I lived in Belgium for quite a long so I had had enough time to get acquaintanced with the chicory. In spite of its bitterness I got to like it and now there is no week without eating it as a soup or salad or even ice cream! But it’s true there are only certain cuisines which appreciate it. For instance the Liguria and Puglia regions of Italy and also Catalonia (Spain), Greece and Turkey. In Ligurian cuisine the wild chicory leaves are ingredients of preboggion and in Greek cuisine the horta; in the Puglian region wild chicory leaves are also combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish Fave e Cicorie Selvatiche however in Albania the leaves are used as a spinach substitute, mainly served simmered and marinated in olive oil, or as ingredient for fillings of byrek.
I learned in Belgium that by cooking and discarding the water the bitterness of the chicory can be reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sautéed with garlic, anchovies and other ingredients.
Here comes one of my favorite dish with the chicory the witloof soup (a.k.a. chicory, or Belgian endive) which is usually made with onions or leeks. Sometimes potatoes are also added to soup, as well as chicken or vegetable stock, and cream. I set out to make a vegan version of witloof soep. I think I’ve had some success with this recipe so I have added it to my growing collection of Belgian inspired recipes:
4 medium heads of endives-chicory
1 small leek, 1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons (30 ml) oil
2 cloves of garlic
6 cups (about 1.5 Liters) water, 1 carrot
2 vegan bouillon cubes
salt and pepper to taste
optional garnishing: créme fraiche and lavender, 100 ml cream
1.Remove the dark green top of the leek. Chop up the leek and press out the garlic cloves and get rid of the bitter “hearts” of the witloofs.
2. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot and toss in the leek, bay leaf, add garlic and witloof (and I usually add grated carrot as well). Stir constantly to coat with the hot olive oil. Cook for about 5 minutes. The witlof should begin to brown and the leek begin to soften. Add the water and bouillon cubes next. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Remove the soup from heat and allow to cool.
5. When the soup has sufficiently cooled, blend it thoroughly. Return the blended soup back to the stovetop, and stir in the cream. Reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
6. Before serving, season with salt and pepper. If you want to be fancy, you can add a small spoonful of crème fraiche to each bowl of soup just before serving. Suggested garnish: chives, parsley, lavender.