A winter storm with up to an inch or two of snow is predicted to hit Mississippi tonight. People were already in the grocery store stocking up, when I stopped after dropping the kids off at school (we just needed a normal grocery run), talking about the possibility of being stranded for a few days. That always makes the Iowan in me smile, but temps are low for Mississippi, and may get down into the single digits. It’s a good time of year for comfort food, which has me thinking of our time in Belgium and one of our favorite winter dishes Flemish ‘hutsepot’ (the Dutch version is a little different, as is ours!).
There are many versions of hutsepot online, but the basics are a warm, white stew with lots of meat, beans, potatoes, and carrots. There have to be two kinds of meat, and as with lots of stew the cut isn’t always the best. The version made in Ghent that I ate before becoming a vegetarian had mutton, beef, and pork, maybe veal. That was the dish I wanted to replicate without the meat when we were living there, and though I’m sure many would consider it sacrilege, this is what I remember we came up with.
Essentially you take carrots and potatoes and cut them up for stew. Start with a leek or two and sautée it in olive oil or butter, then add several Belgian endive (witloof), if you can get it. I’ve seen Savoy cabbage substituted, but it doesn’t have the same slightly bitter flavor. Still, it would be better than regular green cabbage! We’ve used Chinese cabbage in a pinch. Sautée, adding potatoes, carrots, and white beans (1 can or about half a bag (cooked), depending on how much you’re making). Add salt, pepper, spices (bay leaf is often used), and water or stock and let simmer until it’s very thick. Towards the end, add some milk and cheese. We prefer Gouda when we can get it. In Belgium, we usually used a mixture of Gouda, Emmenthal, and one other cheese that came in a bag, was very cheap, and already grated. Tonight I’m sticking with Gouda, but Swiss would do pretty well, if you don’t want to splurge.
Anyone who knows me, knows better than to expect precise amounts. I bought half a pound of Belgian endive: more might be nice, but it’s expensive in the states. I’ll probably use two or three potatoes, depending on the size, three or four carrots, a leek or two, and as much cheese as I care to grate, depending on taste and texture. This one-dish meal would be good served with a nice warm baguette. We’ll see if I get that industrious! Then we’ll sit back, enjoy, and wait to see if they cancel school before the first snowflake falls… (of course, there could be ice, too).