Archive for Honest Cooking

Honest Cooking: Vegetable Soup

A delicous soup, a perfect light meal for summer evenings!

A light and fragrant soup generously filled with vegetables, vermicelli and meatballs.

Vegetable soup (‘groentesoep’) is a clear soup, based on a vegetable or beef stock, filled with several vegetables, and sometimes vermicelli and meatballs (‘met balletjes’). In the past, a small bowl of soup was often served as an entree at dinner time, nowadays it is also served as a complete meal together with bread, or at lunch.

Dutch Vegetable Soup with Meatballs (serves 4)

2 onions
2 carrots
3 stalks celery
3 cloves of garlic (optional)
3 bay leaves
2 tsp pepper corns
4 sprigs parsley
1 sprig thyme
½ tsp salt

handful vermicelli
200 g vegetables, sliced
2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (I like a mixture of parsley, chives, leaf celery and chervil)
optional: bread

300 g mince (I use a mixture of beef and pork)
2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
¼ tsp worcestershiresauce
¼ tsp marjoram

Clean the vegetables for the broth, cut into large chunks.
Place in a large cooking pot, add the other broth ingredients, and pour over 1 liter cold water.
Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.
Sieve the broth (you can store this in the fridge for 2-3 days).

Make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients and rolling small balls.
Bring the broth to a simmer, add the meatballs, vegetables and vermicelli. Stir once, very carefully, to prevent breaking the meatballs.
Cook with the lid partly on the pan until the meatballs start floating (this means they are cooked).
Add the green herbs and season to taste with salt.
Serve immediately, on its own or with some bread.

Notes: You can slice the vegetables that will fill the soup coarse or finely, according to your preference. You can use any vegetable you like, I used carrot, leek, celery and cauliflower. Other possibilities: peas, tomato, green beans, potato, celeriac, mushrooms, paprika, broccoli, etc. When you don’t have the time to make your own broth, you can use good quality vegetable stock cubes.

Honest Cooking: Dutch Meat Croquettes

A delicious snack! Check out the recipe over here.


A versatile savoury snack that is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Meat croquettes (kroketten) consist of a thick meat ragout rolled into a cylindrical form, covered in breadcrumbs, which are deep-fried. They are a much loved food in the Netherlands, for example as a lunch staple and as part of a snackbar takeaway, but almost no one makes them at home. For this post I did make them myself and was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t take that much time (most of it was waiting time) and the result was very delicious.

I served my delicious homemade croquettes in a typical Dutch way: the 12 o’clock (het twaalfuurtje). This is a dish often found on the lunch menu in lunchrooms and restaurants and consists of a slice of bread with butter, mustard and a croquette; a small ‘uitsmijter‘; a garnish of crudités or salad; and a small bowl of soup. Sometimes you also get juice or coffee. Two generously topped slices of bread, some salad and a bowl of soup is enough lunch for a hungry person. You can always choose if you like white or brown bread. The salad is usually potato, russian or beef, but making those is subject for a later post.

You can also use this recipe to make ‘bitterballen’, the only difference is to roll the ragout into small balls (about 4 cm in diameter) instead of cylinders. Bitterballen are served as a cocktail snack, accompanied by a small bowl of mustard to dip them in.

Dutch Beef Croquettes (serves 4)

200 g beef/400 g beef with bone

1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk of celery
½ leek
2 sprigs of parsley
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leave
a small bit of mace
5 pepper corns, slightly crushed
1 tsp salt

35 g butter
35 g flour
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cream
½ tbsp parsley, chopped
1 egg yolk

breading and cooking
1 egg
dried breadcrumbs
oil for deepfrying

Wash the vegetables, cut in large chunks.
Place in a cooking pan together with the herbs and spices, lay the meat on top.
Add water until just covered.
Bring to the boil and leave to simmer until the meat is cooked and tender (depends on the cut of meat).
Take the meat out, slice in cubes of 0,5 cm (discard any tough, sinewy or very fatty bits).
Sieve the stock and set aside 200 ml. The rest will not be used. For a stronger flavour, reduce down the stock before measuring the 200 ml.
Melt the butter in a sauce pot.
Add the flour, mix well, and cook for about 1 minute.
Add the measured stock gradually while stirring to form a smooth and thick sauce.
Leave to cook on low heat for 2 minutes, then take off the heat.
Add the lemon juice, cream, parsley and egg yolk, mix them through the sauce.
Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
Add the cubes of meat, mix them through.
Pour the sauce into a deep plate that you rinsed with water.
Cover with cling film and leave to cool in the fridge (takes about an hour).
Whisk the egg together with a little water in a deep plate. Pour the dried breadcrumbs on another plate.
Slice the cooled croquette mix in 4 equal parts (8 if you want mini-croquettes).
Place a part on top of the bread crumbs and form into a cylinder/croquette form (the breadcrumbs will prevent the mix from sticking).
Place the croquette in the egg mixture, cover completely.
Then place again on the breadcrumbs, cover completely with crumbs. Pat the croquette so that the breadcrumbs are attached well.
Do the same with the other three portions.
Heat the oil to 200C.
Place a croquette (or more, depending on the size of your fryer) in the fryer and bake for about 2 minutes, or until the crust is brown.
Serve immediately.

