There were many grand intentions of rummaging through farmers markets, cooking up feasts of abundant summer fruits and vegetables, running daily in the Vondelpark and posting about my exploits at least once or twice a week during my recent sojourn to Amsterdam.
In reality, I spent a good number of hours in the office, followed by furious cycling across Amsterdam (late again) to various appointments on sun drenched terraces to indulge in too much wine, with very little time in the kitchen, only three runs in three weeks and zero blog posts. Not that I’m complaining – I am lucky enough to have amazing, dear friends in Amsterdam, and it was great to spend some time in my second home with them again, especially during such a great summer. I really miss Amsterdam, its postcard perfect views, easy accessible living and the liberal & egalitarian spirit that pervades the city – the sense of directness and openness, and not being afraid of doing something your own way. It was a strange feeling being back for a couple of weeks – actually, the only thing that was strange was that it didn’t feel strange (does that make sense?!).
Most of the meals I ate while I was away were borrelhapjes (“drinking snacks”) accompanied by the previously mentioned glass(es) of wine, outside on a terrace enjoying the long hours of summer daylight with old friends, a quick veggie pasta whipped up late at night with lots of my favourite cheeses, or blending summer berries (which are so plentiful in Amsterdam) into a breakfast smoothie before work. Aside from my morning smoothie, not so healthy…
The Netherlands is not really known for its food. The simple and modest Dutch kitchen stems from its Calvinist culture and traditions of farming (potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables, meat and plenty of bread, oh and potatoes) and some fishing (herring, eel, mussels), although the food becomes richer as you head down south to the Limburg province due to its proximity to France. The Dutch food mentioned in the tourist guides are the frietjes and mayonnaise (which I’m reliably informed are really Belgian), bitterballen (more to come on this one in my next post), Gouda & Edam cheeses, stamppot or hutspot (potato, carrot or kale mashed up with other vegetables – long before kale’s superfood revival), erwtensoep (pea soup), filet americain (raw meat minced with herbs – I’m really selling this, aren’t I), stroopwafels (waffle biscuits with syrup), appeltaart, poffertjes (small buckwheat pancakes served with butter and icing sugar), the rijsttafel (a sampling of many small Indonesian dishes) and Febo (where you can purchase kroketten from an automated machine in the wee hours of the morning). I still recall my first lunch during a meeting at a client’s premises in 2006: around 12pm, a couple of jugs of milk and buttermilk were plonked onto the table, with a pile of bread and cheese and some deep fried crumbed oblongs filled with some kind of brown gooey substance (which I now know to be kroketten). And a bunch of grown men in suits discussing important things, pouring themselves a large glass of milk and eating a cheese sandwich, and polishing it off by squishing the deep fried oblong with mustard in a bread roll. Kinda uhm sexy, really… (I’m skating on thin ice here already…).
There is of course some great food in Amsterdam, especially on the upper end of the scale, with a variety of options showcasing the strong presence of the many accents and nationalities in the city. On my recent visit, I was also pleased to see that there is a growing number of organic and wholefood style greengrocers, restaurants and cafes also popping up throughout the city, as well as (finally) some decent brunch and coffee (note the Aussie influence). Unfortunately, I only got the opportunity to sample one or two of them due to my busy schedule on the terraces.
Needless to say, after returning to Sydney this week, it is time to slow down, eat plenty of vegetables and detox. Because Barth missed out on joining me in his country for the past few weeks, I decided to go “team orange” with our menu. I made this very easy spicy soup with chilli and ginger on a base of the famous Dutch carrots blended with red lentils and turmeric to bring out the warmer, orange colours, and some coconut milk to add some creaminess for the cold weather. We also sourced an extra intake of greens with this zest of parsley and spinach. This soup recipe serves 3-4 adults (we ate this two nights in a row, with a salad and sourdough bread on the second night), with some leftover zest which you can use on sandwiches, pasta etc. Lekker! I’m also keen to hear if I’ve neglected to mention any not-to-miss Dutch specialities, or any new food hotspots in Amsterdam – if so, please leave me a comment below.
- 1 medium brown onion, chopped
- 1cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 1 red chilli, roughly chopped
- 300g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 swede or turnip, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1-2 cups water
- 2/3 cup of red lentils, rinsed
- 300mL full fat coconut milk*
- Olive oil, for cooking
- 1 bunch of parsley, washed and roughly chopped
- 2 handfuls of baby spinach, washed
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- A small handful of raw nuts (I used about 15-20 almonds, but cashews or peanuts would be the best combination for the soup)
- Sea salt, to taste
- Fry the onion in some olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Stir in the cumin and turmeric.
- Add the carrot and swede to the saucepan and continue to fry for another 5 minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock, red lentils and one cup of water to the saucepan, and then turn the heat down to low. Simmer for around 25 minutes, until the carrots, swede and lentils are all cooked. Check from time to time, as you may need to add more water if the soup becomes too thick.
- Add the soup mix into a blender or food processor and blitz until the mixture is smooth. Return to the saucepan on a low simmer, and stir in the coconut milk. Keep stirring for a couple of minutes until the soup is re-warmed and then remove from heat. Serve with a dollop of the green zest swirled through the soup.
- Add all ingredients to a blender and blitz to a paste – leave it a bit chunky as this adds a nice texture to the soup. Season to taste with some more lemon juice or salt, if need be. Actually, the flavour and texture is better if you do this with a mortar and pestle (first add the garlic and salt, followed by the nuts and finally the greens, olive oil and lemon), however I am jetlagged this week and feeling a bit lazy.
* Preferably use an organic or naturally sourced coconut milk (or at least one that lists its ingredients as only coconut and water, and not a whole bunch of additives or thickeners). I use the Ayam brand (no affiliated links here).