In Holland, a night out on the town, or a social event with coworkers, usually starts out at a local café, with a beer and something called a "bittergarnituur". The word translates as the slightly confusing "garnish for bitters", where bitters in this case refers to alcoholic beverages. The Dutch were one of the first to dedicate themselves to perfecting the distillation process, presenting the world with spirits such as Dutch gin (jenever) and a large variety of liqueurs and bitters, these last ones presumably with medicinal properties. Nowadays, one of the most famous drinks is Ketel One, a Dutch vodka that is especially popular in the United States.

Alcohol is traditionally consumed with something savory on the side, and thus the bittergarnituur was invented. This colorful platter will usually contain bite-size cubes of Gouda cheese, miniature eggrolls and meatballs, perhaps some slices of salami or chorizo and of course, how can it not, the marvelous bitterballen.

Bitterballen are one of Holland's favorite snacks. In the early and mid-1900s, they were the housewife's perfect way to transform yesterday's meat leftovers into today's appetizer. Served shaped as a log (kroket) or in bite-size rounds, bitterballen were often served as an aperitif, or tapa, before lunch or dinner.

Nowadays, bitterballen are predominantly served outside the home, either as part of the bittergarnituur or as a snack on the side with a portion of French fries, but are no longer part of the housewife's culinary repertoire. Which is rather unfortunate, because bitterballen are easy to make and freeze beautifully for later use! 

This deep-fried, crispy, bite-size ball of meaty gravy is to be eaten with a good, savory mustard. Take the bitterbal between thumb and index finger, dip one side into the mustard and pop the whole thing in your mouth. No double-dipping! Bitterballen are also, presumably, best eaten while piping hot!

Bitterballen are traditionally made with beef, but can also be made with chicken, veal or even with mushrooms, for those that prefer a vegetarian option.

1 stick butter (114 gr)
1 cup all purpose flour (120 gr)
3 cups beef stock (700 ml)
3 tablespoons onion, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
8 oz shredded and chopped cooked beef (250 gr)

For the breading
1/2 cup flour ( 60 grams)
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups bread crumbs (approx. 250 grams, depending on crumbs)

Make a roux with the butter and the flour (slowly melt the butter in a skillet or pan. When melted, add the flour little by little and stir into a thick paste). Slowly stir in the stock, making sure the roux absorbs the liquid and there are no lumps. Simmer for a couple of minutes on a low heat while you stir in the onion, parsley and the shredded, chopped beef. Bring it back up to heat while stirring.Taste, add pepper and salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Taste again and adjust if necessary.

Pour the meat gravy into a shallow container, cover and refrigerate for several hours, or until the gravy has solidified.

The mixture should be so thick that you can cut squares out of it. Take a heaping tablespoon of the cold, thick gravy and quickly roll it into a small ball. I weigh mine out at approx. 20 grams each, or .7 ounces. They can be a bit bigger, up to 23 grams, as long as they're all about the same.

Roll lightly through the flour, and put them back in the fridge while you prepare the next round of covering. Beat the eggs well. If you use panko, you may want to pulse them once or twice in the kitchen processor, or just squeeze it between your fingers, as some pieces tend to be fairly large.

Take the floured balls out of the fridge and rub them between your palms once more, if they need rounding a bit more, then carefully dip them in the egg on the tines of a fork. Make sure that the egg covers the whole surface of the bitterbal. (If it doesn't, the filling will spill out into the fryer and you will be left with a hollow shell, and a messy fryer!). Tap the fork on the rim of the plate to remove any extra egg, and then roll the ball through the bread crumbs. Set each ball aside on a plate.

*Optional: after breading them once, I personally prefer to pop them in the freezer for about half an hour, and then I egg and breadcrumb them again. This creates a slightly larger bitterbal, but with a thicker crust. 

If your kitchen is exceptionally warm, you could refrigerate them in batches of ten. But when all are done, refrigerate or freeze the snacks while the oil in your fryer heats up to 375F. If you are not planning on serving all 50 bitterballen, you can freeze them individually and then store them in a closed container in the freezer for later. There is no need to thaw them before frying.

Fry five to six balls at a time, until golden brown. Serve on a plate with a nice grainy or spicy mustard.

Makes approximately 50 bitterballen.


Ten percent of the Dutch population thinks that macaroni and chili con carne are.......Dutch dishes. I kid you not. Eighty-seven percent of that same population eats macaroni at least once a week. When you ask children here in the USA what their favorite kind of food is, they'll usually say: Pizza! Dutch kids would tell you that macaroni was their favorite food.

A Dutch TV show called "Man Bijt Hond" ("Man bites dog") has a section called "Hond Aan Tafel", where the camara crew knocks on a random house door around dinner time and asks the surprised habitants if they can join them. Most often the answer is yes, and the short scene allows for a peek in the life of just an ordinary person. Nine out of then, the answer to "What's for dinner?" guessed it.....macaroni.

And they're not the only ones that love macaroni. Yours truly enjoys a huge plate of the salty, warm, comforting pasta with a pickle on the side to provide some crunch, yummmmm!!!!!!!!!!!! It's one of the many reasons why I keep ground beef in the freezer: once the meat is thawed, this dish is quick and easy to prepare. Just what you need when you're looking for some comfort!

Dutch Macaroni
3 cups of elbow macaroni or fusilli
1 lb of ground beef
1/2 a leek, white only, sliced thin
1 red pepper
1 sachet of macaroni spices*
1 small can of tomato sauce
Pickles, optional

Cook the macaroni according to instructions. Brown the ground beef in a skillet, pour off the fat and add in strips of red pepper and the sliced leek. Stir in the spices and the tomato sauce, simmer for ten minutes. Add the macaroni and mix with the sauce. Serve warm.

* I buy the macaroni spices in Dutch stores online, but the spaghetti spice mix packages that are available in your standard supermarket are practically the same.


Zeeland, the most Western province in the Netherlands, is famous for its mussels, specifically the towns of Bruinisse, Tholen, Yrseke, and Zierikzee. The fishing town of Yerseke in Zeeland is the mussel epicenter of northwest Europe; approximately 90 million kilos of mussels a year come from Yrseke alone. The majority of the mussels go straight to buyers in Belgium, where mussels and fries are considered a staple dish, but in the Netherlands we are also known to enjoy a big pot of mussels, especially when spending a day on the coast.
Traditionally, mussels were on the menu when the letter "R" was present in the name of the month, i.e. starting in September, but nowadays they're available as soon as July.  As soon as they're ready for harvesting, advertisements pop up everywhere, and from September until about April you can find these bivalve mollusks on the menu at restaurants, for sale at the fishmongers, and on many a dinner table all over the country. And it sounds odd, but once I see the advertisements, I start craving them. It's one of those typical "gezellig" things to do: get a big pot of steamed mussels on the table, gather some good friends, a bit of wine, a salad, a crispy baguette, a couple of dipping sauces, and get the party started! 

Fresh mussels are not available to all of us, but nowadays it's quite easy to get good quality frozen ones, so look for them in your grocery stores. About a pound per person is enough for dinner, if you serve it with a salad, fries, and bread, otherwise you may consider a pound and a half, two if they're big eaters. I serve mine with a traditional mustard dipping sauce, but you are welcome to bring your own: curry-flavored dipping sauces and herby ones like a yogurt-parsley sauce also go really well. 

Don't eat the ones that don't open up during the cooking process: they're likely to be bad. Also, watch out for broken shell pieces. 

4 pounds (approx. 2 kg) fresh or frozen mussels, in shell
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns

Dipping sauce
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise 
1/2 tablespoon vinegar

Mix into a smooth sauce.

Give the mussels a quick rinse (no need to thaw), and check for "beards": little hairy-looking extensions protruding from the shell. Carefully pull those off, if you find them. 

Put the rest of the ingredients in a Dutch oven, or another big pan with a heavy bottom and a lid. Bring to a boil. Lift the lid, add the mussels and boil for seven to eight minutes, tossing the contents of the pan every now and then. The mussels will open up and will be ready to eat.

To serve, place the pan on the table with an extra plate for the shells. Serve with fries, a green salad, and a dipping sauce. Use your fingers to pull the mussels out of the shells or a small fork, and dip into the sauce. 

Smaokelik! (as they say in Zeeland!)

Bruine Bonen met Rijst

Brown beans and rice, or as we say in Holland, bruine bonen met rijst, is a typical dish from Suriname, a former colony of the Netherlands. Here in America, I don't have easy access to the Dutch brown beans, so I use pinto beans instead.