Notes: Use a cut of beef that is suitable for making stock. You can use veal instead of beef. You can use leftover meat (180 g); in that case you can use a ready made stock instead of the stock you make in the recipe.

Honest Cooking: Dutch Potato and Leek Bake

A lovely homemade potato and leek bake with cheese-ham-herb sauce.

Potato Bake

Dutch people usually make dishes like this with jarred or powdered sauces, but it is tastier to make it from scratch. This delicious homemade potato and leek bake with cheese-ham-herb sauce is a great example.

Dutch people love easy cooking. They love it so much that they buy lots of shortcuts in the supermarket to prepare a fast meal. You can buy all sorts of things, for example: jars with ready made sauce for pasta, but also for curry/oriental dishes, potato/pasta bakes and stews. There are boxes that contain a powdered marinade, a powdered sauce mix and a starch (for example ‘chicken madras’ with rice) to which you only need to add fresh products (in the case of the chicken madras, you add chicken, a red paprika and some creme fraiche). Often these are foreign dishes, but they don’t resemble the original dish very much. There are all kinds of small sachets and cups for oriental style sauces, often they need something like a splash of coconut milk. But the biggest category of them all is powdered mixes, you have them for virtually anything: many kinds of soups (chicken, but also tomato, pea, asparagus, goulash, etc), pasta sauces, sauces for oven bakes, etc; only water is added to create a sauce.

Personally I am not a big fan of these shortcuts, because they are often quite bland, very salty and they contain lots of artificial ingredients. But I do like some of the dishes you can make with the packages, so I adapted the recipe to make it (almost) completely from scratch. This recipe is inspired on two different shortcuts. The first is a sauce from a jar, available in different flavours (cream-chives, bacon-onion, ham-cheese, garden herbs-garlic), which you pour over sliced (partly cooked) potatoes and bake in the oven. This creates a gratin-like dish. The other are powdered mixes for sauces, again in different flavours (for example minced meat with leek and curry sauce, or minced meat with cauliflower and cream sauce) to pour over meat and/or vegetables with a layer of sliced (partly cooked) potatoes on top and again bake in the oven. I combined the flavours of the jarred sauce into a cheese-ham-herb sauce, and used the combination of minced meat and leeks as a bottom layer, to create a lovely homemade potato and leek bake with cheese-ham-herb sauce. The only thing I do not cook from scratch are the potatoes, it spares a lot of time to use precooked potato slices and their quality is quite good. This dish is a real, comforty family meal. It is easy to prepare (also in larger quantities) and it uses ingredients that most people like. And it is hearty enough to sustain us during the gray, not too warm and rainy weather that reigns here in the Netherlands most of the time.

Potato and Leek Bake (serves 4)

400 gram mince (I use half beef, half pork)
1 onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 big leek, washed and sliced in thin rings
450 gram potatoes
olive oil
1 stock cube (beef or chicken)
¼ tsp mace
¼ tsp dried marjoram
½ tsp worcestershire sauce

Cheese-ham-herb sauce
50 gram butter
50 gram flour
450 ml milk
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
200 gram cheese (I use Dutch gouda)
2 tbsp herbs, chopped (I like a mixture of parsley and chives)
100 gram cooked ham, in cubes

Heat a large frying pan with some olive oil.
Brown the meat.
Add the onion and garlic, fry until soft.
Meanwhile, add the pepper, stock cube, mace, marjoram and worcestershire sauce.
Add the leek, fry until soft.
Pour the meat mixture in a large, ovenproof dish.
Layer the potatoes on top, spread them out so that there is a thin layer of potato everywhere.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
For the cheese sauce, place a pan over a low to medium heat and add the butter.
Once the butter is melted, stir in the flour.
Cook, stirring, for two minutes.
Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, until you have a smooth sauce.
Add the mustard, worcestershire sauce and cheese, then whisk until smooth.
Add the herbs and ham, stir until equally distributed.
Pour the sauce on top of the potatoes and spread it out.
Bake until the potatoes are soft and the sauce is golden on top.

Notes: If you cannot get precooked sliced potatoes, you can use potatoes that you peeled, sliced and precooked yourself. The 450 gram is determined by the package size of sliced precooked potatoes in the Netherlands (otherwise I would not use the potatoes that I did not use from the package). You can adapt this to your package size, or to how much potato you would normally use.

Honest Cooking: Dutch-Indonesian spekkoek

Spekkoek: delicious rich and spicy, and beautiful as well.


Spekkoek (also called spekuk, spiku or lapis legit) is a Dutch-Indonesian layered cake, consisting of cream coloured plain/vanilla layers and brown spiced layers. You can also find spekkoek in which the cream coloured layer is flavoured, for example with pandan, coffee, rum, or chocolate. The origin is not completely known, it may have been based on Dutch recipes made with Indonesian products, but could also be inspired on another European layer cake, Baumkuchen. It is a very rich and dense cake, containing lots of eggs, butter and sugar. That is why this cake is usually served in small slices, in the Netherlands often as a dessert (with coffee) after a rijsttafel. Sometimes slices of spekkoek are served with whipped cream.

