belgian endive

Chicory soup with lavender

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Foods 2013. july 005I 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:

 

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

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What about the chicory? Hate it or love it?

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Karacsony2010 052The endive is considered one of the most essential vegetables in the Belgian kitchen. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed with minced meat, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw for salad. The tender leaves are slightly bitter; the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head should be cut out before cooking to prevent bitterness and at cooking may be useful to add a pinch of sugar.

Since I lived 15 years in Belgium I was kind of obliged to learn how to cook the Belgian endive or in the Flemish part it is called witloof. I have to confess when I accidentally chose as a side dish first I was very disappointed because of its bitter taste. Then for a while if I could I avoided it. But slowly I became on good term with the chicory and started to prepare soup and salad. Since I have found an excellent endive recipe I am almost at the border of addiction.

My best recipes

Stuffed guinea-fowl in porto caramelized endives

Ingredients: 1 guinea-fowl, 4-6 endives, Porto wine, bay leaf, thyme, 1 chicken bouillon

For the filling: 2 slices of bread, cream cheese, such as Philadelphia or Kiri, 1 onion, chopped parsley, 150 gr chicken liver, 1 egg

First prepare stuffing. Add egg, finely chopped onion, chicken liver, (optional) cream cheese to breadcrumbs and season with chopped parsley. Put everything in the food processor and blend well. 2. Loosen the skin of the guinea fowl and place the stuffing in the cavity. Then rub it with salt and pepper. 3. Secure fowl with kitchen string and start to sauté in the melted butter, initially over a high heat then a low one. 4. When both side of the fowl is golden brown pour over chicken boillon. After 20 minutes add the endives (previously cleaned and cut in half) and pour over Porto wine. Simmer fowl and endives together. After about 25 minutes the guinea-fowl and endives should be tender. 5. Prepare potato purée and serve with some salad.

A gratin of chicory in béchamel sauce with cheese This recipe is a Belgian classic.

Ingredients: 4 bulbs of endive, 4 slices of Parma ham, Gouda cheese, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg powder

For the white sauce: 1 tbs butter, 1 tbs flour, 150 ml milk, 100 gr grated cheese.

1. Trim the bottoms of endives so that the leaves remain 2 to 3 inches long. Cut each endive in half. 2. Wrap ham around endives and place them into a buttered oven-proof dish. 3. Make the bechamel sauce from the butter, flour, milk or water. Flavour with nutmeg. Salt softly because the parmaham is already salty enough. 4. Pour the bechamel sauce over endives, grate some cheese over the top and put into the microwave for 7 to 10 minutes. 5. Serve with fresh French bread.

Curry flavoured chicory  with lambs

You need four endives, 1 bayleaf, 4-5 cloves, 1 dl chicken bouillon, 1 dl porto wine, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 pinch of sugar, 1 teaspoon curry

Clean the endives cut out stems. Melt butter in a pan and add halved endives. Sauté for 3 minutes then season with salt and pepper, flavor with bayleaf, cloves and curry. Pour over chicken bouillon and porto wine and simmer over lower heat until endives are tender. Excellent side dish with lamb or chicken!!!

Belgium Schwarzwald 023Endive soup It is an excellent, light soup and easy to prepare.

Ingredients: 2 endives, 1 carrot, 1 l chicken bouillon, 2 cloves of garlic, butter, pepper to taste

(You can add two or three pieces of mushrooms as well)

Clean vegetables, then julienne the carrot. Melt butter in a saucepan, add garlic, carrot and chopped endives. After 3 minutes pour over bouillon. Cook for 15 minutes under covered lid. When the soup is ready put in a food processor and mix well. Serve with sour cream or cream and crouton.

Belgian endive is also known as French endive, or witloof in Belgian Dutch, witloof in the United States, chicory in the UK, as witlof in Australia, endive in France, and chicon in parts of northern France and in Wallonia.

The technique for growing blanched endives was accidentally discovered in the 1850s in Schaerbeek, Belgium. Since then endive has been cultivated for culinary use by cutting the leaves from the growing plant, then keeping the living stem and root in a dark place. Today France is the largest producer of endive however Belgium exports chicon/witloof to over 40 different countries as well. In market places it is often sold wrapped in blue paper in order to protect it from light and so preserve its pale color and delicate flavor.

 

There is no week without chicory!

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My first encounter with the chicory happened in the canteen of the Catholic University Leuven (Belgium). I selected it accidentaly from the menu offer because it looked like a steamed vegetable. But when I tasted it my face turned bitter because of its bitter taste. I didn’t like it at all! But then about one year later when I was offered a curry flavored chicory soup on a wedding reception, it tasted so good, so I asked for the recipe. And well that was I think the turning point and after that event I became suddenly addicted to the chicory.

