The 17th topic for this year’s Vegan Month of Food is traditional local dishes! This seems like the perfect occasion to post my vegan recipe for Dutch bitterballen. These crispy fried snacks are usually filled with a thick meat-based sauce, and you’ll often see them served as snacks alongside a drink (hence the name: they’re balls that you serve with bitters).
If you’ve never had a bitterbal before, here’s what they look like on the inside:
Standard recipes for bitterballen (I’ve used this one as a reference) are actually surprisingly easy to veganise. I make my roux with oil instead of butter, I use cornstarch slurry instead of eggs in the breading, and I fill my ballen with mushrooms instead of meat. I’m sure this recipe would also work with seitan, TVP, or certain vegetables, but I like the mushroom version so much that I haven’t gotten to other variations yet.
I’ve got a full recipe at the end of this post, but it may look more complicated than it is, so I’ll talk you through it first.
Start by chopping the mushrooms. The pieces should be relatively small so the filling is easy to roll into balls and the mushrooms won’t try to poke through the breading.
Fry the mushrooms with garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Adding a splash of white wine and letting it evaporate near the end of the cooking time would probably make these even more delicious, but I haven’t had the chance to try that yet.
When the mushrooms are nicely browned, transfer them to a bowl, and use the same pan to make a roux: melt the oil, stir in the flour, and let them cook until bubbly. Mix in the vegetable stock.
Once the sauce is smooth and glossy, mix in the mushrooms, parsley, and nutmeg.
Now you have your filling! Chill the mixture before you shape it into balls. You can speed up the cooling process by spreading the sauce out over a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
When the mixture has cooled completely, you can start shaping and breading the bitterballen. Take three shallow bowls (I used small bowls in some of the photos, but bigger ones are better if you don’t want to make a complete mess) and fill them with flour, breadcrumbs, and a cornflour/cornstarch slurry.
Take a tablespoon-sized portion of the filling, coat it in flour, and roll it into a ball.
Submerge the ball in the slurry and cover it in breadcrumbs. Do this twice to ensure a good, sturdy crust. Repeat these steps until you run out of filling; then you can freeze the balls to fry them later.
Here’s a quick (and rather messy) video of the breading steps:
I’ve found the filling to be really easy to work with when I’ve made it with coconut oil or margarine. When I used sunflower oil, however, the roux would soften and I’d end up with flat-bottomed ballen. That’s why I started storing them in this ice cube tray I bought at the market for €1:
It keeps the bottoms of the bitterballen round and it also makes sure that they don’t stick together in the freezer. I imagine a cake pop mould would work as well. You don’t really need one, though — my ice cube tray only holds 13 ballen so I put the rest in a regular container and they’re fine, especially when I make the recipe with a solid fat.
Now, on to the recipe! Wait, just a few more notes:
– The worst thing a bitterbal can do, in my opinion, is to burst open and leak filling into your deep fryer. I haven’t had that happen with this recipe, as long as I 1. freeze the balls first so they’re firm when I go to fry them; 2. apply a double layer of breading; and 3. chop the mushrooms small enough that they don’t poke through.
– As I said, the filling is much easier to work with if you use fat that solidifies as it cools, like coconut oil or margarine. I’ve also made these with sunflower oil, though, and they were delicious, just a bit harder to shape.
– Deep frying is really the best way to cook these. I’ve also had good results cooking them in a frying pan (more tips at the end of the recipe). I’ve tried baking them too, but the results weren’t pretty.
Vegan bitterballen with mushroom filling (makes 26)
Adapted from the Van Dobben recipe
For the mushrooms:
1 tablespoon oil
400 g white mushrooms, chopped into cubes no larger than 1 cm (1/2 inch) (about 5 cups after chopping)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
a pinch of salt
a pinch of black pepper
For the filling:
4 tablespoons oil (preferably coconut oil) or margarine
60 g (1/2 cup) plain flour
500 ml (2 generous cups) salted vegetable stock
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
a pinch of nutmeg
For the breading:
120 g (1 cup) plain flour
120 g (1 cup) breadcrumbs
50 g (6 tablespoons) cornflour (cornstarch) or chickpea flour
180 ml (3/4 cup) water
Oil for frying
Mustard for serving
1. Over medium heat, preheat a wok or frying pan with the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms and fry them for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly browned — 10-15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and put the pan back on the heat.
2. Turn the heat down to low. Add the 4 tablespoons of oil or margarine to the pan, let them melt, then stir in the flour a tablespoon at a time to make a roux. Let the roux bubble for a few minutes, then gradually add in the vegetable stock. It may be lumpy at first, but keep stirring until you have a smooth and glossy sauce — 5 minutes or so.
3. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the mushrooms, parsley, and nutmeg into the roux. Taste for salt and pepper. Now let the mixture cool completely: either transfer it to a sealed container to refrigerate for later, or spread it out on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
4. Once the filling has chilled completely, set out your breading ingredients. Take three shallow bowls. Place the flour and breadcrumbs in two separate bowls, then mix together the cornstarch and water in the third. You may want to start with a smaller amount of flour and breadcrumbs and add more as needed. Get a flat container ready (or a mould with round indentations) for your finished ballen.
5. Now it’s time to shape the bitterballen! Use two spoons to scoop up a tablespoon-sized blob of the filling and drop it into the bowl of flour. Dust it with flour, then use your hands to shape it into a ball. Submerge the ball in the cornstarch slurry and transfer it to the breadcrumbs, using a spoon to coat it completely. Cover it in cornstarch slurry once more, then give it a final coating of breadcrumbs. Place it in the container or in the ice cube tray while you prepare the rest of the ballen.
7. Repeat step 5 until you’ve used up all the filling: flour, cornflour slurry, breadcrumbs, slurry, breadcrumbs. Freeze the bitterballen until solid — at least a few hours. If you don’t want to cook them all right away, store them in a sealed container in the freezer.
8. To fry the bitterballen in a deep-fryer, heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). Add them to the oil a few at a time (depending on the size of your fryer), and fry them for 6-10 minutes, or until they’re nicely browned and hot all the way through to the middle. You definitely don’t want them to have frozen centres, so take one out and cut it in half if you want to make sure.
If you don’t want to deep-fry, I’ve actually had pretty good results cooking these in a frying pan as well. You probably won’t be able to keep them perfectly spherical, but you can still get them nice and crispy. Use a good layer of oil, add a few bitterballen and tilt the pan to coat them in the oil, then turn them often enough to get the outside nice and browned. I like to cover the pan with a lid to make sure the insides thaw completely, but make sure you finish cooking them uncovered to ensure maximum crispiness.
If you know in advance that you’re going to cook them in a frying pan, though, I actually recommend making burger shapes instead of balls:
The flat patties are easier to cook all the way through and easier to manage with a spatula. I’ve also used this recipe to make kroketten (the sausage-shaped versions pictured above), but I’ve found that to be the hardest shape to work with, so I wouldn’t recommend those if you’re making the filling with a liquid oil.
Links of the day
Long post, I know, but I have to tell you about a few dishes from other parts of the world that MoFo bloggers have veganised! I loved this Bakewell tart from Derbyshire by Emma from Walks, Talks and Eats; this Bavarian plum cake by Sonja from Tartes and Recreation, and these Chicago-style deep dish pizzas by Kelly from Seitan Beats your Meat.