Making spekkoek is quite labour intensive and costs time, which also makes it costly. A good spekkoek consists of at least 18 layers and the cake is build layer for layer, baking each one in the oven before another layer of batter is spread on top. This is a job in which patience is very important, if you hurry the layers will blend together, ruining the typical spekkoek look. Spekkoek literally means bacon cake, this is because the stripes of the cake resemble bacon.

Of course it is easy to buy a spekkoek, but I love to be able to prepare classics like this myself. Unfortunately, I have to gather some more patience before I bake another spekkoek…. mine had the looks of a zebra cake, but it was still very delicious!

Spekkoek (serves 20)

650 g butter, room temperature
18 egg yolks
9 egg whites
600 g sugar
2 bags of vanilla sugar (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
300 g flour
6 tsp cardamom powder
5 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tsp mace powder
2 tsp nutmeg powder
butter and flour for the form
butter for brushing

Cream the butter until light and fluffy.
Whisk the egg yolks and whites together with the sugar and vanilla sugar.
Add the flour, fold through gently.
Add the creamed butter, mix.
Divide the batter over two bowls. Add the spices to one, mix.
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Prepare a spring form with butter and flour.
Spoon ½ cup of the unspiced batter into the form and let it spread.
Bake 10 minutes in the preheated oven.
Spoon ½ cup of the spiced batter on top of the first layer and let it spread.
Bake 10 minutes.
Place after every 4 layers a piece of baking paper on top and use the round side of a spoon to rub the cake firmly. Remove the baking paper and brush the cake with a little butter.
Repeat this until both the batters are finished.
Leave to cool in the form. Spekkoek can be stored at least a week when wrapped securely. To serve, cut thin slices and serve with coffee, or with some whipped cream as a dessert.

Honest Cooking: Dutch Mille-Feuille

This pastry consisting of puff pastry, pastry cream and coloured icing is fun to make and delicious to eat.

This pastry is known all over the world under different names, but when it is orange you know for sure it is Dutch.

Last year I already explained the orange fever the Netherlands go in with Queen’s day. This includes the habit of turning foods orange as well. These mille-feuilles normally have a pink glaze on top, but with Queen’s day they are only available in orange. This year the orange fever in the Netherlands is even bigger than normal, because of a very special event. On 28 January 2013, our Queen Beatrix announced that she will abdicate on 30 April 2013 (Queen’s day), in favour of her eldest son Willem-Alexander, the heir apparent to the throne. For this big day, Queen’s day is called crowning day and from next year onwards it will become King’s day.

The Dutch mille-feuille consists of 2 layers rectangular puff pastry, filled with sweet, yellow vanilla-pastry cream and a thin layer of pink icing (orange with Queen’s day or when the Dutch national football team plays) on the top layer of puff pastry. Sometimes the whole is topped with a stripe of whipped cream, but this is not very common. They are usually served with tea or coffee.

The mille-feuille, also known as napoleon or custard slice, is called tompoes (literally tomcat) in the Netherlands. The story goes that it was inspired on the show of midget General Tom Thumb who traveled with an American circus through the whole of Europe. In one of his acts he impersonated Napoleon. Later on there was a Dutch midget doing shows under the name Admiral Tom Pouce. Both Tom Thumb and Tom Pouce refer to a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm. But how this caused the tompoes to be called tompoes is not clear.

Eating a mille-feuille can be quite complicated. Usually they are served on a small plate with a small fork, but the brittle pastry makes it impossible to take off a piece in a dignified way, especially because the plate and the fork are so very small that you cannot maneuver at all. When you try to take a bit off anyway in this way, the pastry cream splatters out at the opposite side, all over the edge of the plate, so you have to react fast to not let it ooze onto the ground. And because of the force you need to get through the pastry, you will launch the bit of pastry (now without any cream because of the oozing problem) you eventually got of with your too small fork from your too small plate on the floor, or worse, onto someone else. There are a few ways to prevent this disastrous mess. The first one is using a large plate, a large fork and preferably a knife too. In this way you have room to maneuver, the fork is big enough to get through the whole pastry and you can use the knife to stabilize the whole thing, preventing it from falling onto the floor. Another way is to only buy mini-mille-feuilles, these are one mouthful so chopping bits of is not necessary. But sometimes you are faced with the small plate and fork with a big mille-feuille…. then there is only one solution. Take the frosted top layer off the pastry and hold it one hand, with the bottom half in the other and then take sequential bites, one from the top and then one from the bottom. Or eat the top first and then the bottom (this is convenient when you have to hold the plate too). Not very dignified, but at least the mille-feuille will not be all over the place.

Dutch Mille-Feuille (serves 6)
Lovely crisp puff pastry filled with a rich vanilla pastry cream and topped with orange icing.

250 gram puff pastry
2 egg yolks
50 gram sugar
1 bag (8 gram) vanilla sugar, or a few drops vanilla extract
30 gram flour
250 ml milk
3 leaves of gelatin
½ egg white
150 gram icing sugar
1 tbsp rum
orange or pink food colouring

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Roll out the puff pastry to a rectangular sheet of 20×30 cm.
Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and use a fork to prick the pastry. This will prevent the pastry from rising too much.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked.
Slice the puff pastry into two rectangles of 10×15 cm. Set aside to cool.
Soak the gelatin in cold water.
Whip the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla sugar together until it is light and creamy, and runs as a thick ribbon from the mixer.
Add the flour, stir until smooth.
Bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan and add in a thin stream to the egg yolk mixture, while stirring.
Pour back into the saucepan and bring slowly to the boil while stirring. Keep stirring and boil carefully for about 5 minutes on low heat.
Pour the pastry cream in a bowl, add the gelatin and mix well.
Leave to cool.
Mix the egg white and icing sugar together until thick and shiny.
Add the rum and food colouring, mix well.
Spread the pastry cream over one of the puff pastry rectangles.
Turn the other rectangle upside down, so the bobbly side is down and the flat side is up. Spread over the icing.
Place the rectangle with icing on top of the rectangle with pastry cream.
Use a sharp knife to slice the sides off, to make them straight.
Carefully slice the strip in 6 even pieces.
Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

Notes: You can pipe the pastry cream on top of the pastry for a neater finish.

Honest Cooking: Dutch Currant Buns

Versatile and delicious sweet buns filled with currants, perfect for Easter, but also very nice in lunchboxes.

These buns are very popular in the Netherlands and easy to make at home.

Currant buns (krentenbollen) are available almost anywhere in the Netherlands, everyone knows them and almost everybody loves them. They are soft buns/rolls made from enriched yeast dough and filled with currants and raisins. They perfectly fit into Dutch practicality: you can take currant buns with you, they are not messy to eat on the go, they don’t need anything on them (although some people do eat them with butter or Dutch cheese) and they are sweet but not too sweet (which would make them unhealthy and thus not suitable for breakfast and lunch).

Nowadays currant buns are almost always made with a mixture of raisins and currants, which technically makes them raisin-currant buns. This is also what they print on the back of the bags of currant buns you buy in the supermarket, but everyone just keeps calling them currant bun (krentenbol). Supermarket buns are not that tasty, as with all the supermarket bread, because they use all kinds of things to make the buns cheap and have a longer shelf life. Bakery buns can be very tasty, often, they are made with real butter and all, but tend to be quite expensive, and the thing I really don’t like: they are very big. That is why I made my homemade buns nice and small, the perfect snack size. I was very pleased to find out that making them is very easy, and they freeze very well (though I haven’t tried it yet myself) so you can make a big batch and freeze them. And they taste like store-bought buns, but better. They have more flavor, are a little bit denser (which improves the texture and makes them a bit more substantial) and have a delicious crust. So go and make these! They are perfect as easy take-with-you snacks, but are luxurious enough to serve at the weekend breakfast!

Dutch Currant Buns (serves 12)
These sweet buns are perfect as a snack, but also delicious for breakfast or lunch, and luxurious enough for a weekend brunch!

250 ml milk
500 g flour (strong white flour works best)
75 g sugar
1 tsp salt
7g sachet yeast
50 g butter, soft but not molten
1 egg
75 g raisins
50 g currants
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Optional: zest of 1 lemon, 1 orange or a mixture of both

Warm the milk to hand temperature.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, butter and egg together in a bowl, then slowly add the warmed milk until it forms a soft, sticky dough.
Tip the dough out of the bowl onto a surface, kneed for about 5 minutes.
Add the sultanas, currants, cinnamon and zest (when you use it), then kneed for another 5 minutes.
Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for approximately one hour, or until doubled in size.
Divide the dough into 12 even pieces, and roll each piece into a smooth ball. Use your hand as a cage, pressing down the dough a little. In this way, the raisins and currants on the surface of the dough get covered by a thin layer of dough, which prevents burning.
Arrange the buns on a baking tray lined with parchment, leaving enough space so that the buns just touch when they rise and expand. Set aside to prove for another hour.
Heat the oven to 220C.
Bake for 20-25 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven. Cover with aluminum foil when they brown too fast.
Leave to cool slightly before trying one. Serve warm or at room temp.

Notes: Serve plain, with butter (and sugar), or with Dutch cheese.

Honest Cooking: Satay with Peanut sauce

A new post on Honest Cooking: delicious fragrant and spicy grilled meat skewers topped with peanut sauce.

A Dutch-Indonesian fusion dish made with delicious marinated pork and a sweet and spicy peanut sauce.

The original Indonesian satay (also sate or sateh) consists of seasoned or marinated cubes or strips of meat on a bamboo skewer, grilled and served with a sauce. Nowadays it is also very popular in other (Southeast) Asian countries and abroad, and is made with about anything that can be cooked on a stick: chicken, goat, beef, pork, mutton, fish, prawns, squid, minced meat, liver, tofu and even vegetables, with different seasonings and marinades (often regional varieties) and different sauces. Side dishes are white rice (nasi putih), cubes of sticky rice (lontong) or rice steamed in woven palm leaf pouches (ketupat), and cucumber, raw onion or cucumber pickle (atjar ketimoen).

