Endives and radicchio are part of the Chicories family, which is related to lettuces, but more nutritious and part of the bitter pallet, which is often missing in our diet. (there are five tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and the recently added umami.) Endives and radicchio are unappreciated vegetables, yet very easy to prepare and very tasty. The season for endives and radicchio is late winter and early spring.
“More Bitter More Better”
The earthy taste is underappreciated but very important for our health. Some people have more of a taste for bitter food than others. This could be based on the number of taste buds located on our tongue, or possibly just our evolutionary defense and aversion to bitter plants that can often be poisonous. This is not the case for the Chicory family plants. Their “bitter” properties are considered beneficial for the liver and gallbladder. Endive roots are also processed into chicory coffee, a substitute that has been used in the “times of shortages” but has made a comeback among health-conscious eaters. Endives and radicchios can be enjoyed raw in salads (especially if using the red-colored varieties), mixed as a surprise flavor in pasta, or they can be cooked. Roasting or braising will bring out some of their sweetness and tame a bit of their bitter edge.
Purchasing and Storing
Endives and radicchios can be intimidating in a grocery store, where it is kept in a darkened drawer to protect their delicate leaves from browning too fast. Originating in the 1800s, Belgium, as the name suggests, and growing them is very labor-intensive. They are grown just beneath the soil, like white asparagus, to keep their light color and preserve their delicate flavor.
Raw Endive Salad
This endive salad is a great compliment to any meaty winter dish or can be made as the main course. This salad has endless variations. It can be made only with endives, or less bitter radicchios can be mixed in. To further neutralize the flavor, add an apple (Granny Smith works the best), but this salad is classically made with Comice pears to add a little sweetness. Gorgonzola is the preferred cheese in this salad, but Roquefort or any blue-style cheese of your choice would work. Adding nuts enhances the flavor of this salad.
2 oz wedge of cheese (Gorgonzola or Roquefort or any blue vein style cheese)
½ cup of yogurt
¼ tsp salt and pepper
1 tbs lemon juice
1 ripe pear (Comice or similar) can be substituted for Granny Smith apple
Assembling the Salad
Remove wilted or browned exterior leaves, cut off the hard stems, and cut into nice even slices lengthwise.
Mix yogurt, blue cheese, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Combine ingredients well. The texture should not be too runny or too hard. Adjust accordingly by adding either more cheese or more yogurt.
Place the cut endives into a bowl that is big enough to allow proper mixing of all ingredients.
Make sure you do not “overdress” your salad. The salad does not keep well and should be eaten immediately, but the dressing can be made ahead of time.
Adult Services Librarian
Kansas City KS Public Library
625 Minnesota Ave
Kansas City, KS 66101
The Everyday Gourmet (DVD) by William M. Briwa
Let’s Eat France by François-Régis Gaudry
Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson