Stamppot with Beets and Bacon
New discoveries abound when you’re in university. We learn useful skills like how to use a washing machine, how to share close quarters with near strangers, how to concoct extremely potent alcoholic beverages that don’t immediately induce the gag reflex, how to take detailed notes while suffering a hangover, and how to feed ourselves on little to no money.
The last skill is something that my roommates and I mastered. I can say with confidence that we could compile a book of delicious recipes that would keep any college student fed on less than 5 bucks a day. We bought lots of fruits, vegetables and meat in bulk and learned lots and lots of new, exciting ways to use bacon and ground beef. It also didn’t hurt that we lived in Montreal, a city that, in my opinion, could put any number of European culinary hubs to shame for its wealth of variety, mastery of its French heritage, abundance of regional and seasonal consideration, welcome lack of pretension, and understated elegance. It’s a city where you can have a life-altering poutine with foie gras washed down with buckets of local cider one night (at my favorite restaurant) and the next, savor a vegan BLT washed down with ginger-carrot juice. Where you can still get a bagel at midnight but you can’t get a sandwich at Wilensky’s Light Lunch after 3 pm.
But I digress.
As poor and largely self supporting students, my roommates and I penny pinched at home so we could enjoy all that Montreal had to offer. We pooled all our household money into a joint account, sharing and sharing alike. We cooked dinner together every single night, delegating cooking and cleaning responsibilities on a rotating schedule. And, the frugal little communists we were, we managed, if I remember correctly, to spend about $2.50 per person per day on food.
And so how was the food? Delicious. And, as I mentioned before, full of new discoveries. Some of my favorites came from Meredith, with whom I happily resided for 3 years. To put it really lightly, Meredith wasn’t big on cooking when we first met. I think some of the enthusiasm (and there was lots of enthusiasm) in our apartment’s kitchen eventually rubbed off on her. But whether or not our endless experiments (with food, people! Minds out of the gutter!) converted her isn’t really important. We had an awesome time and we ate well. And though Meredith was loathe to get in the kitchen those first few years, she had a few gems up her sleeve.
One of the most memorable of Meredith’s recipes – and the one I probably recreate the most at home – is kroeteprukke. Or is it kruteprujke? Whatever the spelling, it’s a version of the classic Dutch dish stamppot (literally “mash pot,”) which is made by mixing mashed potatoes with one or more vegetables and, at least in my very limited experience, topping it with meat. I realize that may sound dull, but Meredith’s three versions – boerenkoel, with kale and rookwurst; hutspot with carrots and sausage; and this kroetprukke (sp?), with beets and bacon – are truly good eating. It’s stick-to-your-ribs, satisfying and, of course, costs next to nothing.
The last time I made this was last week, an afterthought to use up some boiled beets. Afterthought or not, I was so glad I did. Not only does it make for the brightest dinner I’ve ever seen, it brings back some bright memories, too. (Awwww.) And reminds me that there are so many more dishes to discover…
STAMPPOT WITH BEETS AND BACON
In an effort to make this recipe pronounceable, I’ve decided to abandon whatever Meredith used to call it and just use the more generic Dutch name, Stamppot. I know the description may be off-putting, but trust me, this is a simple, warming, fun, easy, healthy, fast, cheap, hearty, and definitely bright meal.
SERVES 5 – 6 as a one dish meal
8 medium potatoes
1 onion, chopped
¼ cup vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp corn starch
8 slices bacon, chopped
Boil potatoes in a large pot, with their skins on. When they are soft, after approximately 30 minutes, turn off the heat, drain and set aside.
At the same time, boil the beets (skins on) in another pot until they’re soft, approximately 1.5 hours. Reserve about a cup of the beet water.
When cooled, peel the beets and the potatoes. Cube the potatoes and place them back in the large pot. Slice the beets. Heat the reserved beet water, and add the slices to it. Mix the cornstarch into a bit of water or vinegar, and add it to the beet mix.
Meanwhile, sauté onions until golden brown. In a separate saucepan, fry the bacon on medium-low until crispy, and reserve the bacon grease. Pour the beet slurry over cubed potatoes, and mash. Add the sautéed onions, stirring over a bit of heat until heated through.
Serve in individual bowls, sprinkle with reserved bacon and drizzle with bacon grease.
Boil the potatoes and the beets separately in salted water. (You can use roast beets, too, as long as they’re cooked). Drain, reserving some cooking water. Peel the potatoes and beets, then return them to a large pot and, mixing in some of the reserved cooking water, mash together until relatively uniform, adding more water as necessary, over low heat.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a pan until crispy. Reserve the bacon and all the grease in a small bowl. In the same pan, fry the onion (with some extra oil if needed) until translucent. Mix the onions into the potato-beet mixture.
Spoon the bright purple mash into individual bowls. Divide crispy bacon among them, then pour bacon fat on top.