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.



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.

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
Cocktail onions

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!


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.

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.

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!