Endive, specifically Belgian endive, is the Greta Garbo of the vegetable world. Bold yet retiring, demanding its privacy, endive lives a sheltered life before being uprooted (a second time!) and crated for shipping to your local grocer. Wikipedia, that often quoted source of info on just about everything states “Endive belongs to the chicory genus, which includes several similar bitter leafed vegetables. Species include endive (Cichorium endivia), Cichorium pumilum and common chicory (Cichorium intybus). Common chicory includes chicory types such as radicchio, puntarelle and Belgian endive.” While this is true, it makes endive sound 1.) nasty and 2.) dull.
I happen to love endive. I will eat it cooked, but I am wild about it as a salad green. Perhaps, though, “green” is not the operative word here. Truly wonderful Belgian endive, endive with only just enough bite to count as interesting and flavorful, should be nearly completely white. If your grocer has it out on display along with lesser lettuces and other greens, you might suggest that endive prefers to be secluded (the Garbo thing). It should be “displayed” as a carton, covered, that requires opening and delving into, something kept from the light of day to maintain its pristene unblemished appearance. Simply, if it turns green it really does get quite bitter and is no longer what I want in *my* salad!
Good Belgian endive is firm, with tight leaves and no brown marks or bruises. It can be cut in half and sautéed, it can be trimmed at the root end so that the leaves fall into tiny “boats”; vehicles to be filled with something like crab or chicken salad, or it can be the main event in a salad with blue cheese and walnuts. That’s what I like best, I think. It makes an entire meal for a hot summer evening. (Well, OK, accompanied by a nice glass of wine and some bread perhaps… )
Growing endive requires patience and the sort of climate that might be conducive to mushrooms. If you are interested, you can read specifics on growing it at Kitchen Gardeners. I find it fascinating but perhaps too challenging. To try this in Texas would require either a fall planting (and lots of luck) or a much cooler house than I live in (and lots of luck). It requires a double harvesting technique that, as far as I know, is specific to this plant. I’m *so* glad that there are growers who find it worth while! I’ll support them… although maybe this fall I may try it for fun.
In the mean time, I’ll eat this salad three or four evenings a week, happily!
Belgian Endive Salad
for the salad:
1 head of Belgian endive
2 T blue cheese, crumbled
2 T walnut pieces, chopped
for the dressing
2 T olive oil
1/2 T (1-1/2 t) white wine vinegar or, if you can find it, walnut vinegar
Chop the endive, barring the very root end. Put the bits in a bowl and mix with the cheese and walnuts. Mix the oil and vinegar well, pour over salad and toss. Enjoy in the cool of the evening with a nice hunk of bread and a glass of wine (I don’t buy that business about not drinking wine while eating something made with a vinaigrette… heavens! )