I was excited to spend a week cooking food from Belgium, as I already knew a little about the kind of food I might get to make. Foremost in my mind were liege waffles, something I’ve wanted to make for a while. I also appreciate the Belgian Reddit community for pointing me towards Jeroen Meus; he is a popular Flemish chef and I was able to use some of his recipes this week.
Belgium is a country in Northwestern Europe, and is part of an area known as the Low Countries. The majority of this area was once the Netherlands but was eventually split up to create Belgium and Luxembourg as well.
Belgium has flourished since the Middle Ages due to its central location. However, it has also often been the battleground when other European countries go to war, which has led to it being nicknamed ‘The Battlefield of Europe’.
Modern Belgium seceded from the Netherlands after the Belgian Revolution in 1830. There have been periods of tension since then between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking citizens. Various reforms were made in an attempt to appease both groups, but they do not appear to have had much effect.
Despite that, Belgium sounds like a great place to live, with a very high standard of living and safety. The capital city of Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union and hosts the headquarters of many major international organizations, such as NATO.
What Do People Eat in Belgium?
First, I must mention that while researching Belgian food, I found out that French fries aren’t really French at all. They originated in Belgium, where historians claim they were invented in the late 1600s. Apparently, villagers often used to fry the small fish they caught in nearby rivers. But in winter, the rivers froze, and so they started frying potatoes instead. Fries are still very popular in Belgium and are often accompanied by mayonnaise.
Belgian food is heavily influenced by French and Dutch cuisine. Most of the dishes I made this week had both Dutch and French names so I went with the ones that I saw more often.
Common ingredients are potatoes, leeks, white asparagus, Belgian endives, and beer, as well as European staples such as meat, cheese, and butter.
Grey shrimp, which are fished primarily in the North Sea, appear in a lot of dishes, including a few I wanted to make. I can’t get grey shrimp, and was told they are very different to regular pink shrimp. I was struggling to fit in everything I wanted to make this week anyway, so I decided to give the grey shrimp dishes a miss (you can still read about them in the section on dishes I didn’t make).
What I Made
- Chicon au Gratin (Belgian Endive Gratin)
- Chicken Waterzooi (Chicken Soup)
- Asparagus à la Flamande (Asparagus with Egg and Butter Sauce)
- Boulets à la Liégeoise (Meatballs)
- Stoemp (Mashed Potato and Vegetables)
- Liege Waffles
- Moules Frites (Mussels and Fries)
- Stoofvless (Beef and Beer Stew)
Scroll down to read about other popular Belgian dishes I didn’t make!
Chicon au Gratin (Belgian Endive Gratin)
‘Chicon’ is the name for what we call ‘Belgian endives’ in the United States. These endives are wrapped in ham and then covered in a bechamel sauce, sprinkled with parsley and gruyere, then broiled for a few minutes until the cheese is starting to brown. I don’t have a broiler-safe baking dish, so I used high heat in the oven for a little longer. These turned out really good!
The recipe I used is from All Recipes.
Chicken Waterzooi (Chicken Soup)
Waterzooi is a creamy soup which was once primarily made with fish, though nowadays chicken is more common. It includes vegetables such as carrot, celery, onion, leek, and potatoes, and a mix of herbs. I used the recipe from Jeroen Meus’ website, Dagelijkse Kost, though I was only making half so I used bone-in chicken thighs instead of cutting up a whole chicken. The broth was flavored with cloves, thyme, star anise, and bay leaves, which to me was an interesting combination. I have to say, it worked really well! This recipe calls for the vegetables to be julienned, which took a while. This made for a nice presentation but I would probably just chop them in future. At the end, the soup is garnished with fresh tarragon, parsley, chives, and chervil. I’ve never seen fresh chervil at my grocery store so I skipped it.
This was a really delicious soup! I served it with some homemade sourdough. I’m sure this is something I will make again.
For anyone wanting to follow this recipe, you can translate the whole page easily if you load the website in Google Chrome. You will probably be asked if you want the page translated. If not, just right-click somewhere on the page (but not on a photo) and select ‘Translate to English’. The only things that didn’t translate in this recipe were ‘rook’ which is garlic, and ‘laurel’ which is bay. Also, sometimes when I load this recipe, ‘kip’ does not translate to chicken as it should.
Asparagus à la Flamande (Asparagus with Egg and Butter Sauce)
Asparagus à la flamande is a simple dish, made from lightly boiled asparagus with a sauce made of boiled eggs, clarified butter, and parsley, with a touch of nutmeg. Traditionally, this would be made with white asparagus, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that for sale at my grocery store, so I used regular green. I used another recipe from Dagelijkse Kost which I found easy to follow. One thing I didn’t do though was peel the asparagus. I began to, but decided it was more work than I felt necessary, especially because my asparagus spears were thin already. Maybe this makes more sense if you have thicker, tougher asparagus.
This was, as you might imagine, delicious. I didn’t pour as much of the butter onto my plate as in the recipe photo. It just felt like too much, and I might reduce the overall butter amount if I were to make this again. Not because it tastes bad; it’s just terribly unhealthy!
Boulets à la Liégeoise (Meatballs)
This dish is composed of large meatballs in a sweet and sour sauce, which gets its flavor from balsamic vinegar and liège syrup. The syrup is usually made from apples and pears, and is like a jam or jelly in consistency. This wasn’t something I could easily get; I couldn’t find it at all on Amazon until I looked on the French website! Instead, I used apple butter since I had seen it suggested as a substitution and it definitely looks very similar. I thought it worked really well, though of course I can’t compare it to the real thing.
