Endive: Know Your Fruits and Veggies™

By Dawn M. Swidorski Food - endive

My love of endive happened as accidentally as endive did! I was doing a cooking demonstration for a local food bank and they asked me to show them a recipe for one of the vegetables they would be getting that week: Endive (on-deev). I was completely unfamiliar with the vegetable and it turns out, endive is delicious with a crisp texture and a sweet, nutty flavor with a pleasant mild bitterness. Its great served raw or cooked, easy to prepare and available year round.

Endive is a member of the chicory family, which includes radicchio, escarole and curly endive. Endive comes in two colors: pale green and deep burgundy and white.

It is rare to know the true origin of a fruit or vegetable – but that isn’t the case with endive! In 1830, Jan Lammers returned from war to his farm near Brussels, where he had stored chicory roots in his cellar while he was away, intending to dry and roast them for use as a common coffee substitute.

Imagine his surprise when his chicory roots, resting for months in the dark, damp cellar, had sprouted small white leaves! Always adventurous, Jan tried the leaves and found them tender, moist, and crunchy, with a pleasant, slightly bitter taste. Thus, a new vegetable was discovered — endive.

It took a while before cultivation was refined enough to grow the vegetable commercially. Endive took the world by storm when introduced in Paris in 1872, quickly becoming so popular that it was nicknamed “white gold.” It is often called the queen of vegetables and is prized the world over.

We’re lucky to have endive because it is one of the most difficult vegetables in the world to grow, requiring a two-step process before it is ready to be eaten.

The first growth takes about 150 days in the field, where the chicory plant grows from seed into a deep root. Then, the tops of the leafy plant are cut off, and the roots dug up, and placed in cold storage, where they enter a dormancy period.

When demand dictates, the roots are removed from cold storage for their second growth, which takes 20 to 28 days in dark, cool, and humid forcing rooms, similar to those used in mushroom growing. As a result, endive is available year-round. Today, endive is grown on almost every continent, and worldwide production exceeds a half million tons annually.

Endive is low in fat and sodium and cholesterol free. It’s high in fiber and a good source of Vitamins A, B, and C. Endive is loaded with magnesium, iron, zinc, folate selenium and potassium. Endive is versatile in the kitchen in appetizers, salads, and as a hot side dish or component of the entree.

Buying and Storing

When shopping for endive, look for smooth, plump, crisp, firm heads that are as pale as possible. Once you get it home, store endive wrapped in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag. It’ll last that way in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator for ten to fourteen days – much longer than other lettuces.

Once you’re ready to use endive, there’s no need to wash it. The leaves have never been exposed to soil, and are harvested and packed under sanitary conditions. Just remove any torn or damaged leaves; trim the bottom and you’re ready to go!

If you are using the endive raw, you may want to remove the slightly bitter core from the head. You can do this easily by cutting the endive in half lengthwise and then cutting away the core. If you are cooking the endive, it is not necessary to remove the core, as it will soften and sweeten with cooking.

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