Cuisine of Belgium

Throughout Europe bread is a staple food and Belgium is no different in this regard. Until recently most of the land to grow crops was being devoted to wheat, though today most of it is imported. Numerous bakeries sell many varieties of bread most common being plan de ménage a ¾ kg oval loaf. Nowadays hierarchy of bread types is reversed in comparison to the past: darker kinds of bread are much more popular and pricy than white wheat bread of the 1950s rich.

Until modernization of dairy farming butter and other milk products were quite expensive, but today they are very affordable and much liked, especially cheese, which comes in three types: cottage cheese, soft cheese and hard cheese. The former is often mixed with salt and pepper and garnished with thinly sliced radishes . Though most of Belgian dishes centre around meat, vegetables are eaten often. Potatoes are a staple, being prepared in many varieties, pommes frites being very popular, as one can tell by many “fries shacks” where they are sold in paper cones. Interestingly enough “before 1800 potatoes were eaten with reluctance as they were seen as pig fodder “, but much has changed by 1850. Other commonly eaten vegetables include carrots, turnips and cabbage, which are all base the ingredients of a simple but delicious and well-liked meal hutsepot (hot pot or stew). Other vegetables like asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and witloof are being increasingly consumed.

Due to its international character Belgium is quick in adapting new trends and cooking is no exception in this regard. Unfortunately this also brings a lot of processed and ready-made dishes like frozen pizza on common Belgian’s menu. However traditional home cooking remains a rule and many home cooks nowadays use cookbooks, which have been published since 1850s, some being extremely successful, such as “Ons Kookboek (Our cookbook), which has the reputation of being present in every Flemish household. ”

Hutsepot – Vegetable hot pot

  • 2 tbsp butter or 1 tbsp refined coconut oil and 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped or 1 tsp asafoetida
  • ¼ cabbage minced fine
  • ¼ savoy cabbage head cut into 2 cm squares
  • 250g brussles sprouts halved
  • 4 large carrots diced
  • 2 medium turnips diced
  • 1 celery stalk chopped
  • Bouqe garni of thyme, bay leaf and parsley
  • 12 very small new potatoes whole or 4 medium sized new potatoes
    skin on diced
  • Vegetable stock or water
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Sauté onion and cabbage for a few minutes with 1 tbsp butter or refined coconut oil until and a pinch of salt translucent. If using asafoetida powder add now and cook for a few seconds. Add the remaining vegetables except the potatoes and sauté for additional 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the potatoes, boque garni and pour over vegetable stock or water so the vegetables are half covered. Season and cook with lid on until potatoes are fork tender (approx. 10 min) stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning and add the remaining butter or olive oil. If desired the vegetables can be partially mashed or left whole. Serve hot with a slice of fresh bread.

Belgian fries with mayo

  • 1 kg of floury potatoes (Russet, King Edward or Desiree are good options)
    peeled and cut in sticks
  • Vegetable oil (peanut) or refined coconut oil for frying – at least 2 liters
  • Salt
  • For the vegan mayo:
    • 1 dcl of unsweetened organic soy milk (can use rice milk but the mayo may eventually separate)
    • ½ tsp of black salt (kala namak – available at Indian grocery stores or health food stores – crucial ingredient because it imparts ‘eggy’ flavour)
    • 1 tsp of salt
    • 1 tsp of pepper
    • 2 tsp of mustard or mustard powder
    • 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
    • Juice of ½ of lemon
    • ½ dcl of olive oil
    • Approx. 1 l of vegetable oil (canola or sunflower)

For the mayo put all the ingredients except the vegetable oil in a blender and while blending on high speed slowly pour in vegetable oil to emulsify. When it pulls together stop the blender and mix it up with a spoon. If you are using an immersion blender follow the same process and put everything except the vegetable oil a bowl. Pour in the oil while mixing until it thickens. Continue the process again until it pulls together. Consistency should be quite thick like a normal mayonnaise. Put in a glass jar with a lid and store in a fridge for a day for best flavour. Keeps for a week.

For the fries there are a few ways to do it. A traditional way is a simple double fry where you fry the potatoes for the first time on 140°C until they get a little colour. Then you drain them on paper towels and let them cool. For the second fry you crank up the heat up to 185°C and fry until golden. Dust them with salt as desired.

A more complicated method but with exquisite results is the triple cooked potato chip as developed by a British chef Heston Blumenthal.

Only difference is that you first boil the potatoes until fork tender. Then you drain them and cool them in the freezer in between of each cooking stages. Again you double fry them first on 140°C and then on 185°C. Serve with homemade vegan mayo.

Flemish white asparagus

  • 1 kg of white asparagus trimmed and peeled
  • Sauce:
    • 200g soft tofu (not silken) crumbled
    • 8 tbsp butter or olive oil
    • Pinch of turmeric
    • Handful of flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
    • ½ tsp black salt (kala namak – available at Indian grocery stores or health food stores – crucial ingredient because it imparts ‘eggy’ flavour)
    • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
    • Few drops of white truffle oil (optional)
    • Salt and pepper
    • 800g of new potatoes boiled in skins halved

Steam or simmer the asparagus until fork tender but not falling apart. This may take from 8 to 30 min depending on thickness. Meanwhile prepare the sauce heating the fat in a small saucepan adding the tofu, turmeric, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook on a slow flame for a few minutes to combine the flavours. Lastly add the black salt and truffle oil. Mix and let it sit covered for a few minutes. When the asparagus are done drain them (you can reserve the water for other dishes) and plate with sauce on top and potatoes on the side.

Endive Gratins – Belgian Endive Gratin

  • 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ l milk of your choice (cauliflower cream works great*)
  • 4 Belgian endives halved
  • 6 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 handfuls of French cheese like Gruyere
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

* If using cauliflower cream as a component of your béchamel just dice ½ of a small cauliflower and cook with a little water until mushy.

Blend until completely smooth, season and adjust the consistency.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Combine the flour and fat in a small saucepot and make a golden roux. Add the milk of your choice in batches whisking vigorously to avoid forming any lumps. Bring to boil on low heat stirring constantly and cook for a few minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Place half of the béchamel in an ovenproof dish, lay in the endives and pour the rest of the sauce over. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden and the endive is tender. Serve with fresh crusty bread.

Yeasted Waffles

  • 1 packet of active dry yeast or 15g of fresh yeast
  • 300g all-purpose flour
  • 1 dcl warm water
  • 4 dcl milk of your choice
  • 55g melted butter or vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Vanilla bean or vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • Oil for frying
  • Icing sugar
  • Toppings of your choice (for ex. Blueberries, cinnamon and maple syrup; strawberries, Belgian chocolate and whipped cream; etc.)

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Meanwhile combine flour, sugar and salt. Pour in the yeast water mixture, milk and oil or butter. Mix until incorporated and there are no lumps. Let it sit covered in a warm place for an hour, then place it in the refrigerator overnight. Next day whisk in vanilla, baking powder and baking soda and let batter sit until it warms to room temperature. Oil your waffle machine or waffle pan and bake the waffles until they are golden on both sides. Top with your favourite toppings and icing sugar