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"Around the World with Virginia C"--A Taste of the Netherlands--Gorgeous!

Sunday, November 20, 2011Around the World with Virginia Campbell



The Netherlands is a small country nestled between Belgium and Germany on the North Sea Coast. Over half of the landmass is below sea level which necessitates the need for the historic Dutch levees and dykes to hold the encroaching water at bay. The national government comprises three main institutions: the Monarch, the Council of Ministers, and the States General (parliament). There also are local governments. The Dutch are primarily of Germanic stock with some Gallo-Celtic mixture. Their homeland frequently has been threatened with destruction by the North Sea and has often been invaded by the great European powers. Julius Caesar found the region which is now the Netherlands inhabited by Germanic tribes in the first century B.C. The capital city is Amsterdam, located in the province of North Holland. Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands.

Classic Dutch houses in Zaans Schans, a popular tourist destination just 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam

Traditional Dutch cuisine may be simple, wholesome and hearty, but the variety of food on offer in Amsterdam is huge and influenced by culinary styles from across the globe. The Netherlands was once a major colonial power and its trading ships brought back exotic ingredients, ideas and people from former colonies to settle. Dutch chefs branched out and tried new flavors, and as such, "fusion" food has long been a feature of Amsterdam's menus. From its street-corner fish-stalls to its cafés and top-flight gourmet restaurants, eating out in Amsterdam can be full of surprises. Over 50 national cuisines are represented, offering a sometimes bewildering variety of choice and good value for money. The heaviest influences are due to historic ties to France and Indonesia. The quality varies, and the range of foods on offer is vast, from Vietnamese to Lebanese, Thai to Greek, Indian to Turkish, Moroccan to Japanese. Indeed, it is difficult to find a country whose cuisine is not represented by some restaurant in the Netherlands. There is also an infinite variety in the range of food, contents, presentation and price. The majority of ethnic restaurants are situated in larger towns and cities, but even in the countryside their numbers are steadily increasing.


With agriculture taking precedence, many of the traditional Dutch dishes include lots of vegetables as opposed to meat, and draw heavily on dairy products. The locals practice fishing and farming, producing their own crops and keeping domesticated animals. It is for this reason that the vegetarian count in the country is very high. Holland produces the most well known cuisine from the country. The most famous product is the Hollandse nieuwe (soused herring) which is caught on the coast and served with onions. Mussels are also popular. A lot of cheese is made here, with the most prominent being Gouda, Edam and Leerdammer. Fresh seafood, including mussels and shrimps, is a speciality. Zeeuwse bolus, a sweet bread covered with caramelized sugar and spices such as cinnamon is also greatly enjoyed.

Windmills are said to have existed in Holland from about 1200. Manpower or horse-power was insufficient, just as for the pumping of the polders and the drainage of the lakes; rivers or brooks with a fall sufficient to supply the requisite power for industrial purposes by the use of a water-wheel did not exist in Holland. The only natural source of power available in these regions to an abundant degree was the wind. This natural form of energy, which was freely available every day, was utilized by the inhabitants on a huge scale; because of this, the construction of windmills was raised to a high degree of mechanical perfection.

The typical Dutch menu offers good, solid fare. Pork, hams and all kinds of sausages are popular, while the North Sea provides plenty of fresh fish, especially cod, herring and mackerel, as well as its own variety of tiny brown shrimps. Leafy green vegetables, such as cabbage, endive (chicory) and curly kale make regular appearances, frequently mashed with the ubiquitous potato. Sauerkraut arrived from Germany long ago and is now considered a native dish. The world famous Gouda and Edam cheeses are sold at various stages of maturity, and with flavorings such as cloves, cumin or herbs.

Surprisingly, the Netherlands was not the first place to grow the tulip. As early as 1,000 AD, the Turks were cultivating tulips; their source was the mountainous region of central Asia that borders Russia and China. Many believe the flower was named for its resemblance to turbans worn in the Middle East. “Turban” in Latin becomes “tulipa.” Dutch tulip history began in 1593 when botanist Carolus Clusius discovered tulips growing in Vienna, and began cultivating them in the Netherlands. A group of “enterprising” Dutchmen stole a portion of Clusius’ collection and cultivated the seeds for sale. Initially, the tulip was a rarity only the very wealthy could afford. By 1624 the price of one Rembrandt-type tulip reached the equivalent of $1,500. The time between 1634 and 1637, commonly known as “Tulipmania,” is often compared to the Stock Market surge of the 1920’s. In 1637, tulip trading crashed, leaving many of the rich instantly impoverished. Despite these challenges, the Dutch have managed to maintain a commercial devotion to the tulip. Today the Netherlands produces three billion tulip bulbs each year, two billion of which are exported. The U.S. is the top importer of tulip bulbs.

Old Delftware , was made as early as the 16th century. It was originally a low-fired earthenware, that was coated in a very thin opaque tin glaze with painted on blue or polychrome design. It was in the last half of the 19th century that the Delftware became commonly referred to as Delft. It acquired its name from the Dutch village of the same name, where it was being widely produced.

Wooden shoes have been popular in the Netherlands for about 700 years. Wooden shoe wearers claim the shoes are warm in winter, cool in summer and provide support for good posture. The wood also absorbs perspiration so that the foot can breathe. Wooden shoes, as icons of Dutch culture, appear in customs such as the practice of young Dutch men presenting their fiancees with a pair of carved wooden shoes.