The Dutch variation on satay is quite similar to Indonesian satay: the seasonings are quite similar to basic Indonesian ones, pork or chicken is used, only the sauce and sides are different. Satay sauce in the Netherland refers to a quite thick, sweet and spicy peanut sauce, while Indonesian satay can also have kecap (Indonesian soy sauce) based and sambal based sauces. Satay with peanut sauce, french fries, baguette and a salad is a popular dish in simple restaurants (eetcafé’s, literally eating pubs) and other places where they serve simple food; satay with peanut sauce, krupuk and rice is a popular take-away dish at Chinese restaurants (Chinese restaurants usually also serve a selection of Indonesian dishes). And in the freezer section of the supermarket all kinds of ready made (pork, chicken, sweet, spicy) satay in peanut sauce are available (usually promoted as snack food).

The recipe below gives a delicious and fragrant marinade for pork satay, although it would also work for other kinds of meat. Traditionally, sateh is grilled on the BBQ or even over an open fire, but that is not always possible. An alternative is to grill them in the oven, but I prefer to bake the satay in a frying pan, as it gives the best result for me. And usually I don’t bother to fuss with the skewers, if you’re not grilling the satay anyway they will taste delicious with or without sticks. Not having to skewer the meat spares a lot of time. The satay sauce below is very Dutch. I usually accompany this dish either with a simple nasi goreng (without any meat in it), or with white rice, krupuk and atjar.

Satay with Peanut Sauce (serves 2-3)

300 g pork loin or fillet
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 kemirinuts (candlenuts)
1 small red chili
¼ tsp trassi
½ tsp ground coriander seeds (ketoembar)
½ tsp turmeric (koenjit)
¼ tsp galangal (laos)
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp boiling water
small cube of creamed coconut (santen)
juice of ½ a lemon

Peanut sauce
100 ml water
100 g peanut butter (all natural, not sweetened)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce)
pinch of ground ginger

Chop the onion and the garlic. Place in a mortar and pestle, and grind into a paste. Transfer to a bowl. You can do this in a small food processor, but I think it is more fun to do it by hand.
Place the kemirinuts and chili in the mortar and pestle, grind into a paste and transfer to the bowl.
Dissolve the creamed coconut in the boiling water and add to the bowl.
Add all the other ingredients for the satay into the bowl, except the meat. Mix well.
Slice the pork into strips or cubes, add to the bowl and mix well with the marinade. Cover and leave to marinate for 2 hours. The marinade is very fragrant, so make sure you cover the bowl very, very well before you place the bowl in the fridge, otherwise your fridge and everything in it will smell like satay.
Make the satay sauce. Place everything together in a small pan and warm on low heat until the peanut butter has dissolved and the sauce is slightly thickened. Stir regularly to prevent sticking/burning.
Cook the satay. Skewer the meat if you want to.
Heat a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Place the pieces of meat or the skewers in the pan together with the marinade, cooking on medium heat until slightly brown and cooked through. Cooking on high heat will burn the marinade.
Serve with the peanut sauce and the cooked marinade.

Notes: In the Netherlands you can buy kemirienut paste at the toko or the Asian supermarket. If you can’t find it, use 2 tablespoons of cashew nuts. Trassi (or belacan) is fermented shrimp paste. The smell is disgusting, but it works like anchovies in some European dishes, you can’t taste or smell the yuckiness after cooking the dish. If you can’t find it (it should be available in Asian supermarkets), just leave it out. If you can’t find palm sugar (it should be available in Asian supermarkets), substitute with (dark) brown sugar. If you can’t find kecap manis (it should be available in Asian supermarkets), substitute with Chinese soy sauce (not Japanese!!) and a teaspoon palm sugar, brown sugar or treacle.

Honest Cooking: The Dutch Bread lunch

In my new post on Honest Cooking I write about the Dutch lunch and give recipes for two lovely lunch dishes: uitsmijter (2 slices of bread, one with ham, one with cheese and topped with fried eggs) and tosti (grilled ham and cheese sandwich).

Bread plays a very important role in Dutch cuisine.

There are a few possibilities for the Dutch lunch. Most people eat sandwiches: slices of bread spread with a little margarine and filled with sweet or savory ingredients, made at home and taken to school or work in a bread box or sandwich bag. Whole grain bread slices (in many different varieties) are the most common, but some people prefer to have white bread, and soft buns (white, brown, with raisins or with muesli) are eaten as well. Probably the most common filling is the famous Dutch cheese, but cold cuts (cooked ham, raw ham, several varieties of salami, several varieties of sausages, etc) and sweet fillings (jam, peanut butter, chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), chocolate/hazelnut paste, apple syrup) are also very common. Dutch sandwiches are generally filled thinly, for example a few thin slices of cold cuts or cheese (made with a cheese slicer) or a thin layer of a sweet filling. Occasionally people will add some lettuce leaves or slices of tomato or cucumber to their savory sandwich. People will drink milk or another milk product like buttermilk, chocolate milk or drinking yogurt (with fruit flavor). Coffee, tea, juice or an instant soup are also possibilities. Sometimes people also eat some fruit or yogurt at lunch.

