Welcome to the Netherlands, a Northwestern European country which borders the North Sea, Belgium, and Germany. Netherlands means “low-lying country” which is indeed a true fact. The country is relatively flat with 25% of the country being below sea level, and 50% 3ft or less above sea level. When many think of Netherlands you think of tulips right? Even though the Dutch are the world’s largest exporters of flower bulbs, tulips are not native. Tulips originate in Turkey and were imported in the 16th century. Another big export of the country is beer which they rank the 2nd largest in the world. The Dutch really like their booze because they are also the inventors of gin which was created in the 16th century and introduced to the British. Sounds like they know how to have a good time!
When it comes to the cuisine of Netherlands the country is relatively healthy and is the 2nd largest exporter of vegetables in the world. With veggies on the mind there are two other key ingredients to the Dutch dinner- meat and potatoes! Back in the 1800s potatoes were eaten with every meal since they were widely available and inexpensive. With colonization and trading of goods during the Golden Age (1581 to 1672) Dutch cuisine is quite the fusion of flavors. The national dish of the Netherlands is called stamppot, doesn’t that sound appetizing?
There are a variety of ways to prepare stamppot, but the base always is mashed potatoes. The variations come from the vegetables that are mixed in, whatever is available in the kitchen! This meal is said to be one of the oldest Dutch meals and used to be a staple dish in the winter. Using the seasons past crops and the heartiness of the potatoes and sausage left you warm and full with little expense. Boerenkool translates to kale and is the type of stamppot I prepared with the addition of carrots. This is the recipe I used.
The meal was easy enough to prepare. I made a basic gravy using a rue which turned out to be more pale than I had anticipated- I suspect I needed more time to get the deeper brown color. I substituted my go to kielbasa for the sausage because of the more desirable texture and leaner meat (I go for turkey). I made sure to liberally season the potatoes with nutmeg, nothing is worse than bland mashed potatoes!
We found this dish to be very hearty with a nice mix of veggies and kielbasa. The warmth from the nutmeg was notable and a pleasant. The gravy paired well, however it also made the dish heavier and more filling. I didn’t chop the kale fine enough, but I think this element helped lighten the meal. We rated it 6.5/10.
St. Helena is a British Territory situated in the South Atlantic Ocean west of Southern Africa. It is a volcanic island that is roughly 10 mi by 5 mi is size. The island is named after St Helena of Constantinople, a empress of the Roman empire and mother of Constantine the Great. The colorful buildings are distinct as you arrive to the island. Napoleon was exiled here after his defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. Charles Darwin has also stepped foot on the island and thought it was “a curious little world within itself”. St. Helena is well known for an endangered species “green tipped Bourbon Arabica coffee” and is home to 45 other plant species that are not found anywhere else in the world. If you’re adventurous you could climb Jacob’s steps (nearly 700 total), which is the only remnants of a past cable railway or see where Napoleon stayed after exile.
The cuisine on the island of course has British influence, but also other European countries, China, Africa, and India. Natives take advantage of seafood and locally grown produce. Fishcakes are very popular here which is a mix of fresh seafood and plenty of spices. Plo, a one pot dish also full of spices, veg, and various meats is a well known to the island. Similar to Middle Eastern plov it has a rice base. I decided to tackle this dish and used this recipe.
Look at all the colors of this meal! Luckily I was able to use mostly fresh produce which I fell you can taste the difference in a dish like this! I loaded it up with just a little more curry than what was asked for, because why not. Nothing is worse than a bland meal!
This dish was suuuper savory, bring on that curry seasoning! There was a nice variety of veggies which balanced out the meat. It was nice that I didn’t have to dirty too many dishes and it could all cook in the same pot! Unfortunately my rice was over cooked so the texture was a bit off.. I’m sure if the texture was more desirable we could have rated it a little higher. The dish definitely has potential for a higher rating… maybe I will make again in the near future. We decided 6.75/10 was fair.
Portugal, a southern European country is found on the Iberian Peninsula. It neighbors Spain and the Atlantic Ocean making it a hot surf spot. It is one of the oldest countries of Europe dating back to 1200 BC and is home to the oldest library in the capital Lisbon. Portugal is a large producer of Port Wine and cork (makes sense), one of the largest in the world! Other than surfing you can explore historical sites and take in the breath-taking views.
