Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Hearty Vegetables"

Years ago, when I was trying to learn a bit of Dutch, I signed off a short note to a relative in the Netherlands with the misspelled phrase, “Hartlijke groenten” instead of “groeten.” I’m sure he was quite amused by my wishing him “hearty vegetables” rather than “cordial greetings.”

Orthographic bloopers notwithstanding, I have found quite a few recipes for hearty vegetable dishes in Grandma VandenBergh’s old Dutchcookbook. This week I’d like to share a few that readers may recall from earlier posts.

Being a country in the northern hemisphere between 50 and 54 degrees north latitude, the climate of the Netherlands is conducive to growing root vegetables and tubers. The carrots and potatoes that constitute the traditional Dutch dish of hutspot or stampot are certainly hearty vegetables whether combined in a ragout or prepared and served on their own.

In EenvoudigeBerekende Recepten, author Martine Wittop Konig divides the chapter on vegetables into six categories. She notes that boiling is the most common way to cook vegetables, but in that case you should take care not to cook them longer than necessary (and don’t use too much water!), so that you can use the leftover water in a sauce for the vegetables. If you simmer the vegetables slowly, you can also use the leftover broth the next day as a base for making vegetable soup.

Wittoop Konig also suggests steaming vegetables in what she calls a “Vingerhoets’ stoompan,” literally a thimble steam pan. This method will also help preserve the vitamins and nutrients in the vegetables. Steaming is my preferred method; I use my “thimble steam pan” at least once a week.

Here then are some examples of each type of vegetable covered in the chapter on vegetables:

Legumes (peulvruchten)

This category includes brown beans, white beans, and split peas. I have used both brown and white beans to make soups from the Dutch cookbook. 

White Bean and Leek soup

Stalk and root vegetables (stengel- en worteldeelen)

These include carrots, beets, and asparagus. I've tried several recipes for carrots and Dutch-style white asparagus.

Worteltjes - Baby Carrots

Asperges - White asparagus

Cabbages (koolsoorten)

Who doesn't know American-style coleslaw, which is really Dutch kool sla, meaning "cabbage salad"? I've tried recipes for cauliflower (bloemkool) and Brussels sprouts (spruitjes).

Bloemkool au gratin - Cauliflower au gratin

Spruitjes - Brussels sprouts

Leafy green vegetables (bladgroenten)

These include spinach (spinazie)and endive (andijvie).

Potatoes and endive for stampot met andijvie

Young legumes (jonge peulvruchten)

Green beans fall into this category (snijboonen).

Snijbonen met aardappelen en rookworst

Aromatic vegetables” (aromatische groenten)

This is the shortest section in the chapter on vegetables. Here we find a recipe for cucumber salad (komkommersla).  As you might imagine, this is a tasty and nourishing recipe for those of us trying to watch our weight.

Cucumber and egg salad

With such a variety of hearty and nourishing recipes, we have no excuse not to eat our veggies.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal, whatever vegetable you choose to prepare today.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Spices They Used

Grandma Minnie's recipe for Molasses Drop Cake calls for a cup each of molasses, sugar, melted lard, hot water; also flour, baking soda, an egg, and "spices." What spices, specifically?

Similarly, her recipe for Applesauce Cake also calls for "spices."

When I open her spice cupboard, even all these years later, I still inhale the aroma of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

Here is a list of all the herbs and spices I found in the old kitchen cupboard, some still in glass jars with Minnie's handwritten labels:

- allspice
- anise seed
- cinnamon (whole stick and ground)
- caraway seed (also labeled "Kummel")
- cloves (whole and ground)
- cumin
- fennel seeds
- ginger
- mace (from Java)
- marjoram
- pepper
- savory
- sesame seeds
- tarragon
- thyme
- vanilla bean (from John Wagner & Sons, established 1847, "since the days of the clipper ships")

When I tried making the applesauce cake, I used 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon allspice, but you can probably experiment with using either of those, with either ginger or cloves as well:

Grandma Minnie's Applesauce Cake

Although Dutch cuisine is often considered somewhat bland, quite a few of Grandma VandenBergh's recipes call for curry, nutmeg, mace, or cloves. These bring to mind the Spice Islands (now the Maluku Province of Indonesia), where the Dutch East India Company tried to impose a monopoly on the spice trade in the 17th century. The Dutch apple cake I learned to make from my mother is redolent with cinnamon, as are the oliebollen which are a traditional Dutch treat for New Year's:


And when I have made Grandma VandenBergh's curry and bean soup on a chilly winter afternoon, the aroma warms the whole kitchen.

It is interesting to speculate whether my grandmothers ever shared recipes. I haven't found any evidence of that, but they did apparently like to use some of the same spices. Grandma Minnie's cuisine was influenced by the Palatine Germans who settled in the Mohawk Valley, but who knows, maybe some of her cake recipes with spices originating in the Spice Islands date back to Dutch traditions as well.