I used another recipe from Dagelijkse Kost. For this one, when translated, ‘mixed chopped’ refers to ground meat. I used a mix of beef and pork. Once again, ‘rook’ means garlic and ‘laurel’ means bay. And (this one made me laugh) ‘dragon’ refers to tarragon. I didn’t actually make the salad or the fries, instead I served this with leftover asparagus and oven fries. I did make fries from scratch this week, but I didn’t want to do it every time I was going to eat them.
In Belgium, it seems it’s popular to serve fries with mayonnaise. I’d never tried this before. Since mayonnaise was coming up a few times this week, I decided to make my own. And I have to say, fries dipped in mayonnaise (especially good quality mayonnaise) are amazing! This will probably be my go-to fry sauce from now on.
The meatballs themselves were also delicious, but I was having trouble not being blown away by the fry-mayonnaise combination.
Stoemp (Mashed Potato and Vegetables)
Stoemp is a broad term that basically means ‘mash’ in English. The simplest version is made of mashed potatoes with other vegetables and bacon mixed in. I combined my mashed potatoes with bacon, brussels sprouts, carrots, and leeks, and I served it as a side with a sausage (okay, so I guess there’s more stoemp than sausage, but oh well!).
Sausage can also be mixed in as part of the dish, but I decided to keep it as simple as possible. I used the recipe from Foreign Fork, though I cut down on the cream a lot because it just seemed like way too much. I thought my stoemp still ended up tasting really good, and the leftovers were excellent with an egg on top for breakfast the next day.
Liege waffles are not actually served for breakfast in Belgium, nor are they typically eaten as a dessert. Instead, they are considered a kind of snack food that you can eat on the go. It was easier for me to fit them in as a breakfast though, so that is what I did. They are smaller than regular waffles, made with a yeast dough, and pearl sugar is folded into the mixture.
I thought these were really good; they didn’t need any syrup because the pearl sugar gave them enough sweetness. I did dust with a little powdered sugar, but even that probably wasn’t necessary.
For these, I used the recipe from A Bountiful Kitchen. It was easy to follow, and even though it was a yeast dough, it only had to rise for half an hour so it wasn’t too time-consuming to make for breakfast.
I can also confirm that these freeze well! I did not halve the recipe, because if my husband liked them, I don’t think there would have been enough. It turns out he found them ‘edible’ but didn’t really like them (but that’s true for most things) so I put the leftovers in the freezer. They aren’t as crispy after being microwaved but they do still taste really good.
Moules Frites (Mussels and Fries)
Moules frites is often considered Belgium’s national dish. Mussels are cooked in garlic, shallots, and white wine, and served with fries. I included mayonnaise too, since that seems to be the Belgian custom.
For the mussels, I followed the recipe from the Food Network. I used frozen, pre-cooked mussels since they aren’t in season and I’m honestly kind of intimidated by preparing fresh ones anyway. I do plan on it one day! These frozen ones had good reviews, and the texture was fine, but I didn’t think they had much flavor. But this was also my first time eating mussels, so I’m not sure what they’re meant to taste like.
I made the fries myself, and it was my first time making them from scratch. I followed the recipe from the Food Lab book, which can also be found online on Serious Eats. These fries turned out amazing and my picky husband (who does not like potatoes but likes fries) liked them too. They are definitely not something I want to make all the time, not because of the work involved but because anything fried isn’t particularly healthy. But I’m glad I’ve made them once and I’m sure I’ll make them again every now and then.
Stoofvlees (Beef and Beer Stew)
Stoofvlees, also known by its French name carbonnade flamande, is a beef and beer stew. It also features thyme, cloves, and liege syrup, at least in the recipe I used, which was once again from Dagelijkse Kost. I cut up a chuck roast for the beef, used apple butter instead of the syrup, and used Guinness as the beer. This is probably not completely correct, but I happened to already have the Guinness left over from some other recipe where I had to buy four cans and only needed one. Whether authentic or not, the end result was incredible.
This is another dish that is usually served with fries, so I used oven fries. It’s not in the photo, but there was mayonnaise as well.
The recipe I followed included a salad, but instead I made Brussels sprouts. Usually, I like to roast Brussels sprouts in the oven or cook them in a skillet, but I followed a recipe that claimed to be Belgian. The sprouts were boiled until nearly done, then finished in a pan with butter. I don’t think they turned out as well as I usually make them though, so I won’t include that recipe.
Other Popular Belgian Dishes
- Mitraillette – a sandwich made on a baguette with fries, fried meat, and sauce. The meat can be sausage, burger meat, or steak, and the sauce can be mayonnaise, ketchup, garlic sauce, or bearnaise sauce. There may also be salad vegetables and cheese.
- Croquettes aux crevettes grises – a mixture of grey shrimp, bechamel sauce, eggs, and seasoning that is breaded and fried in small balls or logs to create croquettes.
- Tomates aux crevettes grises – an appetizer consisting of raw tomatoes stuffed with shrimp salad. The shrimp salad is made from grey shrimp, mayonnaise, and parsley.
- Salade liegeoise – Belgian potato salad, made of green beans, bacon, and potatoes. The dressing is vinegar-based, rather than creamy.
This was an awesome week! All the food from Belgium I tried was so good. I really enjoyed making my own French (or rather, Belgian!) fries for the first time. It’s pretty hard to pick a favorite meal, but maybe it was the waterzooi or stoofvlees.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Belize.