For an example of how necessity mothered creativity in the Dutch kitchen, take boerenkool met worst, a traditional stamppot in the Netherlands. Stamppots are savory one-pot meals, and boerenkool is a tasty mashed vegetable casserole produced from simple, inexpensive ingredients.
Two poor-folks' foods -- potatoes and kale -- are combined in one dish, topped with sausage, slathered with gravy and served with a country loaf of black, brown or rye bread to make up a hearty and filling winter meal.
In the past, aardappelen, as potatoes are known in Dutch, were considered the Dutch national food and often were the only thing poor farmers, miners and other workers had to eat. Anyone who has seen Vincent Van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters" will not soon forget the bleak painting, which depicts a sad-looking family dining on a simple meal of potatoes, topped, most likely, with the traditional pork gravy or bacon drippings.
With the bone-chilling weather in the Netherlands, it is not surprising that the potato-kale stamppot became a traditional winter dish. Potatoes are nourishing and filling enough to fortify people against the drizzle and cold while kale gives the dish toothiness and color.
It probably was quite natural, too, that kale (kool in Dutch) came to be eaten with the potatoes because it is a hardy vegetable that grows throughout winter, long after other greens have died out. The Dutch, in fact, believe that kale -- essentially a headless cabbage with ruffled leaves -- tastes best after frost sets in. Then the leaves are tender and flavorful.
Unlike many other Europeans, the Dutch have long appreciated kale's virtues as a delicious, healthful, low-calorie source of vitamins C and A, calcium and iron. While it is true that the Scots are fond of kale, and the Irish cook a similar dish (called colcannon, which combines potatoes with cabbage or kale and scallions, milk and parsley), in most other countries kale still struggles to overcome its bad image as animal fodder and, since ancient times, poor people's food.
Cooks usually dress up the simple stamppot with smoked sausage, either sliced and mixed in with the mashed vegetables or left whole and placed on top in a decorative ring. The Dutch use rookworst , a smoky, spiced sausage, but frankfurters or knockwurst make acceptable, if less flavorful, substitutes.
Since few restaurants in Amsterdam feature traditional cooking and since boerenkool is a particularly homey dish, tourists are not likely to encounter it unless they specifically seek it out. One restaurant where this stamppot is on the menu is Dorrius, known for its authentic Dutch food served in a traditional dining room.
But if a trip to Amsterdam is not on your agenda, there are plenty of cold and rainy winter days in Washington when a hearty boerenkool, eaten in a cozy home kitchen, is just the kind of substantial food you want to eat. It's an easy-to-prepare dish, requires only a few utensils (minimizing cleanup) and lends itself to reheating. FLORA SUYDERHOUD'S STAMPPOT VAN BOERENKOOL MET WORST (Kale with Potatoes and Sausage) (6 servings)
Flora Suyderhoud, a member of the board of the Netherlands Association of Washington, learned to prepare boerenkool from her mother during her childhood in the Hague. Her "secret" ingredient is oatmeal, which makes the dish "smeuig" and "smakelijk" she says, smooth and savory. In place of Dutch rookworst, she uses Eckrich brand smoked sausage. The dish size can be doubled.
3 pounds kale
1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon, left whole (if you chop it up it will be too difficult to extract from the kale after cooking), plus 4 to 5 strips regular bacon, fried and crumbled
3 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons oatmeal
1 pound smoked sausage, frankfurters or knockwurst
1/4 cup scalded milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Melted butter or bacon gravy (optional)
Clean kale, discard tough stems, and mince leaves. Place thick-sliced bacon and kale in a dutch oven, add 1-inch salted water to bottom of pan, bring to a boil, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add potatoes, oatmeal and some additional water, but only if needed to keep mixture from burning. Cook until potatoes are done and most of the water is evaporated, about 30 minutes. Simmer sausage in a skillet in 2/3 cup water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and keep hot. Discard thick-sliced bacon, drain potatoes and kale, and mash together with a hand potato masher or put through a food mill. Mixture should not be too smooth. Add milk, salt and pepper. Spread on a heated serving platter and arrange sausage and crumbled fried bacon on top. Top with melted butter or gravy, if desired. Serve with dijon mustard.