Friday, March 31, 2017

Boerenkoolstamppot: Variations on an Old Dutch (Potato) Theme

Michel seldom makes any kind of potato dish. Their high starch content and potential effects on blood sugar levels are reason enough to use other ingredients. Mind you, he likes potatoes. In fact, one of Michel's favorite American potato incarnations is McDonald's hash browns. Are you surprised? He claims they are the closest thing to the "rosti" he loved to eat in Holland. The resemblance is clear. Rösti has its origins in Switzerland and is traditionally prepared in a skillet like a fritter. Its worldwide popularity is easily understandable. The next time you're in an airport food court you might just see Michel waiting in line for his McDonald's order. 

When his favorite hash browns are not available, French fries will do--McDonald's or otherwise. This substitution is also understandable because of the popularity of Vlaamse Frieten or "Friet & Mayo," readily available throughout Amsterdam and Northern Europe, although the names will vary. Yes, street fries with mayo are messy. They are also mandatory, as the perpetually long lines of customers will attest. 

In the U.S. where sugary ketchup is the usual accompaniment, some restaurant servers have a hard time understanding Michel's request for mayonnaise with his fries. This is partly because they are puzzled as to why anyone would want something other than ketchup but also because they don't understand Michel's (accurate) pronunciation of "mah-yuh-nez-eh" when they're used to hearing "may-naze." Sometimes we just ask for aioli and sidestep the issue.  

Stamppot is quintessential Dutch fare, dating from the 1600s according to some accounts; the English translation “mash pot” lets the reader know that the basic element of this dish is mashed potatoes. Not to worry, because there is no actual stamping of feet involved in the preparation of stamppot. A fork or a potato masher will do just fine.

As best I can tell from the stories Michel has related about Dutch food traditions, there seems to be a lot of boiling (i.e., overcooking) of vegetables and very little concern for fancy ingredients. Nothing wrong with that but I’ve never heard or read any reviews about “that great new Dutch restaurant” not to be missed.

Michel’s new recipe is a much lighter and more interesting vegetarian take on boerenkoolstamppot, a kale and potato mash commonly served with rookworst (smoked pork sausage) draped over the top. The Dutch usually prepare stamppotten (pl.) in the fall when the cool weather makes this comfort food even more appealing. Traditional versions include zuurkoolstamppot (sauerkraut mashed with potatoes), andijviestamppot (endive mashed with potatoes), and the aforementioned boerenkoolstamppot (kale mashed with potatoes).

Traditional Boerenkoolstamppot with Rookworst

A quick note about bothering you with all those very long Dutch terms:
Yes, I am an obsessive word nerd and I am acutely aware that you, patient and potentially hungry reader, may not share my fascination with the visual aspect of Dutch words. Many years ago I told Michel that all those doubled letters—especially vowels—make some words look to my eyes like an unwieldy hand of playing cards. Now he just responds with a patient smile when I pose my usual question about a new Dutch term: “How does that spell itself?”

Michel’s version of stamppot includes the kale and potatoes, of course, but he incorporates mushrooms to provide a meaty texture as well as a delicious sauce made with butter, shallots, lemon, and juniper berries. This recipe will work with fingerling potatoes, new potatoes, or pretty much any kind of potato. Michel used a package of “gem potatoes” from the supermarket this time around—a mix of red, yellow, and purple.

For the sauce you will need:

2 shallots, chopped
1 stick of butter
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries (coarsely chopped or ground)
Salt and pepper

juniper berries

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.
Add shallots, lemon juice, and juniper berries, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Set aside while you tend to the stamppot prep.
Sauce with shallots, lemon juice, juniper berries, butter

To make Michel's vegetarian stamppot you will need:

6-8 stems of fresh kale, leaves removed, rinsed, and cut into small pieces

2 cups of Crimini mushrooms, sliced (any kind of mushrooms will work, combination is best)

24 oz. of gemstone, fingerling, or new potatoes

Olive oil
Salt and pepper
(add some garlic if you like)

Boil potatoes with a teaspoon of salt.

While potatoes are cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet and add sliced mushrooms.

(Mushrooms should cook with “quite a bit” of olive oil, salt, and pepper.)

When mushrooms begin to caramelize, add chopped kale.

Allow the kale to “cook down a bit” then add boiled potatoes.
Mix gently to keep potatoes whole. (There’s an important reason for having whole potatoes on your plate.)

Spoon kale-potato-mushroom mixture onto plates.

Once on the plate, mash the potatoes with a fork to open them. 
(That’s the fun stamppot part.)

Drizzle shallot butter sauce over mashed potatoes.
Eat. Repeat. Because you will want a second helping.