Bruine Bonen met Rijst
1 small piece salt pork
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tomato, deseeded and chopped
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoonblack pepper
1/2 beef bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup celery leaves
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup instant rice

Cut the salt pork in small dice, then fry in a skillet until soft and transparent. Add the onion and the garlic. Stir until soft, then add the tomato. When the tomato has softened as well, add the beans, the water, the tomato sauce, ginger, pepper, the bouillon cube and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about twenty minutes. Taste and adjust (don't add any salt before tasting, the pork tends to be salty enough), add the sugar and the celery leaves, remove the bay leaf and stir everything together. Simmer for another five minutes while you prepare the rice.

Put the rice in a microwaveable bowl, add enough water so that the rice is covered, then microwave on high for two and a half minutes. Let it sit to dry for a minute or two, then stir.

Serve the beans on top of the rice. Nice with some crunchy slices of cucumber.

Hutspot met klapstuk

Yesterday, the city of Leiden celebrated the victory in 1574 over the Spanish invaders. It's an annual celebration during which the Leideners consume large amounts of white bread with herring and even larger amounts of something called hutspot, a colorful mashed potato dish. It's not only eaten on the 3rd of October, but is an extremely popular evening meal during the cold winter days. Hutspot is traditionally served with klapstuk, a piece of braised beef, but sometimes will also be eaten with a typical Dutch meatball. The best carrots to use for this dish are winterpenen, winter carrots such as the Flakkee or Autumn King, a larger and thicker variety of the orange carrot that is harvested shortly after the first frost. The sugars in the carrot add a hint of sweetness to this dish that will appeal to almost any eater, young or old.

The origin of this particular choice of starchy food goes back to a small remainder of stew that was presumably left behind in a large copper pot by the fleeing Spanish army. A young man found the still warm stew and shared it triumphantly with the rest of the starving Leiden-ers. Or at least with those that didn't like herring, I'm sure.

The name of this dish does not sound very appetizing, not even in Dutch. Loosely translated it means "hotchpotch with slap piece". Well, there you go, see what I mean? Who wants to eat that?

But, as is often the case, appearance deceives. In this particular example, the name is not very flattering and quite honestly, neither is the picture. But the taste will convince anyone that there is more to this dish than a silly name.

It is said that the original stew contained parsnips and white beans, and that the meat in the stew was mutton. How it came to be carrots with potatoes and beef.....only history knows. The carrot appeared in Holland for the first time in the 17th century, out of Iran, and was cross-polinated until it had a bright orange color, to honor the royal family, the Oranges. At that point, the carrot was introduced to the rest of Europe and hey presto! Long live the Queen and orange carrots for all!

As for the "slap piece": klapstuk is the meat that is cut from the rib. I used slices of beef chuck rib roast and it worked beautifully. The meat is marbled and during its 90 minute braising time will release all kinds of wonderful flavors and most of the fat. You'll love it!

Hutspot met klapstuk
For the meat
1 lb of sliced beef chuck rib roast
2 cups water
1/2 beef bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
8 black pepper corns, whole
1 tablespoon flour, dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Add the water to a Dutch oven or a braising pan, add the bouillon cube and stir until dissolved. Add the beef, the bay leaf and the pepper corns and braise on low heat for approximately 90 minutes or until beef is tender.

Remove the meat to a serving dish, discard the bay leaf and peppercorns and stir the dissolved flour into the pan juices. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan, loosening any meat particles that may be stuck. Bring the heat slowly up until the gravy starts to thicken. Pour the gravy over the meat and set aside, keeping it warm.

For the hutspot
6 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
8 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 cups of water
Pinch of salt

Place the peeled and quartered potatoes on the bottom of a Dutch oven. Pour in the water so the potatoes are just covered. Add the pinch of salt. Put the carrots on top, and finish with the onions. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and boil for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Pour off the cooking water, but save it. Mash the potatoes, carrots and onions until you achieve a mashed potato consistency or leave larger lumps, that's a personal preference. If you need more liquid to make it smoother, add a tablespoon of cooking liquid at a time. Taste, adjust with salt and pepper.

Now place a large scoop of hutspot on a warm plate. With the rounded side of a spoon, make an indentation on top of the hutspot, like a pothole. This is the famous "kuiltje". Put a slice of beef on top and pour a tablespoon or two of gravy into the kuiltje, and serve your beautiful, Dutch dish. All you need now is a pair of clogs and a picture of the Queen on the wall :-) Nah....not really.