Today’s entry in my quest to cook my way around the world marks the first time that I am making something from a country that I have already visited. Also, this is about as close to home as I can get without making something from the UK (which I am not going to be doing for a very long time).
The cuisine of Belgium is one of those that is heavily influenced by its neighbours. With culinary juggernauts France and Germany just across the border (as well as The Netherlands to the north) the food is a crossroads between Romantic and Germanic cuisine.
You also have the interesting split between the Northern Dutch-speaking region of Flanders and the Southern French-speaking region of Wallonia… so I wanted to make sure I picked dishes that could be found in both regions rather than just focusing on one.
Main: Gegratineerde witloof / Chicons au gratin
The stars truly aligned with this dish. I only recently discovered that my local Morrison’s sells Belgian endives (called chicory here in the UK) and this helped to give Belgium priority when choosing countries. After all, I don’t know when the season for this vegetable ends and whether or not they’ll continue to be sold next year.
So, I decided to make endive gratin – which is pretty much parboiled heads of endive that is baked in a Mornay sauce with slices of ham. I went with the Raymond Blanc recipe for this one which sandwiches the ham between the endive heads rather than wrapping each individual endive with a slice of ham.
I’m glad that this recipe calls for the parboiling of the endives as it removed pretty much all the bitterness and left behind something creamy like palm hearts, but still with a slight bitterness that is characteristic of the vegetable. It was also a great flavour absorber (especially of the mustard in the sauce) which helped to make this dish feel incredibly satisfying.
I cannot quite believe just how many types of waffles there are in Belgium. It really made my research for this recipe all the more interesting as it meant I had to pick something typical whilst also being representative. I settled on Brussels Waffles because I loved the idea that I would be making something to the same recipe as a blogger’s grandmother.
What sets Brussels waffles apart from others is the use of both egg whites and yeast as leavening agents. This means that I was lucky to experience some incredibly fluffy waffles unlike anything I’ve eaten outside of Belgium. I mean these are real Belgian waffles, unlike the Belgian waffles you get elsewhere that are far denser and based on a simplified version of the Brussels waffle.
I had to go whole hog on these and serve these crisp and fluffy waffles with a dusting of icing sugar, some whipped cream and a dash of chocolate sauce. The way that the sugar began to caramalize on top… well it just made all the work feel worthwhile.