From Portuguese travel they developed a distinguished cuisine full of flavors from around the globe. The cuisine of Portugal is influenced by the spice trade of Asia, flavors and seasonings Europe, Africa, and South America. Some of the food comes from the region of Portugal with utilization of the Atlantic waters for fresh seafood. Kale, chicken, sausage, rice, cod, sardines, and olives are some of the more common ingredients found in Portuguese cooking, some of which are in this dish. Today I prepared caldo verde soup which is a hearty combination of chouriço sausage, kale, beans, and veggies. As you can see I substituted chorizo instead (no downfall there). The recipe can be found here.
Come to find out my chorizo would break apart into tiny bits once I added it to the stew. I would say that was the only downfall to the meal. It was pretty simple to follow the recipe and didn’t take too long to make. Just look at those colors!
We thought this soup had a nice balance of spicy and citrus flavors. The lemon zest definitely paired well with the creaminess of the broth. I loved the nice variety of veggies and overall thought the soup was hearty and savory. You could also do without the sausage and still have a wonderful meal. We would make this one again and rated it 8.25/10!
Hello again, welcome back to The Messy Aprons! Today Ian and I traveled to the lesser known European country of Northern Macedonia (once known as Macedonia). You can find this beautiful Balkan country bordering Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bulgaria.
Mother Teresa was a Macedonian and was born in the country’s capital Skopje in 1910. Northern Macedonia is home to another well-known person as well- Alexander the Great. He was once the king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, which at the time was the most dominating state in the world. Additionally it is home to one of the world’s oldest lakes clocking in at 4 million years old and has a staggering depth of 288 meters -that’s 864ft!
Macedonian cuisine is like its neighboring countries which reflect Balkan and Middle Eastern influence. Due to its mild, warm climate they are able to grow much of their own produce which shown in today’s dish, Tavče Gravče. This is Northern Macedonia’s national dish which consists of beans, pork (most of the time), peppers and onions, tomatoes, and spices/herbs. The name literally translates to “beans cooked in a pan” and has a lengthy prep time to prepare the beans for cooking, however I opted for canned beans to make things easier. The recipe I used had chorizo instead which we felt brought a nice mild kick to the dish, no complaints here!
Because I had opted for the canned beans the cook/prep time was a fraction of what it typically is. Although I followed the steps a little differently I was happy with its flavors and appreciated that I could easily make this during my hectic work week. To really do things in a work-week friendly manner I brought out my Instant Pot and allowed the dish to pressure cook which worked out well.
We loved this super savory bean and sausage dish. There was a subtle hint of herbs along with the mild kick of the sausage. The roux ended up mixing well with the tomato juices which ended up making a nice, thick sauce. As I stated earlier the spicy sausage definitely made a difference and would be preferable over the pork (no offense to the traditional way). We say this dish is a keeper and rated it 9/10.
Onto our 28th country- Bulgaria! This Balkan country is known for having the second richest natural mineral springs, producing 85% of the world’s rose oil, and bordering the Black Sea. Bulgaria is also one of the oldest European countries estimated to by established in 681 A.D. This country has Greek, Ottoman, Persian, and Slavic influence that definitely impacts their cooking style and flavors.
For Bulgaria I made two smaller dishes that worked well together and are very traditional to the country. The first part of this meal is kebapcheta a minced beef sausage that is well seasoned with paprika, cumin, and a little bit of clove. The name kebapcheta is derived from the word kebab, -che meaning small aka small kebab! Typically they are served as three with a side of chips (fries).
The traditional way to cook these little guys in on a grill, but I decided to put my new air fryer to use! 8 minutes later and some flipping mid way they were done!
The second part of the meal was shopska salata, an easy to assemble salad that is made up of the three colors of the Bulgarian flag (I accidently grabbed an orange pepper, silly me) – red, green, and white! Chopped cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, and onion are the base of the meal. Parsley and a good amount of feta is mixed throughout. Vinaigrettes are great to use as a dressing, but any light dressing will work!
Together it makes a beautiful spread! We thought the meat was well seasoned, the salad was refreshing and crisp, and the fries obviously did not take away from the meal. It was quick and simple so this is another great option for week night cooking. We rated it 7/10.