Wouldn’t it be ideal if there was a lettuce that didn’t require four rinses under ice cold water to rid it of sand and grime? A lettuce that could stand up to incredibly abrasive dressings, and even a bit of cooking? And what if this magic lettuce would last for more than half an hour in the fridge without wilting and becoming slimy?
Well, folks there is. Welcome, Belgian endive.
Belgian endive, a vegetable in the same family as chicory and radicchio, is a pale green or dark purple, tightly wrapped, spear-shaped head of lettuce that embodies all of these ideal features and more. There is also curly endive, commonly called frisee, and escarole, which is a very mild form of the lettuce.
Belgian endive is grown in the dark (to prevent it from discoloration) as the second part of a two-part growing process. Not once does the head of lettuce touch dirt—hence, no need to soak and resoak at home to get rid of excess dirt. Look for endive with a tight, clean-colored head. Once in the fridge, it can stay there for up to two weeks without wilting. Try to keep it in a dark place, under other items, since light can make the lettuce bitter.
Once the stem is chopped off and any slightly limp outer leaves are removed, the endive is ready to eat.
Endive’s natural flavor can be somewhat bitter, but that is part of the joy of this vegetable. How it is cooked or paired with other ingredients uses the clean, strong flavor of the lettuce to its utmost advantage. Here are just a few easy ideas:
- Cover it with cream and bake it.
- Tear off the leaves and use them as crisp dippers for pate or dip.
- Make a delicious salad with a strong vinaigrette and incredibly stinky cheese that will enhance the endive’s subtly sweet background flavor.