Nestled snugly between the European giants France, Germany and Netherlands lies the nation of 11 million gourmet food lovers; Belgium. Contrary to its size, Belgium is well known for the quality of food it produces, which is exemplified by its cuisine’s presence in most Michelin star guides. Taking the best from it’s neighbors, Belgium serves up French style dishes in German quantities, hence a nice big portion of steak frites.
The “gourmands” of Belgium have consistently ensured that fast food chains like McDonalds lag far behind in popularity and profits as compared to fine dining restaurants. Belgian’s love affair with food began in the early historic era, cementing its position in the middle ages and climbing up the ladder of haute cuisine in the present day. Spices used in the past such as nutmeg, peppercorn, saffron, cinnamon and ginger are still staple ingredients in Belgian cooking. Being a nation of brewers, it is no surprise that beer is an essential part of their food creations. As the Belgian Nation celebrates its National Day on July 21, 2011, you too can use this day to try your hand at creating the very best of Belgian Haute Cuisine.
Drowning in a mixture of stock, butter and white wine and served with a side of french fries, moule-frites can be found cooking in every house, bistro and gourmet restaurant of Belgium. In simple terms, it is mussels served with french fries. Not known to many, french fries were a creation of the Belgians and are still popular across the nation. Mussels on the other hand are imported fresh from Holland and are a must on the to-eat list when visiting Belgium. I was sent this recipe by a European friend of mine after my visit to Luxembourg, however, I am yet to try it on my own.
- 1 kg fresh mussels
- 1 1/2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
- 1 tbsp creme fraiche (optional to thicken the sauce)
- Use the mussels which are tightly closed. Wash them with cold water, draining all the excess liquid and any hair-like substance on the shell
- Heat the olive oil in a deep bottom saucepan and add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 4-5 minutes till soft. Add the rest of the herbs and stir
- Add the mussels and wine to the saucepan and boil on low heat. Stir the mussels in the sauce till they begin to open. This should take a maximum of 5 minutes. (Note: Do not wait longer as the sauce will begin to dry. Do not serve any mussels that have not opened in that time period)
- If you want the sauce to thicken, add a small amount of creme fraiche and stir.
Serve the mussels along with the sauce in a deep dish along with thick-cute french fries. Once the mussels finish, use the empty shells to scoop out the sauce and have it on its own. Or better yet, dip the french fries or soak pieces of bread and devour the sauce.
Walk down the streets of any European city and the sweet aroma of Belgian waffles toasting on a pushcart will lure you towards it. Choose your own toppings varying from icing sugar to chocolate sauce to whipped cream to fresh fruit, or all of the above. Waffles are mostly associated with breakfast around the world, but in Belgium they are served all day long.
- 200 g sugar
- 200 g butter
- 200 g flour
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 100 g dark chocolate
- Vanilla ice-cream
- Pre-heat and oil a waffle iron
- Melt the butter, add it to the sugar and beat well
- Whisk in the eggs one at a time
- Add the flour, vanilla essence, oil and baking powder and mix well till blended
- Pour the mixture on the waffle iron and cook till golden brown
- Melt the dark chocolate while the waffle cooks
- Transfer the waffles onto a plate, drizzle with chocolate sauce and serve with vanilla ice cream
For the weight conscious, just pour some honey over the waffles and serve with fresh seasonal fruits. Waffles with strawberries and cream is also another variation to try.
If you are still not in the mood to cook, head over to your local chocolatier and purchase the creamy Belgian chocolates that have made their mark on the world map. And if it is a scorching day, cool off with one of Belgium’s most famous beers. All to celebrate the National Day of Belgium or just to have some fun.