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HOW GROWN-UPS CELEBRATE SINTERKLAAS by Pierre-Luc Moeys, chef/owner Oriole 9

Some of you who have been enjoying Roll Magazine may recall last year’s explanation of the Dutch holiday and tradition of Sinterklaas. A quick recap: Sinterklaas—aka St. Nicholas, Santa Claus—arrives in mid-November from Spain by steamship, with his assistant(s) Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”). A big parade is thrown for them in town; Sinterklaas waving with white beard, red robes, and bishop’s mitre, with the “Piets” throwing candy and cookies to singing children and their parents. On the night of December 5 children leave their shoes out (sometimes with carrots or hay for Sinterklaas’ horse) near the fireplace, to be filled with gifts by the Piets, who also run around town knocking on doors and leaving presents for good children. And naughty children? Well, they might be put in a sack and hauled back to Spain.

I grew up enjoying Sinterklaas as a child in Amsterdam. But grown-ups in Holland have their own way of celebrating the holiday, and during these difficult economic times it’s a really nice way to enjoy some special time with family and friends, without having to spend too much money. Here’s how.

First of all, you get together with a group of people you plan to spend Sinterklaas with….but meet sometime in the summer or fall! Decide as a group who is responsible for food and beverages…and who will do the Name Picking. That person makes sure each participant knows the name of the person for whom they must buy a present ….as well as make a SURPRISE for and—most importantly—“the POEM.” Why do this so early in the year? To give everyone plenty of time to come up with something very special.

On the night of Sinterklaas, everyone gets together to enjoy a hearty meal, and perhaps some well crafted beers, wines, or liqueurs. Then it is time for the POEMS, the most fun—and confronting—part of the evening. The POEMS should very personal on every level. Direct, personal, blunt, creative…but delivered kindly with a smile and a laugh. This is always the best and funniest part of the night.

After the POEM, it’s time to open the SURPRISE. My friends and family love to get creative with this part: gifts can be baked into breads, cast inside cement, frozen into ice blocks. If you start months in advance like I advised you earlier, you’ll come up with something cool, unusual, unique. You know what will impress your friends.

The food served for these parties should be solid, festive, and ground laying for those imbibing. Heavy soups are always a big favorite in Holland during cold times, so we have here some nice soups and stews here that are tasty and easy to make.

ERWTENSOEP (Dutch Pea Soup)

This Dutch national favorite—also called snert—is prepared differently in every household, traditionally the day before serving. Not only does this improve the flavor, but it also helps concentrate it to the preferred thickness: where a spoon will stand upright in it. It’s traditional to serve the soup with slabs of bacon on pumpernickel bread. My version has nutmeg, which, by the way, the Dutch had a monopoly on back in the colonial years. But that’s another story. Serves 4-6

What you need:

  • 1 pig’s foot
  • 6 cups water
  • 3 cups dried split green peas, rinsed
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup sliced leeks
  • 1/3 cup sliced onions
  • 1/4 cup sliced celery
  • 1 tsp. thyme, powdered
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tblsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 lb. cooked kielbasa or smoked sausage, sliced thin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Parboil pig’s foot for 5 minutes and drain, discarding liquid. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot, and add peas, pig’s foot, and ham hock. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and let cook partially covered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Stir in rest of ingredients (except kielbasa) and simmer for 30 more minutes, stirring enough to keep from sticking to the bottom. Remove pig’s foot and ham hock, cut away meat, and return meat to the pot with the sliced kielbasa. Simmer for around 10 minutes, and either serve or refrigerate.

When ready to serve, reheat and ladle into bowls…with thick bacon and pumpernickel bread on the side.


This is one of the favorite dishes in the region I grew up in. I got the recipe from a site with authentic Dutch recipes; in the original, a rye-based spiced cake called ontbijtkoek is used to thicken the stew instead of corn flour. Serves 4

What you need:

  • 2 large onions
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 tblsp. vinegar
  • ½ lb. beef, cubed
  • 2 tblsp. corn or masa flour
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pinch of black pepper

Brown onions, flour, and butter in a saucepan. Add stock gradually while stirring, then add bay leaves and cloves and simmer for 5 minutes, lid on. Add vinegar and diced meat and simmer for another hour. Mix corn flour with a little water, and use to thicken sauce to desired consistency. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste, and serve with boiled potatoes and the following red cabbage recipe….


What you need:

  • one 2 lb. head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 4 large cooking apples, sliced
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • 2 tblsp. cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tblsp. butter
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • sugar to taste

Stew all ingredients together over medium-high heat until cabbage is tender all the way through. Season with salt and pepper.

Pierre-Luc Moeys is the chef/owner of Oriole 9

Photos courtesy

Roll magazine -

Westchester Community College