A favourite bar snack in The Netherlands is Bitterballen. Small, round, deep-fried croquettes formed from bechamel sauce and meat, served with mustard, and usually accompanied by a drink. These days it is not unusual to find vegetarian versions, but the ones I’ve tried so far have been no match for the real deal. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. By the third tryout, they were pretty crunchy on the outside, with a meaty texture on the inside. They were not too bad.
Dried shitake mushrooms are easy to find in Asian markets. They store for a long time and are amazingly versatile. They are also known as Chinese black button mushrooms and are smaller than their Japanese counterpart. And because they are dried, they have a more concentrated flavour which is perfect for this recipe.
40 g (1½ oz) dried whole shitake mushrooms
40 g (⅓ cup) walnuts
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon each of parsley, sage, rosemary, & thyme;
or 1 teaspoon of provencal herbs
Breadcrumbs or coarse cornmeal
Oil for frying
- If you can, soak the dried shitakes in cool water overnight; the shitakes will have more flavour. Otherwise, cover them with hot water and soak until they are soft, about 30 minutes. Drain. Trim away any hard stems and chop roughly into small pieces.
- Peel the garlic clove.
- Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz until they form a smooth but firm paste-like consistency. Depending on the speed of your machine this could take a few minutes.
- Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Take the mixture from the fridge and with floured hands, roll into small round balls roughly 3 cm (1 inch) diameter. Roll them through breadcrumbs or cornmeal.
- In a non-stick frying pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil over a medium flame. Fry aboug six balls at a time in the hot oil. Carefully move them around without breaking so that they brown evenly.
- When they are crispy golden, about three or four minutes, transfer them onto a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
- Wipe the frying pan of any bits that might burn, and repeat until the mixture is finished adding more oil as needed.
- Serve immediately on a dinner plate with a small bowl of whole-grain mustard, a few toothpicks, and paper napkins.
- Pick up a bitterballen using a toothpick or fingers, dip into mustard, and enjoy.