This was easy. We went out for dinner the night we got here and had moules. Or at least some of us did. Some (one) of us got so stressed about the prospect of even trying one that he nearly couldn’t manage the chicken and chips he had ordered…
But no. The children were delighted to hear that that wasn’t the end of the Belgian version of the new-and-unfamiliar-food torture method I have devised for them.
Again I turned to google and discovered a list of the top Belgian meals. Tempted though I was to turn the metaphorical thumb screws a little tighter, I decided against endive (even though I love them), stoemp (stamppot by another (well, almost the same) name), filet American (raw minced beef) and paling in’t groen (eels in green sauce – not least as I thought sourcing eels in the supermarket might be tricky). Meatballs, on the other hand, looked do-able.
Frikadellen met krieken
Meatballs (frikadellen or boulettes, depending on your cultural and linguistic loyalties) in Belgium seem principally to come three ways: with tomatoes, with cherries, or à la Liègois, with a rich stock. While I was tempted entirely to wimp out and just cook meatballs in tomato sauce, that really did feel a bit un-adventurous, so cherries it was.
Recipes in English for meatballs with cherries abound on the net, but they seem mostly to be written by Americans who have been to Belgium once, which lacked the authentic feel I was going for. My Flemish is definitely not up to the task, but I fortunately found this recipe, which is not only in French (so possibly inauthentic for a Flemish meal but surely more authentic than the American ones, and it has a .be address), and is also pleasingly vague. I like a recipe that allows me to freestyle a little…
Can cook, Can’t (don’t have the equipment to) cook
Because, yes, we are in another AirBnB that is not designed for cooking. A little improvisation was therefore required.
The kitchen (indeed the entire flat) is beautiful and very stylish (or was until we dumped our stuff all over it), but it is surrounded by restaurants and we are clearly expected to use them.
In a step up (down?) from our Amsterdam home, this one doesn’t even have a colander. A pan lid will suffice at times, but rinsing beans was more of a challenge.
Still, we have knives and pans. How hard can it be?
One of the things I am enjoying about this mini-project is the chance to see what is available in local shops that I probably wouldn’t ordinarily notice, and definitely wouldn’t ordinarily buy. This meal, all the recipes were agreed, wanted minced pork and veal. As a thing. Together. How unimaginable is that in Britain? Imagine my delight to find it, pre-packaged (which is obviously both good and bad) in the supermarket.
Chapelure was also on the list. I think it would probably translate as breadcrumbs and I was a bit nervous about finding that too, but there it was, even in the mini city-centre supermarket.
And it turns out that not all cherries are created equal. These are highly superior €6 (six euros?!) Cerises du Nord. Proud product of Belgium. Hungarian cherries were also available, at a sixth of the cost, but we felt our Belgian meal deserved the good stuff.
Stop wittering, how do you cook it?
The key parts to this meal, on which all the recipes I chose to slightly diverge from agreed, are a) the meat, b) the cherries, and c) that everything should be cooked in butter.
When cooking I generally choose to obey the instructions I like, so I finely (ish, the knives aren’t brilliant and I quite like my fingers) chopped an onion and sweated it in butter. I then mixed that with the mince (a kilo, since you ask), some herbes de provence (clearly entirely inauthentic but we had bought some last week) and fresh parsley, an egg, three spoonfuls of the chapelure (still not entirely sure what it is) and some pepper.
I then shaped that into meatballs and fried them gently (in the same wok) in more butter. Meanwhile I chopped up more unpeeled potatoes to make more mash (honestly, I may never bother peeling a potato again). The recipes differ on whether you serve this dish with bread or potatoes but we had had sandwiches for lunch and had potatoes left over so it wasn’t a hard choice.
Next, make your cherry sauce. This was a bit of a challenge:
Google to the rescue again, after tea towels and hot water had failed (sounds like an episode of Call the Midwife), a blunt knife (plenty of those) broke the seal and we were in business.
I drained the cherries (using the lid this time) and kept the juice. You then have to make a sauce with the juice but again the recipes all seemed to do this in different ways. I couldn’t be bothered with more onions or herbs and I definitely wasn’t buying a whole box of cornflour just to use a spoonful, as my main source required. I could, though, I reckoned, justify buying ordinary flour (as then I can justify making pancakes – win, win). So I made a very thin sauce by melting a bit more (you guessed it) butter, adding a spoonful of flour and gradually whisking (because there isn’t a word for “stirring aggressively with the same teaspoon”) in the cherry juice.
The cherries and sauce then go back in with the meatballs, the potatoes are mashed. Some cabbage (because I am a parent and do not want my children to get scurvy) is steamed in a very small pan (steaming requires less water and therefore fits better) et voilà.
Well, ish. For what is a meal without pudding? And what is a visit to Belgium without a waffle?
Astonishingly there is no waffle iron here. However there is a waffle shop within 15 steps of our front door. It seemed inevitable…
Belgian meal. Done. With apologies to any Belgians.