Another reason why people often take food from home is the availability elsewhere. The typical lunch-break isn’t long enough to go out for lunch, and many canteens don’t offer a complete meal. But some bigger companies have a canteen that does serve more. Even then, some people take bread with them from home and just eat that or buy something extra like a soup or a salad, other people buy their complete lunch. Typical warm lunch dishes are 2 slices of bread with butter, mustard and meat croquettes (broodje kroket), a grilled ham and cheese sandwich (tosti) and 2 slices of bread, one with ham, one with cheese and topped with fried eggs (uitsmijter). Sometimes a small salad is served on the side. All kinds of sandwiches are available as well.

The typical Dutch lunch-break is around noon and takes about 30 minutes, which makes extensive meals impossible. At more official or more festive moments there is more time, so more things are possible. Only at very special occasions a hot lunch is served, otherwise a lunch buffet is common. This can be a simple buffet with an assortment of pre-filled sandwiches, milk, buttermilk and fruit, but can be a lot more extensive. In that case, it becomes a koffietafel (literally: coffee table). A soup is served as appetizer, after that several kinds of bread are served with butter, several kinds of savory (cheese, cold cuts, fish) and sweet fillings (traditionally jam and honey), together with a salad (Russian salad, salmon salad) and a simple hot dish (veal croquette, vol-au-vent with ragout). As a dessert an assortment of fruits is given. To drink there is coffee and milk, and often also tea, buttermilk and juice.

Tosti and Uitsmijter (serves 1)
Two lovely and satisfying lunch dishes.

2 slices of bread
1 slice of cooked ham
a few slices of cheese
a knob of butter

2 slices of bread
1 slice of cooked ham
1 slice of cheese
2 eggs
salt and pepper
knob of butter

Heat a non-stick frying pan on low heat.
Take one slice of bread, layer thinly with cheese, place the slice of ham on top and cover with another layer of cheese. By sandwiching the ham between cheese, the whole tosti will stick together better. Top of with the second slice of bread.
Melt half of the butter in the frying pan. Place the sandwich on top. Fry on low heat until brown and crisp.
Flip over the tosti, place the other half of the butter under it and fry on low heat until this side is also brown and crisp.
Serve immediately.

Melt the butter in a frying pan on low heat.
Break the eggs into the pan, season with salt and pepper and fry on low heat until the white is cooked and the yolk is still runny.
Meanwhile, layer the ham on one slice of bread and the cheese on the other.
Place the eggs on top of the bread. Serve immediately.

Notes: Different kinds of bread can be used (whole-grain, white, sandwich, artisan). Just use the kind you like or which you have available. I use Dutch gouda cheese for both recipes. You can substitute this with another semi-hard cheese with good melting properties and a mild flavor profile. Instead of ham, other cold cuts or fried slices of bacon can be used. Additional herbs and spices can be used to season the eggs. I like to use paprika powder and garlic powder, or a Provençal herb mix.

Honest Cooking: The Dutch Snackbar

Check my story on Honest Cooking about the Dutch snackbar; this unique take-away restaurant concept can only be found in the Netherlands.

Even though more and more foreign cuisine take-aways arise, the snackbar ever keeps popular. Snackbar food is certainly no haute cuisine, but is perfect if you’re in a lazy mood and fancy a guilty pleasure. Most snackbars offer tables and chairs to sit and eat your food, but most people just take it with them and eat it at home, since the establishments usually lack atmosphere. Snackbars are everywhere: most villages have a one, the larger train stations have one and mobile snackbar trucks are present at all kind of events (or post themselves at strategic places). Some snackbars, usually those on busy spots, have a wall with hatches that go open to take out a snack when you throw money in, hence the Dutch expression ‘eating out of the wall’. There are about 5000 snackbars in the Netherlands, this is without even counting the mobile snackbar trucks. To illustrate: I live in a larger city and have 2 snackbars at walking distance and a dozen more at biking distance, while there are far less foreign cuisine take-aways in the neighborhood. People really can’t go without a snackbar: some Dutch campings abroad import Dutch snacks so that people can eat their beloved take-away even when they are on their holidays. A small note: snackbars can be found in Belgium as well, but usually they don’t have the extensive selection of fried snacks that Dutch snackbar do have.

But what exactly can you buy at a snackbar? Actually, quite a lot: French fries, deep fried snacks, sauces, but also ice-cream and drinks (soda and beer, sometimes wine). And some larger snackbars also sell seasonal dishes, like pea soup and stamppot in winter.

French fries (friet, patat) come in different varieties. The variety that is present the most is shown on the picture. There are thinner fries, but usually they are not sold at the snackbar. Thicker fries (Flemish fries) are usually only available in snackbars in the southern part of The Netherlands, because it is a Belgian regional specialty that has blown over. Some snackbars have raspatat, fries from a paste made with potato powder and water that is pressed through a machine to form fries, and then fried in a deep-fat fryer.

