of the country, I realized how similar the English kitchen is to ours, in many ways. The colonial influence on the cuisine, as well as the ghost of long-time-ago traveled trading routes, is palpable and palatable. Spices and dried fruits are heavily present in traditional dishes and desserts, and Jamaican Ginger Cake in many ways reminds me of peperkoek.

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!


Last week, we made kwark, a dairy food that has a key role in the Dutch kitchen. Whether used as a base for savory dips, nutritional snacks or in cooking, kwark is healthy, light and pleasant. So what better than to whip it up with some good old cream, add a pleasing dose of sugar, throw in some cookies and butter, load the whole thing up with fresh, seasonal fruit and make ourselves a traditional old-fashioned Dutch kwarktaart? Exactly, not much. If a little bit is good for you, a lot is better, right? Right :-)

The kwarktaart is a traditional choice for dessert, for birthday celebrations or for any other celebration for that matter, whether it's made up or real. We do love a party, and any excuse will do! The taart can be served plain or flavored (usually with fruity flavors such as lemon or mandarin orange), but don't let that stop you. Nobody says you can't make a lovely chocolate kwarktaart so if that's what you're craving, go for it!

Summertime especially is a great time for kwarktaart. Served chilled, with a good cup of coffee, and adorned with seasonal fresh fruit, it is a pleasant reminder of the goody good goodness that Holland has to offer.

10 cookies (approx. 1 1/2 cups when crumbled)
9 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons (75 grm) butter
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla essence (or 1 envelope vanilla sugar)
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 envelope gelatin (or 3 sheets)
2 cups (500 ml) kwark*

Put the cookies in a plastic bag and roll into crumbs with the help of a rolling pin. Add to a bowl. If you selected fairly bland cookies, like tea biscuits or Maria cookies, mix in 2 tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon. If the cookies you picked are sweet and flavorful on their own, like Bastogne, speculaas, or Oreos, you can skip the sugar and cinnamon. Melt the butter, pour it over the cookie crumbs and mix until the crumbs are wet and soaked through.

Place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom of a spring form pan. Press the buttery cookie crumbles in the bottom and flatten with the back of a spoon, so that the layer is fairly even. Put the pan in the fridge so the cookie bottom can harden.

Gelatin Powder: mix 3 tablespoons of sugar with the contents of the gelatin envelope in a bowl. Bring the cup of milk to a boil and pour over the sugary mixture. Stir until the gelatin has dissolved.

Gelatin Sheets: soak the sheets in a bowl of cold water, for at least ten minutes, but longer is better. Warm up the cup of milk, squeeze the water out of the sheets and stir them into the warm milk. Stir until they've fully dissolved.

Whip the heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla. Stir the whipping cream into the kwark, and carefully fold in the last tablespoon of the sugar, if needed, for extra sweetness. Taste first!

When the warm milk has cooled down, carefully stir it into the kwark and whipped cream, until it's a smooth, creamy liquid.

Pour this into a 9 inch (23 cm) spring form pan. Tap the sides carefully to pop any air bubbles, cover the pan with plastic film or aluminum foil, and place the pan back in the fridge. Let rest overnight for best results, preferably 24 hours, but at least a good four to six hours. Test the consistency before you pop open the spring form: if the mixture has not set, leave it a couple of hours longer to set. 

Carefully slide a knife along the rim to loosen the cake. Spread with fresh strawberries, mandarin oranges or any other fruit you may like.

I made a quick puree from the leftover strawberry trimmings (cut up, and simmer in a small saucepan with a tiny bit of sugar until it has reached jam consistency, then cool) and spread it over the top of the cake before layering it with the fruit. It's a great way to use up all the scraps and contributes to the strawberry flavor. You can do the same with any other fruit you may use.

*If there is no quark available, or you don't want or can spend the time making it yourself, try using plain Icelandic skyr instead. Whole milk plain yogurt works as well, as long as you can suspend it for a couple of hours so that the whey can drain and the product thickens. If the yogurt has any kind of gum, starch or anything else besides bacteria and dairy (read the label), the whey will probably remain suspended in the yogurt and not drain. Check before you buy!


Kwark, or fresh cheese, is one of the many dairy products that our country is rich. Mixed with fresh fruit, it is a light dessert, and spread on bread it can be used as a calorie-poor substitute for butter or margarine. But where kwark is probably at its best, is in a luscious kwarktaart, or fresh cheese cake. More on that next week, let's start with making kwark first!

Kwark is more about patience than skill. Make sure you avoid any buttermilk that contains any kind of gums, cornstarches or any other ingredient that is not natural to cows: it suspends the whey in the liquid and does not allow for proper drainage.

6 cups of whole milk
2 cups buttermilk (avoid buttermilks with gums, cornstarch etc)

Pour both milks in a heavy pan and slowly bring up to 100F. Cover the pan and let it sit at room temperature overnight. The next day, the whey should have separated from the milk solids. Pour everything into a tea towel, knot the four ends together and suspend the package from the kitchen cabinet’s door knob. Place a bowl underneath to catch the whey. Suspend for a good three hours or until the whey has stopped draining.

Scrape the kwark out of the towel and fluff up with a fork. If it’s too dry, add a tablespoon or two of milk. If it’s still too wet, continue to drain for a little bit longer. You are looking for a thicker yoghurt consistency.

Makes two cups of kwark.

Gado Gado

And lastly, but surely not least, the final dish on our mini-rijsttafel series: gado gado. These last weeks we've discovered rendang, saté, and atjar. Combined with a big bowl of steamed white rice, these dishes will give a you a great start on getting familiar with one of Holland's colonial cuisines, Indo food. At yet at the same time, it doesn't even begin to cover the vast variety of dishes, colors, flavors and textures that a larger rijsttafel can offer. I encourage you to visit some of the Indo food sites on Facebook or the web, like the Dutch-Indo Kitchen: recipes, opinions and flavors vary according to regions or even down to families, so it's a great culinary adventure that you can certainly set to your liking!

Gado gado is a warm vegetable salad, served with a spicy peanut sauce and topped with crushed krupuk, or shrimp crackers. Krupuk can be found in Asian food stores and is prepared by frying the pieces in hot oil on the stove. The salad can be assembled with as many vegetables as you like. Cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots and green beans seem to be the more traditional choices but use whatever you have available to you that showcases a colorful plate, and a variety of textures.

Not preparing a rijsttafel? Blanch the vegetables in half water, half coconut milk and finish the salad off with some grilled chicken (check the saté recipe for a tasty marinade!) to make a flavorful and refreshing summer salad!


Gado Gado
¼ green cabbage
2 large carrots
2 cups green beans, fresh
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cucumber
2 boiled eggs
2 boiled potatoes
½ cauliflower

Cut the vegetables in bitesize pieces and blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, depending on how crunchy or well done you like your vegetables. Peel the boiled eggs and slice them in half, lengthwise. Cut the potatoes in half. Arrange the vegetables on a plate, drizzle the warm peanut sauce on top or serve on the side. Recipe for peanut sauce in the Saté Babi link!