Over the Easter holidays I went to stay in the Netherlands for a while. I spent a fair bit of time in and around Amsterdam, seeing some friends. The new craze in Amsterdam seems to be elaborate little sandwiches and rolls – fancy bread with fancy stuff. I’m not surprised. The Dutch are all about their bread.
The Dutch eat bread pretty much all day, with any variety of toppings. Did you know that in Dutch there is a word for ‘something you put on bread’? Yes there is, it’s ‘beleg’ and it is one of those words that I believe tells you more about a culture than a month’s worth of biological field notes would. The Dutch do bread like no other nation. Breakfast will consist of bread, lunch boxes will be filled with more bread and even to that slight peckishness in the afternoon, a sandwich will often be the answer.
I don’t mind. I love bread. I practically lived on bread for years, and I never suffered because of it. I have fond memories of my elder brother munching on sandwiches almost perpetually in his teenage years, and sometimes giving me half of one when I was already in bed, refusing to sleep – I was even more gluttonous then than I am now.
However, the endless bread does maybe get a bit boring after a while. After, let’s say, 18 years. But then I moved abroad anyway and I started eating other things. Like porridge for breakfast and left-over fried rice for lunch.
Apparently the rest of the Dutch, the ones who still live in the Netherlands, got tired of the perpetual cheese sandwich too. So now they’re having all kinds of special bread and rolls with special fillings. With special beleg. Here’s my take on my two favourites of the past weeks – one an elaboration on a classic, the other something I hadn’t tried before. For lunch, a ciabatta with cheese and sour things. For a hungover breakfast, a poached egg and avocado sandwich.
For the first you will need:
- a small ciabatta or other tasty bread type of your own choosing
- some mature cheddar
- a bunch of pickled onions and gherkins
- some slices of cucumber
- some sort of lettuce – I used pea sprouts, which was pretty tasty
- mustard sauce – 1 tsp of smooth mustard, 2 tsp of mayonnaise
So slice your ciabatta (or baguette or whatever other tasty bread product you got yourself) open, butter it generously and put enough cheese on. Slice the pickles and gherkins in thin slices and scatter them over the cheese. Spread some cucumber slices over the other toppings, and finish with your pea sprouts or other salad. To make the mustard sauce, mix 1 tsp of mustard with 2 tsp of mayonnaise – preferably the sort of Belgian, slightly sweet, lemony type. Drizzle that over the toppings or spread it straight onto the bread. Easy.
Poached egg and avocado hangover breakfast sandwich
For this one you will need:
- some nice, dark bread, preferably unsliced so you can get nice thick slices
- half an avocado
- one super fresh egg
- some vinegar, for the poaching
- salt and pepper
Boil a wee saucepan full of water. Take your bread and slice some really thick slices. Then you take your avocado, slice it in half, pop out the pip, then carve it whilst still in the skin – you can easily pop the slices out afterwards. Cover one slice of bread with the avocado.
***Now here’s how to poach an egg. If you know how to poach an egg, skip this bit.*** So your water’s boiling and you’re ready to poach the hell out of that egg. Good. Add some vinegar to your boiling water, it’s meant to help. Some people say there’s no need, that it doesn’t actually help at all with the poaching, that it’s all just superstition, but I kinda like the flavour, I quite enjoy my poached egg coated in a little bit of vinegar so I always add some anyway. I used white wine vinegar but I’m sure any type will do.
Now you get your fresh egg out so that you’ve got it handy. Stir the water in the saucepan like a madman, so that you get a little whirlpool in the middle of the water. Quickly but carefully crack your egg and gently drop it in the centre of the water. The miniature Charybdis will keep the egg together and prevent it from forming long eggy tentacles and going all over the place. Leave it in for a minute if you like your yolk runny, or 2 minutes if you prefer it a bit harder. ***End of the egg poaching business***
Lift it out of the water with a slotted spoon or a skimmer, leave to drip for a wee bit, then put it on top of the avocado. Grind some salt and pepper over it, top with the other slice of bread, enjoy with a whole bunch of coffee and feel ready to face the harsh realities of a sober day after an inebriated night on the prowl.