You can eat fries with many different sauces, the most common is mayonnaise. Another very common sauce is frietsauce, this is a really unique sauce and only exists in the Netherlands. It is very similar to mayonnaise, but at the same time it’s very different. The difference in taste and feeling is hard to describe; it is sweeter and more sour, and only contains 25% fat, which changes the texture. French fries with mayonnaise or frietsauce is usually called ‘friet met’ (fries with), and often mayonnaise and frietsauce are interchangeable, so when you ask for mayonnaise it can be that you actually get frietsauce. Other sauces are curry ketchup (spiced ketchup), satay sauce and Joppie sauce (the exact recipe is secret, but it is basically frietsauce with onion, sweetener and curry powder). And then there are the combinations of sauces. ‘Speciaal’ (special) is a combination of mayonnaise, curry ketchup or normal ketchup and raw onions. And ‘oorlog’ (war) I know as a combination of satay sauce, mayonnaise and raw onions (without the onions this is called ‘flip’ in some parts of the Netherlands) or a combination of satay sauce, mayonnaise, curry ketchup or normal ketchup or raw onions… and there are some other local varieties. Ketchup and mustard are generally not eaten with French fries.

And when you’re finished with deciding which sauce you want with your French fries, you still need to choose your deep-fried snack. If you would walk into a snackbar today, you would find a list like this: kroket, goulashkroket, satékroket, bitterballen, frikandel, mexicano/carrero, pikanto, berenhap, kaassoufflé, kipcorn, kipknots, kipnuggets, sitostick/kikastick, zeestick, fishcorn, eierbal, bamischijf, nasischijf, loempia…. and maybe some more of which I don’t even know what they are.

Deep-fried snacks (left to right, top to bottom): kroket, bitterballen, frikandel, mexicano/carrero, pikanto, berenhap, kaassoufflé, kipcorn, kipknots, kipnuggets, sitostick/kikastick, zeestick, fishcorn, eierbal, bamischijf and nasischijf, loempia.

Deep-fried snacks (left to right, top to bottom): kroket, bitterballen, frikandel, mexicano/carrero, pikanto, berenhap, kaassoufflé, kipcorn, kipknots, kipnuggets, sitostick/kikastick, zeestick, fishcorn, eierbal, bamischijf and nasischijf, loempia.

Kroketten (croquettes) are probably the most well-known abroad and are one of the most popular snacks in the Netherlands. They consists of a thick meat ragout rolled into cylinders that are coated with dried breadcrumbs and then deep-fried. The more luxurious versions are made with only beef (rundvleeskroket) or veal (kalfskroket). Bitterballen are very similar to kroketten, they are small and round instead of bigger and cylindrical but the filling is the same. Bitterballen are often served on parties as a warm snack with mustard to dip them in. Kroketten are also eaten with mustard. Kroketten are also a popular lunch dish, served on slices of bread or a bun. Alternatively, kroketten are filled with goulash (goulashkroket) or with meat and satay sauce (satékroket). Kroketten filled with vegetables or with cheese are less popular in the Netherlands. The deep-fried potato puree dish that is commonly called croquettes abroad, is also available in the Netherlands. We just call them aardappelkroket (potato croquette) instead of vleeskroket (meatkroket). In the future I will prepare my own meat croquettes, but it is quite a labour-intensive project, so I think those deserve their own post.

The other very popular snack in the Netherlands is the frikandel. It is a long, skinless, dark-coloured meat sausage that is deep-fried and eaten hot. It is made from waste meat (pork and chicken, sometimes horse), binding agents and herbs. Frikandellen are often served ‘speciaal’, just as the sauce option mentioned above. The mexicano, carrero and pikanto are spicy variations on the frikandel, made in another shape. A berenhap (literally bear snap) is a sliced meatball skewered on a stick with thick slices of onion in between, and then deep-fried. The meatball is not really like how you would make it at home, but more like frikandel meat.

Kaassoufflé literally means cheese soufflé, so logically you would expect a souffleed snack with cheese, but this is not the case. A kaassoufflé consists of cheese (often this is partially gouda and partially fake cheese) wrapped in dough and then coated in dry breadcrumbs. They are usually rectangular or half-moon shaped and are deep-fried, just like all the snacks. This makes the cheese in the middle very hot, liquid and prone to accumulate in one side of the kaassoufflé, so eating with care is advised to prevent mouth-burns. This is (as far as I know) the only truly vegetarian snack option, unless you get the variant which also contains cooked ham. It is usually eaten on its own, but some people eat it with sweet chili sauce, mustard or joppiesauce.
Then the less commonly eaten (but still widely available) snacks. The kipcorn, kipknots, kipnuggets and sitostick/kikastick are all chicken-based deep-fried snacks, but have different shapes. People usually eat them with sweet chilli sauce, because the processed chicken meat is quite bland. Both the zeestick (seastick) and the fishcorn are fish-based. The eierbal (eggball) is basically a scotch egg, but instead of using meat to surround the hard boiled egg, ragout is used. It is a regional specialty in the northern and eastern part of the Netherlands. The bamischijf and nasischijf contain bami goreng and nasi goreng, are breaded and then deep-fried, which give them a crunchy outside. There are variations on their names, depending on which form they have, for example disks (schijf) or rectangles (blok, hap).

