Belgians are fond of saying their cuisine is cooked with French finesse and German generosity, writes Ruth van Waerebeek in the opening pages of The Taste of Belgium.
She has written the book to lift a lid on “Europe’s best-kept secret”, giving due weight to waffles, moules and chocolate, but also showcasing her homeland’s more unfamiler food.
It is, the chef and cookery writer says, a cuisine rooted in the medieval and influenced by almost every other European people, as a result of almost all having invaded the country at some point in its history.
Van Waerebeek stresses that Belgians take mealtimes very seriously. The country’s residents spend considerably more on food than the average westerner and adhere to a motto of “we eat three times a day, so we’d better try to make a feast of it every time”.
The recipes depict the feasts created by three generations of her family, from her great-grandmother, Marie, a farmer’s wife, who would serve up peasant family fare from the land around her, to her mother, who is described as “very much an urban woman”.
The book is a personal account of the development of cuisine through the generations, which in turn provides an insightful viewpoint into that of the country as a whole. There are classic dishes, such as Flemish-style white asparagus, moules frites, waterzooi (chicken, rabbit or fish poached in a creamy broth with vegetables), hutsepot (a hearty winter stew)and stoemp (mashed potato with vegetables, bacon, cream, herbs and spices).
There is also a chapter dedicated to cooking with the beer for which the country is famed and which is treated with the reverence reserved for wine in other nations, in recipes such as a Flemish beef stew and rabbit marinated in Abbey beer with mushrooms.
The Taste of Belgium is a celebration of hearty cuisine. There are no overly-technical processes, but what comes through in this work is a passion for sharing the wholesome, delicious dishes of a sometimes overlooked nation.
The Taste of Belgium, by Ruth van Waerebeek with Maria Robbins (Grub Street, £17.50)