 
In 2000 I visited a chicory farm near Antwerp, Belgium (Schaerbeek). It was a very interesting “tour” and at the same time very instructive. In the farm, the Belgian chicories were grown completely underground and indoors but the most important thing was in the absence of sunlight to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up. Our guide explained it, that the plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves. That’s why chicory is often sold wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light and so preserve its pale colour and delicate flavour. I had the opportuntity to examine the plant closely, I touched the small cream-coloured heads, and tasted the bitter but succulent raw leaves. I liked the welcome chicory salad with mustard and vinegar dressing and enriched with fois gras very much (see the recipe below). To sum my stories up since that visit there is no week without chicory. I also invented a few of my own chicory recipes. I have to say- without blowing my own trumpet- that who tastes my chicory-caramelized in porto wine and flavored with curry- will be as passionate chicory fan as me.

Culinary use

The chicory is also known as blue sailors, succory, coffeeweed, “cornflower”, radicchio, Belgian endive, French endive, red endive, sugarloaf and witloof or witlof- (by the way it has a beautiful blue flower, no wonder that it is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept). In the past, Medieval monks started to raise the plants and when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to the bean drink. And they were right because chicory soon had become a coffee substitute (my grandma also prepared coffee from it). In the course of the centuries their bitterness started to be appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Liguria and Puglia regions of Italy and also in Catalonia (Spain), in Greece and in Turkey. In the Ligurian cuisine the wild chicory leaves are an ingredient of the dish preboggion and in Greek cuisine of the horta.
In the Puglian region wild chicory leaves are combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish called Fave e Cicorie Selvatiche. In Rome puntarelle is a favorite dish made with chicory sprouts.
 
How to cook: By cooking and discarding the water the bitterness is reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sauteed with garlic, anchovies and other ingredients. In this form the resulting greens might be combined accompany meat dishes. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed with minced meat, baked in butter, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw. The tender leaves are slightly bitter; the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The most important that the harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head should be cut out before cooking in order to prevent bitterness! And there is one more secret, add a pinch of sugar while cooking.
 
Recipes

Karacsony2010 052Chicory appetizer with goose liver

Ingredients: 4 chicory sprouts, sugar or stevia, 2 tbs of rapsberry vinegar, salt and pepper, 100 gr smoked duck filet without skin, 50 gr of goose liver, créme brulée torch

Direction: Trim away the stalk ends of the chicory, discard any limp or tired outer leaves, then strip into leaves. Bestrew the outer leaves with sugar then caramelized under a broiler/salamander or with a blow torch until crisp. Cut the rest of the chicory fine and flavor with salt and pepper. Pour over raspberry vinegair. Chop the duck filets very fine and make creamy the goose liver with a fork. Place liver and finely chopped duck filets onto caramelized chicory leaves. Serve it with fresh baguette. Excellent starter for the festive season!

Soatéed chicory with or without ham

Ingredients: Large heads of chicory, 80g butter, 6 tablespoons fine, white fresh breadcrumbs, 2 large cloves of garlic, squashed flat but not peeled, 1 small lemon, 5 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan

Trim the heads of chicory, cutting off imperfect leaves and trimming the root. Slice each head in half from root to tip.Warm the butter in a casserole dish over a moderate flame, then place the halved chicory in it cut side up so that it sits snugly inside. Tuck in the garlic. Let both chicory and garlic colour slightly in the hot butter, then turn them over. Cover with a lid and leave to cook slowly in the butter. Take care that the chicory does not colour too quickly. Once the underside turns pale gold, squeeze over the lemon, then scatter the crumbs and grated parmesan evenly over the top. Transfer, still covered, to an oven preheated 190 degrees and bake for around 30 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Serve hot, as a side dish.

Chicory with curry

4-6 chicory, halved, or quartered if large, 50g butter, splash of dry white wine, 150ml vegetable stock, hot, 2 tbsp finely chopped flatleaf parsley, 2 teaspoons curry

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4. Place the chicory, cut-side up, in an ovenproof dish. Dot all over with the butter and splash over the wine and stock.

2. Season with black pepper and with lots of curry then cover with foil. Cook for 20-25 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes until really tender. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

It makes excellent sidedish (with lam, duck or chicken)

Stuffed guinea-fowl with in porto wine caramelized chicory

Ingredients: 1 guinea fowl, 4-6 chicories, porto wine, bay leaf, thyme, 1 chicken bouillon, 5-6 cloves or grounded

for the filling: two slices of bread, or bread crumbs, cream cheese, Philadelphia, 1 onion, chopped parsley, 150 gr chicken liver (optional), 1 egg

First prepare stuffing. Mix bread crumb with the egg, the finely chopped onion, chicken liver, cream cheese and season with parsley. Put it in the food processor and blend well. Season the guinea fowl with salt and pepper. Loosen the skin and place the stuffing in the cavity. Secure the edges with kitchen string and sauté bird in melted butter, initially over high heat then lower. Season and turn guinea fowl as you do so. After twenty minutes add chicories (cut in quarters) and pour over 300 ml of porto wine. Add bay leaf, cloves and simmer chicory in the fat of the bird. After about 25 minutes when the guinea fowl is tender prepare potato purée and serve with it.