Buying French fries and snacks at the snackbar is not the only way. Many people have a deep-fat fryer at home, which they use to fry everything themselves. The assortment of French fries is actually larger at the supermarket than at the snackbar, you can buy the thinner and the thicker fries as well, and there are alternatives like fries with extra crunch and crinkled varieties, all in the freezer. All the sauces are available at the supermarket as well. The supermarket assortment of snacks (also frozen) is much smaller, a lot of the less common snacks you can only get at the snackbar; but the supermarket does have party packs with snack minis that are perfect to serve at parties, or for people like me that like a little bit of everything.

Another common thing that is eaten together with French fries and snacks is apple sauce. It refreshes your mouth and quenches your thirst, both very relevant since snackbar food is quite fatty and salty. And it also serves as the vegetables in the dish. Most people just buy a jar of apple sauce at the supermarket, but I think those are quite bland, so I make my own. People always talk about cooking apples versus eating apples, but in the end you can cook all apples to make apple sauce. The real eating apples just take a bit longer to cook, because they are firmer. But I generally use all-round apples like Elstar and Jonagold, because those are grown in the Netherlands, have an excellent flavour in most dishes and also are tasty to eat on their own. Best of all, they are usually the cheapest apples available too.

Apple sauce (serves 4-6)
Fresh, sweet and slightly tart apple sauce, perfect as side-dish, but also as dessert or as filling for baked goods.

1 kg apples
100 g sugar
Optional: cinnamon; lemon juice/peel; vanilla

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut them in chunks.
Pour a small layer of water in a pan, place the apples on top (when using lemon peel, add this now).
Bring to the boil.
Cover the pot and lower the heat.
Cook 10 minutes, or until soft.
Stir in the sugar and optional ingredients.
Leave to cool and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Notes: The amount of sugar depends on the type of apples you use. The amount given is for tart apples and gives a quite sweet apple sauce. If you like it less sweet, or you have sweeter apples, use less. You can make the apple sauce either smooth, by cooking it until all the apples disintegrate or by pushing it through a sieve, or chunky by cooking it not too long and just stir it to break it up a little.

Honest Cooking: Hachee – Dutch beef stew

This delicious traditional stew delivers a satisfying meal after making your house smell scrumptious the whole afternoon. Your neighbours will be jealous!

Hachee has been around since the middle ages. It was originally invented to use up all kinds of leftover (already cooked) meat and vegetables, with an acid (usually vinegar) added to tenderize everything. It is mentioned often as a banquet dish, but the exact recipe was never documented. Later on people started to use cheap beef cuts, only suitable for eating after cooking them a long time and tenderizing them with an acid, and cheap vegetables like onion. With great results: super-tender meat, a thick and rich sauce (the onion adds both sweetness and binding) and a mellow warmth from the spice… and therefore, hachee is still a much loved dish which is eaten a lot. People like it so much that there are ready-made varieties available for the people that don’t have time or don’t like slow-cooking. But for me nothing beats the real thing, making it at home following the traditional method. The actual time involved is very little, and while doing other things, I can enjoy the delicious smell. Hachee is traditionally eaten with potato puree, but serving it with plain cooked rice also works very well. Braised red cabbage with sour apples is usually served on the side. I’m not a big fan of red cabbage, so I serve my hachee usually with Brussel sprouts.

Some people like to jazz up hachee and give it an extra something, so they add for example ontbijtkoek (Dutch spiced breakfast cake), beer, mustard, appelstroop (apple syrup/dark apple butter), speculaas spices (similar to pumpkin spices), sambal (a spicy Indonesian red pepper paste) or red wine. A lot of these additions originate from regional varieties of hachee, depending on what was available in the region.

Hachee (like most stews) freezes well, so double up the recipe, freeze halve and enjoy the second portion another day, when you don’t have the time to cook a slow dish.

Hachee – Dutch Beef Stew (serves 4)
Satisfying, rich, warming beef stew, a Dutch classic.

50 g butter
600 g beef (suitable for stewing), cubed
3 large onions, chopped
2 tbsp flour
1 beef stock cube
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 bay leaves
4 cloves
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven.
Add the beef, brown well.
Take out the beef, set aside.
Add the onions to the remaining fat, cook until translucent and slightly browned.
Add the beef back in, mix with the onions.
Sprinkle over the flour, cook 1-2 minutes on low heat, stirring regularly.
Add warm water until the beef is barely covered.
Add the stock cube, red wine vinegar, bay leaves and cloves.
Cover, simmer on a low heat for at least 3 hours. If you like a thick sauce, take of the lid for the last 30 minutes to evaporate some of the moisture of the sauce.
Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve with potato puree or rice.

Notes: Originally white vinegar was used, but I find that this gives a harsh flavour to the dish. Red wine vinegar is has a much more rounded flavour. Alternatively, white wine vinegar or other vinegars with a well-rounded flavour can be used.