One of the truly magnificent things about the many and varied cultures that exist is that the differences allow us to learn from one another in a myriad of ways. An exchange of ideas leads to the broadening of horizons and an eventual understanding of things which were once foreign to us. However, when your kitchen is itself a blend of cultures—an outcrop of two separate and distinct ethnicities, ways of life and food traditions—a whole new culinary world is unveiled in a way unlike any other.
In my kitchen there is a mélange of soul food from my side of the family and Dutch cuisine from my husband’s lineage. Our palates continually undergo a metamorphosis of sorts as my natural curiosity in the kitchen leads us on a journey to create our combined food tradition, one that embodies fusion on a plate.
The herbs and spices that fill my kitchen spice rack are some of the same that ‘mijn schoonmoeder’ (my mother-in-law) uses in her dishes. From basilicum (basil) to petersilie (parsley), bieslook (chives) to rozemarijn (rosemary), knoflook (garlic) to zout & peper (salt & pepper), and from uien (onions) to nootmuskaat (nutmeg) to kruidnagel (cloves)—their names may be spelled differently, they may have a few more syllables and their pronunciation may be a dead giveaway, however, their purposes are one and the same: to flavor the foods we have grown to love and cherish as part of our heritage.In an attempt to satiate the desires of a palate drawn to heavily seasoned and sometimes salty cuisine with that of one more attuned to foods rich in gravies yet much less muted in robust flavors, the kitchen had to become my imaginative culinary playground. On this playground, my husband is my captive guinea pig as I experiment with various foodstuffs … à la mad scientist … in an attempt to infuse our respective traditional cuisines with the flavors of each other’s to create palatable dishes of interest. And like its U.S. counterparts, Dutch food consists heavily of meat, potatoes and vegetables.
While not every dish that is created in our kitchen is a shining example of my culinary prowess, the marriage of soul food and Dutch food is a work in progress. Once upon a time I endeavored, in earnest, to evoke the comforts of home for my husband by preparing a home-cooked Dutch meal. Stamppot (literally translated means mashed pot) was my meal of choice. Although a dish consisting of a mélange of mashed potatoes with assorted and sundry vegetables didn’t sound too appetizing. However, as he was thousands of miles from his home land, I wanted the kitchen to possess the same aromas that he remembered growing up in The Netherlands. My stamppot of choice was called boerenkoolstamppot—mashed potatoes with kale—and the bright spot in the recipe was the tag-along ingredient of kielbasa.
While kielbasa, a polish sausage appetizing on its own merits, is a great choice to enhance the boerenkoolstamppot, I was after a more robust, spicier, smokier flavor for our collective palates so I opted to substitute it with andouille, a sausage that speaks to southern influences and a soulful way of cooking, although it is most notably associated with Cajun cooking.
On that day I experienced my first taste of success as the non-Dutch wife of a Dutchman preparing a Dutch meal … a meal with a little touch of soul. It was then that I realized the gravity of the long culinary journey that lie ahead of me. My food would no longer be my food; the food of my husband would no longer be his. Together, we would share in the making of a food tradition that could be shared and passed down to our hungry brood in the coming years and possibly generations thereafter. We are the beginning of this legacy and it is through our union that the blending of soul food and Dutch food has come to be in our humble corner of the world.
Together, my husband and I have many more discoveries to make. Perhaps it will be a traditional Dutch split pea soup enhanced with the goodness of thick cut country ham. Maybe it will be pannenkoeken—what we in America would call crepes, but which are, in essence, very thin pancakes—served alongside scrambled eggs and a hot buttermilk biscuit to sop up a tiny lake of gooey molasses.
Diverse cultures can and do co-exist in harmony, in life and in the kitchen, respectively. My husband and I are living proof. Our palates may not exist in a state of blissful simpatico all the time, but when our appetites converge and are in agreement, there’s nothing better.