Many people are not familiar with Belgian endive; I know I wasn’t. If you have never tried it, you may be pleasantly surprised by this tangy, crunchy vegetable. Not all endives are the same. Curly endive, also known as frisee and chicory, has tightly bunched, frizzy leaves and is mostly eaten as a salad green. Broad-leafed endive, familiarly known as escarole, is delicious raw or cooked. Belgian endive is related to these two but it is not the same. Belgian endive is a small, cylindrical head of lettuce with pale yellow leaves and curly edges. Red Belgian endive is known as radicchio.
Belgian endive can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are crunchy and slightly bitter though the flavor mellows a bit when it is cooked and even gets a bit sweet. It is a hardy winter vegetable and more versatile than many people may think. If Belgian endive is new to you, here are some ways to make it taste delicious.
1. Selecting and Storing
When selecting Belgian endives, look for heads that are free from blemishes and discolorations especially along the feathery yellow-green edges. They should feel heavy and have densely packed leaves. You can peel back the outer layers a bit to check the inner leaves. Keep the endives in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge. They should last about a week. Don’t cut them until you are ready to use them or they will brown faster. Check out How to Properly Store Your Fruit and Vegetables for Maximum Freshness for more tips.
2. Belgian Endive Salad
Belgian endive is very crunchy and works well in salads. Since it is a winter vegetable, use it to make a hearty salad with fruit and nuts. Try this Belgian Endive, Apple and Walnut Salad: trim the bases of 2 or 3 heads of Belgian endive and pull the leaves from the heads. Cut them into smaller pieces. Slice 2 apples into thin wedges and add to the endive in a large bowl. Mix in ½ cup chopped toasted walnuts. In a small bowl, combine 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, the zest and juice of half a lemon, 1 tsp. dried dill, and kosher salt to taste. Add the dressing to the salad and toss to mix. For more salad ideas, read Not Just for Summer: 7 Tips for Making Satisfying Fall and Winter Salads.
3. Use Them as Scoops
Maybe the most popular way people use Belgian endive is to treat the leaves like small bowls and fill them with amazing foods. In a sense, the leaves act like wraps except they don’t really close up. Belgian endive leaves are perfect for my Tofu “Chicken” Salad: cut a block of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed and drained into small cubes. Steam the cube for 3-4 minutes. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a large skillet and cook the tofu for just a few minutes until they just begin to brown on all sides. Transfer the tofu to a plate to cool. In a large bowl, combine 2 finely chopped celery stalks, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, 4 Tbs. vegan mayonnaise, 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. mustard powder, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and ½ tsp. black pepper. Add the tofu to the bowl and mix everything together. Taste for any seasoning adjustments and refrigerate until the tofu salad is cold. Separate the leaves from 4 or 5 heads of Belgian endive and place the leaves on a serving platter. Spoon the “chicken” salad into the endive boats. Sprinkle with chopped toasted almonds.
4. Braised Endive
Braising involves cooking a food in liquid for a considerable period of time. It softens the food while infusing it with the flavors of whatever it is cooked in. Braised endive is an amazing side dish. Braising softens the bitter flavor and makes the greens tender. To make Braised Belgian Endive with Breadcrumbs: heat 1 Tbs. oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ cup bread crumbs and 2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley and toast until they are browned and crispy. Set aside. In a deep saucepan, add 1 Tbs. of oil and 1 Tbs. vegan butter. Cut 5 or 6 heads of Belgian endive in half, length-wise. Lay the heads in the pan, cut-side down. Cook the endive until it starts to brown, about 3 minutes. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 cup vegetable broth and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Cook for half an hour until the liquid evaporates, turning the endive every ten minutes or so. Transfer the endive to a platter and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs.
5. Sauteed Endive
My favorite way to cook any vegetable is to saute it. It’s fast, easy and it adds a ton of flavor. You can saute Belgian endive alone or add other greens to the mix. To make Sauteed Belgian Endive: heat 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Add 3 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Chop 4 heads of endive into small pieces and add to the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste. Saute about 3 minutes until the greens are tender but still have some crunchiness. Remove from the heat. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top and serve. You can use the same recipes and ideas with Belgian endive as written about in 10 Creative Ideas to Stir-Fry and Sauté Spinach.
6. Other Ideas
There are a lot of other ways to enjoy Belgian endive. Chop them up and add them to soups, stews and chilis. Try adding endive to top your burgers and sandwiches instead of the usual lettuce. Add chopped endive to your stir-fries. Grill the whole heads until charred and crisp-tender. Instead of crackers, put out endive leaves on your party platters to dip into your most awesome dips and spreads. If you want to save carbs and calories, treat the endive leaves like pasta shells. Fill them with tofu ricotta, lay them in a baking dish and cover them with marinara sauce and vegan mozzarella. Bake at 400 degrees for just 10 minutes and you have a healthier version of manicotti or stuffed shells.
I try to make it a habit to experiment with new greens and vegetables every chance I get. Hopefully, these ideas will inspire you to try Belgian endive. If you have a favorite way to eat endive, tell us in the comments.
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