Weekend trips to Holland are not the best for my waistline. Holiday food traditions have sprung up over the years, and are difficult to escape. A kaasbroodje, liquid cheese wrapped in puff pastry, as a late breakfast on the train out of Schiphol. Bitterballen, balls of shredded meat wrapped in bechamel and deep fried dipped in mustard, as a reward after long cycles across the coastal dunes. Freshly made Turkse pizza, or lahmacun, from the elderly Tunisian/Greek man on the main street who takes more pride and satisfaction in his culinary skills than a Michelin chef. Fresh bread from the market with chunks of hard goats cheese, devoured on the banks of the canal because the ducks there have developed not only the size, but the tenacity of feral cats and will snatch food straight from your hands.
One of the only healthy traditions which has sprung up is cooking a large pot of mussels, a staple at Dutch supermarkets, at some point in the weekend. Mussels are full of vitamins and acids which are said to help brain function and reduce inflammatory conditions. While this may not be the most photogenic dish, it is a very tasty one, especially combined with a dollop of aioli and fresh bread to mop up the sauce. The recipe is adapted from the ever reliable Morito cookbook. The recipe allows for some mussels to be thrown out, because it’s never a good idea to take a chance on shellfish.
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter/tapa
- 1 sliced bunch of spring onions, green and white parts
- 1 thinly sliced bulb of fennel
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 5 finely chopped cloves of garlic
- 1/2-1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey
- 50ml white wine
- 1 kilo mussels
- 150g feta, crumbled
- 1 handful of chopped fresh tarragon
- Olive oil
- Sort through the mussels and find every mussel that is open, even slightly.
- Tap each opened mussel sharply on the side of a counter top or sink.
- If it closes, keep it.
- If it stays open, throw it away.
- If you’re not sure, throw it away.
- Rinse all the now fully closed mussels thoroughly with water.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat and cook the fennel and fennel seeds slowly for five minutes.
- Add the chopped spring onion and cook for another five minutes.
- Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute or two more.
- Add in the tomato, sugar/honey bay leaves and white wine and bring to the boil, then reduce to the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Bring the mixture back to the boil and add the cleaned mussels to the pot.
- Put on a lid, and cook until the mussels are opened (about 3-4 minutes).
- If there are any closed mussels when the majority have opened, discard them.
- Stir in the tarragon and feta, and stir immediately.