Sunday, June 26, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Iowa II - It just ain't salad without bacon grease

This project would have been so much more difficult without the insights and travel experience of Jane and Michael Stern, whose Roadfood books have been cited and utilized various times throughout this State-by-State round-up. I turn again to the semi-regular guests of NPR's Splendid Table for the lowdown on a few more Iowa curiosities.

Official Name: State of Iowa
State Nicknames: The Hawkeye State
Admission to the US: December 28, 1846 (#29)
Des Moines (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Cedar Rapids (2nd largest), Davenport (3rd largest), Sioux City (4th largest)
Region: Midwest; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Bison
Bordered by:
Minnesota (north); North Dakota, Nebraska (west); Missouri (south); Illinois, Wisconsin & the Mississippi River (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: none
Some Famous & Typical Foods: again, typical Midwestern foods, especially corn; Native American and pioneer foods; soybeans; Red Delicious and "Hawkeye" apples; Dutch, German, Amish and Scandinavian foods

One dish that specifically caught my attention speaks to Iowa's notable Dutch-American community, this time in and around central Iowa. When the Sterns described the dish that Sully and Pella residents refer to as Dutch lettuce, my mind went back to my visit to Amsterdam a few years ago, where I sampled so many wonderful things. And then I sampled Dutch food. Don't get me wrong: the stroopwafels and pannenkoeken were lovely. The other Dutch curiosities were, well, niet lekker. Let's just say I won't be eating hutspot again.

That said, I know I should not pan a whole cuisine. This last month, I learned that in my exploration of Midwestern food. This time, I better give Dutch food another chance. And I will do that with the dish that the Sterns describe as a combo of, at least, "hard-boiled eggs, bacon, sweet-and-sour dressing, and, of course, lettuce" (Stern and Stern 2009: 241). This time I figured I would give Roadfood a rest, and try to find another recipe for Dutch lettuce. I was successful, finding a recipe on the website for the Pella Historical Village. Their Dutch recipe section features a slew - er, a slaw - of Dutch recipes for breads, desserts, soups and salads. Did I mention their recipe for "Dutch Mess"? It's the Stern recipe, but with potatoes.

The recipe: Dutch Lettuce with Potatoes (Slaw met Aardappels, or Dutch Mess)

For this version of Dutch lettuce, originally given to the Pella Historical Village by Jo Harmeling & Jenny Messer (of Pella, I assume), you will need:

* lettuce (well duhhhhh. Fortunately the lettuce in my garden is literally exploding right now. I had lettuce. Lots of it).
* potatoes (had them. This does not seem to be a common thread running through all Dutch lettuce recipes)
* green onion or sweet onion, chopped (the Sterns' recipe calls for sweet onion; PHV's needs scallions instead. I picked up a bunch for a few bucks).
* hard boiled eggs (had them)
* bacon (both the bacon itself and the grease, which you will need below. Yes, I actually ran out of bacon, so I needed to buy some - $5 for a package at Harris Teeter)
* the dressing that you will make from the following: the aforementioned bacon grease, plus apple cider vinegar, one raw egg (yes, in addition to all the hard boiled ones), sugar, flour and butter (had them all)

Before making the dressing, prep your other components.

Wash the lettuce and chop or rip it up into medium or small pieces. The Sterns suggest a crispy lettuce like iceberg, but I settled for what was growing in my garden (which tastes better than iceberg lettuce anyway). Boil the potatoes till soft. You will smash them a little, or at least chop them up. It doesn't have to look perfect. Also boil your eggs so you will have them ready to put in your salad.

Next, make the sweet-and-sour dressing. This is actually the most tedious part, and I don't think I got it quite right.

First, melt the butter, and blend in a little flour, and then some water.

As you bring that to a boil, mix in a separate bowl your raw egg, sugar and apple cider vinegar. Add this to the pot and let it come back to a boil.

Next, fry (or cheat like I did and microwave) up the bacon. The recipe suggests you cut up the bacon before cooking it. Save the bacon grease. You will end up adding it to the dressing. I put all of mine into the pot, since I didn't really get that much bacon grease. Stir occasionally and keep it heated on the stove.

And it may or may not look like this.

Now to assemble the Dutch lettuce.

Start with a layer of potatoes.

Next, add some of your lettuce.

Then some sliced hard-boiled egg...

...some of the bacon...

...and a good amount of your dressing.

Finish it off with the rest of the potatoes, lettuce, eggs and bacon.

You are supposed to serve this up while the dressing is hot, though for leftovers, I just ate it all cold.

I have to say, my expectations were not very high for this salad. However, I was pleasantly surprised by it. The flavors and textures together made for an extremely hearty salad. This is no side salad we're talking about. With the eggs, potatoes, bacon and dressing over all that lettuce, this is a meal unto itself. It lasted me for several days. Though the dressing is, again, tedious to make, this is one salad I would be willing to try again. Dutch food is again redeemed!

We're not quite out of the Midwest yet. Somewhere nearby, just south of Nebraska, just west of Missouri, lies Kansas with its prairies, wheat fields and twisters. And I don't even have to go over any rainbows to get there. Y'hear me, Auntie Em? I'm comin' for you, express-style.


Pella Historical Village. "Old Dutch Recipes - Pella Tulip Time". Copyright 2011 Pella Historical Village.

Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2009.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Iowa" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Iowa".