Dutch Cooking

Ask a Dutch person about their country's culinary traditions and they will most likely grimace, shrug their shoulders or even apologize for the fact that the Dutch kitchen has not much to offer. Few cookbooks exist on Dutch cuisine, and in all fairness, it will never sweep any nation off its feet with mashed potato dishes, raw herring or split-pea soup. The lack of Dutch restaurants around the world, as opposed to French or Chinese restaurants, is a glaring proof.

Nevertheless, for such a small country as the Netherlands, its regional kitchens consist of a large and exciting variety of dishes, many of which are rich in ingredients and in history. This blog is intended to map this culinary variety, one recipe at a time.

The most common food for the Dutch is mainly based around potatoes, meat and vegetables. A traditional meal will start with a soup, continue with a main course and finish with a sweet dessert such as yoghurt, pudding or vla.

A traditional soup is split pea soup, called snert or erwtensoep. A thick, heavy soup made with split-peas, carrot, onions and celery and filled with kielbasa and smoked bacon traditionally is eaten during the winter. Norm dictates that the soup is not ready to eat until it's thick enough to uphold a wooden spoon standing up straight. Other soups are brown bean soup, bruine bonen soep, or groentesoep met balletjes, a brothy vegetable soup with small, tender meatballs the size of a marble.

Main dishes can consist of plain boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes or fried, a cooked vegetable such as sweet peas, Brussels sprouts, Belgian endive or cauliflower and meat ofcourse. Most Dutch meals will be accompanied by a healthy dose of apple sauce, appelmoes. Kids especially like the appelmoes: they prak (mash) the potatoes and the vegetables together and mix in the apple sauce to make it cohesive. Parents in turn love to serve it because the sweetness of the appelmoes will mask any bitterness of the vegetables so the kids will usually eat anything that's on their plate, as long as there's appelmoes on the table.

This cohesive mash also has another version, but without the applesauce. Stamppot is an all-encompassing word for "mashed potatoes with vegetable" and is identified by adding the particular vegetable's name to the dish. Zuurkool stamppot, for example, is mashed potatoes with sauerkraut. Carrot stamppot, or hutspot, is one of the few exceptions but only in name: it is said that hutspot is eaten at least once a week in traditional Dutch households.

As for meats, the Dutch like to eat braadworst, fresh sausage (a mixture of spiced pork and beef in a casing), gehaktballen (meatballs the size of a softball), tender stewed beef called draadjesvlees (the meat is so tender it falls apart in threads, draadjes) and steak, although this last one is often reserved for special occassions.

Nowadays dishes such as spaghetti and macaroni have found a solid base in the Dutch traditional kitchen and children often quote macaroni as their favorite dish. Other international influences such as the Indonesian and Surinamese kitchen have also left a colonial legacy by introducing dishes such as nasi goreng and roti.

Dessert is often a small serving of yoghurt with fresh fruit or the more traditional vla: a type of custard that comes in over twenty flavors. Some of the more favorite ones are vanilla, strawberry, butterscotch and blanke vla, white custard, that looks like a thick yogurt but is sweeter and less tangy.

An old-fashioned pudding is "griesmeelpudding", a wobbly dessert made with grits and milk, and served with a red berry sauce, or a "bitterkoekjespudding" made with almond cookies.