The Best Vegetable You Never Eat
When was the last time you ate Belgian endive? That long ago? Yeah, me too.
And when did you last cook it at home? Probably never, if you’re like me.
What a shame. Because Belgian endive has an appealing bitterness that mellows and sweetens when the vegetable is cooked. It’s low in calories (each one has about 20), full of vitamins and minerals, and easy to prepare. What’s not to like?
Recipe: Braised Belgian Endive
Belgian endive can be used raw in salads (treat it like radicchio) or cooked. It takes well to steaming or roasting, but it’s most often seen braised. On restaurant menus (particularly French ones) it’s common to find braised endive paired with roast meat — this vegetable goes particularly well with poultry, veal, and pork.
The slightly bitter flavor of Belgian endive is mellowed during cooking. Butter or olive oil, along with an acidic ingredient like lemon juice or vinegar (particularly balsamic vinegar), can greatly enhance its flavor.
Belgian endives are small (2 - 4 ounces each). So figure on 1 or 2 for a serving (one is enough, but they’re so good people may want seconds).
This recipe, which serves 4 to 6, is adapted from Molly Stevens’ All About Braising. Active prep time is about 10 minutes, braising time 35 - 45 minutes.
Well wrapped leftovers will keep a few days in the refrigerator. They’re good cold, or you can heat them in the microwave.
- 1½ pounds Belgian endive (about 8; or as many as you want)
- 3 - 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
- ¼ cup chicken stock or water
- salt and pepper
- balsamic vinegar to finish (optional)
- chopped parsley to garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lightly grease a baking or gratin dish with butter or olive oil. It’s preferable to use a dish that’s big enough so the endives just fill the dish in one layer. (But if you don’t have a dish this size, it’s OK if you overlap a bit.)
- Wash the endives under running water. Remove any wilted leaves (if recently purchased, there shouldn’t be any), and cut a thin wedge from the root end of each stem. Cut each endive in half lengthwise.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil in large frying pan over medium heat. When the butter/oil is hot and melted, sauté endives (flat cut side down) until browned – 4 or 5 minutes. If your frying pan isn’t large enough, you may have to do this is 2 batches (add more butter or olive oil if necessary).
- When browned, remove from frying pan and place in gratin dish, flat (cut) side up. You want to place the endives in one layer — you can squeeze them together to make them fit.
Add chicken stock or water to gratin dish, and salt and pepper the endive. Cover dish with aluminum foil, wrapping it around the dish for a tight fit. Place on middle rack of preheated oven.
- Cook until endives are tender (pierce with tip of a sharp knife to test). This will take about 30 – 40 minutes. Start testing at 30 minutes (it’s OK if they overcook a bit; they’ll just become softer).
- When tender, remove foil and cook endives for another 5 or 10 minutes until cooking liquid reduces to a syrupy glaze (this step is optional, but adds a nice touch).
- Remove from oven, place endives on a serving plate, spoon syrupy cooking liquid over them (optional), and lightly sprinkle them with balsamic vinegar (optional). Sprinkle with chopped parsley (also optional), and serve.
- Most recipes don’t specify preliminary sautéing for Belgian endive (step 4). But sautéing ensures nicely browned endives, which is why I like Molly Stevens’ recipe (she calls for the sauté).
- Most recipes suggest bringing the braising liquid to a boil on the stovetop after you add it to the gratin dish (step 6). But liquid comes to a simmer soon enough in the oven, so I don’t do this.
- Bacon pieces or prosciutto slices are sometimes braised with Belgian endives. If you wish to do this, brown them in the frying pan after you brown the endives. Then tuck the bacon pieces or prosciutto slices in among the endives, or place on top. I’d omit the balsamic vinegar finish if you do this.
- If you want, you can add a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice to the braising liquid.
Adding dried thyme when you salt and pepper the endive (step 6) is a nice flavor boost.
More About Belgian Endive
Belgian endive (sometimes called French endive) is a member of the chicory family, which induces curly endive, radicchio, escarole, and frisée. Belgian endive is light-colored (almost white) because it’s grown in darkness. It’s called “Belgian” endive because a Belgian farmer accidentally stumbled on the technique for growing it this way in 1830. Now it’s grown all over the world. My local supermarket sometimes stocks Belgian endive that is actually imported from Belgium, though more frequently it’s from Mexico.
Although Belgian endive is grown in the US, there are relatively few producers of it — because most of us just don’t eat it. I don’t remember when I was last in a supermarket that had more than about 4 dozen heads available for sale (and usually the stock is about half that). Traditionally, the peak season for Belgian endive is November through April, but with modern growing methods it’s available — and of good quality — year round.
When buying Belgian endive, you should choose heads with leaves that are tightly wrapped and have a smooth texture. Avoid endives with brown spots. Endives with just a bit of green on leaf tips are OK. But avoid any that are too green — this is a sign they’ve been stored too long in the light. (The endive in the picture above is about as green as you want to get.)
You can store Belgian endive tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for a few days. Although expensive, it has virtually no waste.
Just Try It
About a year ago, I wrote a post entitled Eating Your Vegetables. Most of us consume too few vegetables, and we know it. As one way of increasing veggie consumption, I suggested trying out some vegetables that you rarely — or never — buy. For me, that’s Belgian endive. I challenged myself to cook it.
Until I issued this challenge to myself, I had only eaten Belgian endive a few times, always in restaurants. Once I started cooking it, I realized that I’d been missing out on its enticing flavor — my loss.
There are loads of recipes out there for Belgian endive, and periodically I’ll be featuring them. In fact, later this week I’ll discuss how to roast it. This is even easier than braising — and tastes even more delicious.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Roast Belgian Endive
Roast Sweet Potatoes
Spinach Salad with Parmesan
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing