Monday, January 12, 2015

Adventures in Cooking: reviving an old favorite recipe

First host family
Back in 1987 I left the familiar and moved to Belgium for a year as a Rotary Exchange Student. This is something most of my friends know about me. I had just turned 18 and did a "Gap Year" before the term Gap Year was popular. I had already been accepted to Trenton State College.
Me, 18 years old, on the rooftop of the opera house in Liege, Belgium

Sorry these pictures are so bad. I did not take a lot of pictures in those days. They are all quite horrible. I rarely saw the sun that year, which did not help. 

Back to the story of dinner. In the beginning I was homesick for my family, my language, and my food. My host mother was very sweet, but her first language was Dutch (Flamon), her second French, and there was not a third language. Meals were spent with a well-worn dictionary on the table.

We had a few misses with meals. I seem to recall thumbing my nose up at seafood. I know she was trying hard. My 45-year old self wishes she could scold my 18-year old self and remind her she is having the time of her life, even if she is frustrated and hungry.

She struck pay dirt on a very simple meal. She called it Potée Liégeoise. It combined green beans, bacon, tomatoes, and small potatoes mixed with a red wine vinegar sauce. Made with fresh veggies, it was heavenly. My second host mother tried to make the same food for me in the winter, but it was not nearly as good  with canned veggies. 

I modified the recipe by changing the slabs of bacon to ham, and made the recipe some when we were newly married. We liked it enough. As with many meals, it fell out of rotation. 

I rediscovered it when my friend Carin turned me onto the cookbook Everybody Eats Well in Belgium. In that book they call it "Warm Green Bean and Potato Salad from Liege." Same basic recipe, but with a different story. Basically it is a salad and not a main course. You eat enough of it and it becomes a main course.

We were trying to spice up our rotation of meals, which we did a lot last year with Meatless Mondays, and Don suggested this old favorite. I remember making it years ago when I first got the cookbook. Ashley was a lot younger and had no problems picking out the good stuff (mostly the ham) and leaving the rest behind. 

When they asked me to try it again last week I was skeptical, but I did it. After all, how can I ask them for dinner ideas and poo poo their ideas? Eventually they'll stop making suggestions and I'll be the only one coming up with ideas. 

Lo and behold I made it and it was a success! Ashley ate every part of it. They both asked me to make it again this week. I made some minor changes. I used grape tomatoes because that's what looked best in Wegmans in January. I also used a red wine salad dressing, because that is what I had on hand. This week I bought a different kind of ham -- spiral cut from the deli that the person behind the counter said "tastes just like Easter dinner ham." We'll see how it goes this week.

I know it doesn't look like much, but it is simple to make --cook the potatoes until they are softer, same with the green beans, broil the ham a few minutes to taste, toss in the tomatoes, put on the dressing, give it a few minutes to soak in and eat. I don't fuss over measurements (which makes me a lousy baker). Not much of a recipe, but if you google Potee Liegeoise you can find something more specific. Of course you might also have to translate the webpage, but it is worth it.

Bon appetit!

1 comment:

  1. My first meal in Belgie was spaghetti with meat sauce. What struck me most was that they added carrots to their sauce. It was comfort food for this jet-lagged soul and made me feel like I was home in some small way.
    Probably one of my favorite Belgische meals was a meal made with endive, thinly sliced ham and a Hollandaise (with a slight bit of cheese) like sauce... At first I was a bit repulsed by the combination, but as I ate it I was pleasantly surprised how good it tasted. Of courlse, unlike Jacquie, I feel in love with Musselen met Fritten and ate them as often as I could. A staple of a Friday or Saturday night walk home from the bars at 2 or 3 am was Belgian Fries (the French don't really know how to make them as well as the Belgians) with gravy and stew meat. They made a wax paper cone and served the fries with this topping and mmmmmmmmmmmmm. I'm certain this is why I rarely suffered a hang over in Belgium as I ended almost every "extended night on the town" with a trip to the "Friture" on my walk or bicycle ride home... Great memories and thank you for posting yours - Dana Swift, Hasselt Belgie 1987-88