Last night, I walked past one of the last vestiges of old-time Amsterdam, the smoky bar around the corner. It was filled with ladies of a certain age with backcombed bleached hair and men with accents thicker than Sinterklaas’ beard. Beer and jenever were being sunk at an alarming rate, in between bouts of communal singing of thirty year old songs. Many would recognize this as a quintessentially Dutch scene and feel a little warm and fuzzy inside. (Probably not going as far as entering in the fun, though. It takes a strong liver and seriously defective hearing.) Me? I shuddered a little as I hurried on.
Most of the time, this missing fondness for Dutchness doesn’t bother me. If I am honest, it makes me happy that I don’t share too much genetic coding with the people who think Geert Wilders is a wise man. It does make me a little sad, though, that I do not have more Dutch food to report on to you. I would love to talk about hutspot, but our national dish of mashed potatoes with onions and carrots is… Well, suffice it to say that those are the ingredients of the entire dish. Potatoes, onions, carrots. And it’s the same for most Dutch foods. Bland or stodgy, or both.
But! There are meatballs. Soft, juicy, savory globes of minced meat. They are packed full of comforting, kind flavors that work together to make the meat taste like an angelic version of itself. They are good with mashed potato concoctions (I am told), they are excellent on fresh, white bread, but they work best of all with a simple pile of vegetables next to them. If I had the full complement of Dutch genes, that would seem off to me, like something were missing. But I am not, so I think what you see up there was an excellent meal.
Well, except I ate four meat balls, not just the one.
Meat ball instructions
Until I read Het lekkerste dier by Sylvia Witteman, I wasn’t quite sure how to make a proper Dutch meatball. Now I know. I won’t quote the entire recipe, but tell you what I did based on her advice:
Finely dice a small onion and sautee it in butter until soft, but not brown. Soak two crustless slices of white bread in milk. Mix 400 gr of minced meat with half a tablespoon of mustard, a scant half tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, a small egg, the soaked bread, the softened onion, salt (Sylvia advises 1 gr per 100 gr of meat) and pepper. Knead thoroughly, until it is a homogeneous mixture. Shape into balls the size of a large tangerine and cool for at least an hour.
Then melt more butter than you think you should in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and use it to brown the meat balls on all side. Easy on the heat- medium hot is good. Then add a splash of warm water to the pan, lower the heat and cover the pot. Cook for twenty minutes, or until the balls are firm to the touch, but not rock solid. They should be cooked through at that stage, but check to be sure. Then take them from the pan and eat like a Dutchman.