Champignonragout met rijst

A couple of different ways of eating have hit the media lately. I always wonder, with these new diets or food choices, how it is going to affect those of us who like to cook traditional Dutch foods. Fortunately, many dishes translate well: with a LCHF (low carb, high fat) diet you can still enjoy your stamppots, replacing the potatoes with cauliflower, and having juicy sausages, brats or gehaktballen, meatballs. We have good soups that don't need dairy or meat to taste great, such as groentesoep.  Even our national soup, the split pea, or erwtensoep, can be made with a vegetarian choice of smoked sausage.

More and more people are choosing to reduce the amount of meat they eat: whether for health reasons, the environment, their wallet or just because they're curious about trying different recipes or ways to cook. In the Netherlands alone, a 2018 news article from the national Nutrition Center announced that almost half of the Dutch (46%) were trying to eat less meat.

Of course, our cuisine did not always feature meat so frequently as it does now: as with other kitchens around western Europe, meat was only served once or twice a week during the early beginning of the 20th century and did not become more frequent until the 1960s. In order to find something that would meet my own imposed meatless recipe challenge, I went back into the archives of magazines, newspapers and cookery books from before 1950 to find something tasty, flavorful, and easy to make for a Meatless Monday evening.

I struck gold with an article in the 1936 news bulletin of the Women's Electricity Association, the Vrouwen Electriciteits Vereniging, whose aim it was to promote the use of electricity in the household through the publication of a monthly magazine, geared towards women. It featured articles on how to use electrical appliances, how to ensure safety when using multiple outlet extenders, and articles about the many benefits and advantages of electricity in the home. The magazine featured a mushroom ragout, a savory sauce dish, that sounded like just the ticket! I updated it with a few tips and tricks, and it was delicious.

For this particular dish, I chose cremini mushrooms, but you can make it just as well with white button mushrooms, or a mixture of both. You don't have to use regular white long grain rice, as I did: brown rice, wild rice or any of the more exotic black, red or Forbidden will serve just as well. Just follow their specific cooking requirements, as they differ from each other.

Champignonragout met rijst
For the ragout:
1 lb mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil (or butter)
1 shallot, or a small red onion
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
Thyme
10 parsley stalks
Cornstarch
Salt and pepper

For the rice:
1 cup regular long grain rice
2 cups water
Salt

If needed, rinse the mushrooms under running water (yes, you can) and slice off the little bottom of the stem if it's too dry. Slice, quarter or cut through the middle as you see fit: but not too small. You want to be able to stab the pieces with a fork.

Use a non-stick pan and heat it to medium heat. Don't add any fat to the pan, just the mushrooms. As we're not going to be using any meat-based stock to the mushrooms, we want to try and get the most "meaty" flavor out of the mushrooms as we can. Let the mushrooms toast in the dry pan, until they're golden and releasing a great flavor. If you're not comfortable with that, use a little bit of olive oil or butter (unless you are vegan) to help aid the process. Remove the mushrooms and set them aside, then add the oil to the pan, add the onion and stir until the onion is caramelized, about five minutes.

Wash the parsley, and cut the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems small and set them aside. Squeeze any water out of the parsley leaves with a paper towel and chop the leaves fine. Add the mushrooms back in the pan with the onions, pour in the stock and the bay leaf and a pinch of thyme. Add in the chopped parsley stalks. Give everything a good stir, and then turn it to low, and cover.

In the meantime, wash the rice two or three times and add it to a small sauce pan. Add the water, a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil on medium heat. Cover, turn to low and let it simmer for ten minutes, stirring once or twice to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. After ten minutes, turn off the rice an leave it covered (no peeking!) and let it sit for another ten minutes. I only do this with long grain white rice and have not tried it with other types of rice, so probably best to just follow directions on the other rices).

Taste the mushroom sauce - adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. To thicken the sauce, I sift a tablespoon of corn starch through a fine mesh strainer over the sauce while stirring. You can also dissolve the cornstarch in a little bit of cold water and stir that into the sauce to thicken it. Cornstarch is gluten-free.

Optional: a tiny splash of white wine, sherry or brandy will add additional flavor to the sauce, provided you let the alcohol cook out.

Right before serving, fluff the rice with a fork and fold in the chopped parsley leaves.

Makes enough for two as a meal serving, or four as a quick appetizer. This is also good over toast (HGHC: high gluten high carb LOL) for breakfast or brunch.






Preisoep

Growing up in the Netherlands, prei, or leeks, was the one vegetable that would show up in my grocery cart with just about every shopping trip. For one, it was a cheap vegetable to buy, and second it would flavor so many foods we made, especially as students. Thirdly, I absolutely love love LOVE prei! Leeks would feature in soups, salads, oven dishes, mashed through potatoes, or as a creamed vegetable by itself - it was filling, flavorful and most of all, affordable.

The only thing that annoyed me beyond belief was the fact that it would stick out of my shopping bag and get in the way of cycling! If you've ever ridden a bicycle in Holland with shopping bags on your stuur, you know exactly what I mean :-)

Leeks are predominantly grown in the provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant, as it needs a loose soil to grow best in. The vegetable is blanched as it grows taller by hilling up the soil around it - which also explains why so often leeks have sand inbetween its layers. Its flavor varies from onion-y, when raw, to downright sweet when cooked. It is very versatile vegetable!

Prei is also very healthy: it's loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals and has a slight diuretic effect. All good things, I'd say! For this wintery weather, a cup of hot leek soup with a sprinkle of smoky, crispy bacon bits might be just what you need. Best of all, it's a quick soup to make. With five ingredients, 5 minutes of prep and twenty minutes of cooking, you have a satisfying soup at your disposal.

Preisoep
1 lb floury potatoes
1 large leek
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon cube
4 cups water
8 strips bacon

Peel the potatoes and dice. Cut the root end of the leek, and remove the top dark green/blue layer. We are not going to use this today, but if you rinse, chop and freeze it, it can be used to make a great vegetable stock. Cut the white body of the leek in half, lengthwise, and slice into one inch pieces. Rinse any sand that may be hiding between the layers.

In a saucepan, add four cups of water, the potatoes and the leeks, and a pinch of salt. Add the bouillon cube to the pan, cover and bring to a boil, then turn down medium and boil for 15 minutes. In the meantime, put a skillet on the stove, add the slices of bacon and on a low fire render the fat out of the bacon so that it goes crispy.

After fifteen minutes, check to see if the potatoes are soft. If you like chunky soup, remove a couple of spoons of the vegetables, and add them back in after you've blended the rest. If you prefer it smooth, leave it in and blend the vegetables into a smooth, thick soup. Taste, and see if you need to adjust the seasoning. For a little bit of luxury, stir in one or two spoons of cream.

Drain the crispy bacon on a paper towel and cut into strips. Pour the soup into a bowl, sprinkle the bacon on top, and drizzle one or two teaspoons of bacon fat over the soup (if you want). I always like to give it a good sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, as well.

Makes four servings.