Dutch chocolate is actually the name for a process known as "dutching," which is the removal of cocoa butter from cocoa beans. A Dutch chocolatier named Conrad J. Van Houten actually created a hydraulic machine in 1828 called the cocoa press that made the process easier, hence the term "dutching" and the name, Dutch chocolate. Part of the process of dutching is that after the cocoa butter is removed from the beans, it's treated with an alkalizing agent to give it a more mild flavor and change the color. (Extreme alkalizing products can effect the color of the cocoa so much that it can even appear to be black.) Dutch chocolate forms the basis for a lot of chocolate candy, ice cream, and baking cocoa. In addition, the alkalizing agent makes it easier to disperse in milk and other drinks.

Dutch cuisine has long been recognized for its bread and cheese, with the Netherlands renowned for their dairy produce. Some of the most famous cheeses are Edam and Leyden, which blend herbs and spices to create their strong yet distinctive flavors. Sugarbread and rye bread are eaten for breakfast or lunch as they are of a light consistency, whilst Kerststol is traditionally made for Christmas and consists of bread dough, sugar, dried fruits, and lemon/orange zest. Other Dutch delicacies include snert (a type of thick pea soup), stamppot (mashed potato and vegetables) and desserts such as vla (vanilla custard) or yogurt. The Netherlands exports the largest proportion of beer of any country in the world - approximately 50% of global production. There are three main brewery companies in the Netherlands: Heineken (which also brews Amstel), Groslch, and Bavaria.


Have you visited the Netherlands? Are you of Dutch heritage and have some traditions and family stories to share? I hope you will enjoy this sampling of traditional Dutch recipes:

Dutch Bacon & Apple Pancakes
1 cup white flour (140 g)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk (250 ml)
1 egg
1 tsp butter
1 tsp oil
10 rashers of bacon, sliced into thin strips
3 crisp apples, thinly sliced

‘Suikerstroop’ (Dutch pancake syrup) or a syrup of your choice*

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and a little of the milk to a smooth paste. Add the remaining milk gradually, while whisking. Add the egg, beating the mixture well. For a lighter texture, leave to rest for a few hours or overnight. Melt the butter and oil in a large frying pan and wait until it sizzles. Pour in enough of the mixture to cover the entire surface of the pan (spread the mixture evenly by tilting the pan). Bake until bubbles appear on the surface and turn over. Pancakes should be pale gold on both sides. Set aside. Fry bacon in the pan until crisp and/or cooked. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Now add the sliced apples to the bacon fat and caramelize. Drain on paper towels. Serve pancakes open-faced on the plate, top with apples and bacon and drizzle some suikerstroop on top.

*Dutch pancake syrup is a dark molasses-like syrup, but you could use golden syrup or maple syrup instead.

Asparagus Hollandaise
8 -10 asparagus spears per person (approx. 3.5 pounds/1.6 kilos for four people)
1 tsp salt
4 whole eggs & 4 egg yolks
8 slices boiled ham
4 tbsp dry white wine (e.g. Pinot Blanc d’ Alsace)
1 cup melted butter (100 g)
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt and white pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Soak the asparagus in cold water as soon as you get them home. Rinse and peel with a potato peeler (start from just under the head and work your way down). Now cut the woody bit off the end (about 1/2"/1 cm). Place the asparagus and salt in a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to the boil. Now temper the heat slightly and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Take off the heat and leave the asparagus in the hot water for a further 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Meanwhile, boil 4 of the eggs and chop finely. Slice the ham into fine strips.

For the Hollandaise, beat egg yolks and wine until foamy. Place on a low heat and beat continuously until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and add the melted butter in a thin trickle, while continuing to whisk. Add the nutmeg, lemon juice, salt and white pepper. Whisk again, and set aside.

Gently drain the cooked asparagus. Be careful not to damage the tender heads. Plate them up, making sure the asparagus are facing in the same direction, and top with the Hollandaise sauce, chopped ham and boiled eggs. Scatter parsley over and serve with the rest of the chilled wine.

Farmers Cheese Soup

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 medium-sized carrots, scraped and cut into ¼-inch dice
2 medium-sized boiling potatoes (about ½ pound), peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
½ pound cauliflower, trimmed, washed and separated into small flowerets
¼ pound celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 quart chicken stock, fresh or canned
4 lean bacon slices
4 slices homemade-type white bread, cut about ½ inch thick and trimmed of all crusts
¼ pound imported Gouda cheese, cut into 1/8-inch slices

In a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and celery root. Stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, then pour in the stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, partially cover the pan, and lower the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not too soft. Meanwhile, in a heavy 12-inch skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat until the slices are brown and crisp around the edges and have rendered most of their fat. With tongs, transfer the bacon slices to paper towels to drain. Add the slices of bread to the fat remaining in the skillet and fry until they are crisp and brown on both sides. Set the fried bread aside on paper towels to drain. Just before serving, preheat the broiler to its highest setting. Pour the soup into a ½- to 2-quart ovenproof tureen or casserole. Float the bacon slices on top of the soup and cover each of them with a slice of fried bread and then a slice of cheese, arranging them so they mask the surface of the soup. Slide the tureen or casserole under the broiler (the top of the tureen should be about 3 inches from the heat) and broil for 2 or 3 minutes, until the cheese melts and turns a delicate brown.

Speculaas (Dutch Windmill Cookies)

Dutch windmill cookies are traditionally made using wood cookie forms that have passed through the generations. Today, they can be made into any shape you like, using cookie cutters.

1 cup butter or 1 cup margarine
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup finely chopped blanched almonds, divided

In a bowl, beat the butter 30 seconds or until softened. Combine the remaining ingredients, except for the almonds, in a small bowl. Add half of this mixture into the butter. Stir until mixed. Add the remaining flour mixture and 1/3 cup almonds and stir until mixed. Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface roll one portion of the dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut into desired shapes, place on greased cookie sheet and decorate with remaining almonds (if desired). Repeat with second half of dough. Bake at 350 degrees 8-10 minutes, or until browned. Cool on cookie sheet one minute. Remove and allow to cool.