The word endive is used to refer to the leafy part of any of a variety of bitter-flavored plants in the chicory family. The three main types used in the culinary arts are Belgian endive, curly endive, and broad-leafed endive.
- Broad-Leafed Endive (Escarole)
Broad-leafed endive is in the same genus and species as curly endive but is a different variant, and sometimes called escarole. It is less bitter than the other two, and the inner, lighter-colored leaves can be used in salads. The outer, darker leaves are more bitter and can be tougher, but are good to use chopped in soup and cooked dishes.
- Curly Endive (Frisée)
Curly endive, sometimes called frisée or simply chicory, comprises a bushy head of curly greens with leaves of a lacy texture. The slightly bitter flavor is more intense in the leaves that are a darker shade of green. It is often used in salads to add texture as well as flavor.
Note that in the UK, curly endive (i.e. frisée) is simply called "endive," which can lead to some confusion as to just precisely what variety of endive is being referred to.
- Belgian Endive
Belgian endive is a small, cylindrical head of lettuce whose pale yellow leaves feature slightly curly edges. It is moderately bitter and grown just beneath the soil in dark rooms, much like mushrooms, to keep it pale and preserve its delicate flavor.
Belgian endive can be used in salads and also braised or baked as a side dish. The leaves can be separated and used as the edible dish for small appetizers or used as dippers. The compact heads of endive can be brushed with a vinaigrette and grilled, a good accompaniment for grilled fish.
- A red-hued variety of Belgian endive is known as red endive or radicchio. Radicchio is the same species as Belgian endive but has red or variegated leaves, which makes it a favorite in salads to add color and flavor.
I have grown regular Belgian endive and red radicchio in my garden. Growing chicory isn't particularly difficult. They are hardy lettuce-like plants that tolerate the desert summer heat quite well, The tricky part is getting an edible product from them. If not properly bleached, the leaves can be extremely bitter.
Belgian endive roots can be forced in darkness to produce the tight white heads.
The roots can be chopped and roasted for a coffee substitute. My mother always used half coffee, half chicory root.
the 3 major endive varieties
Pic1: escarole = broadleaf endive
Pic3: Belgian endive
- Escarole and frisée look like weird leaf lettuces, but taste bitter.
- Belgian endive is forced in darkness to produce these white heads.
red radicchio in my garden
I have grown this only the one season in 2014. The plants did very well, but the summer heat and lack of bleaching made them extremely bitter.
Pic4: red radicchio in the garden 2014-08-28
Pic5: red radicchio harvested 2014-10-26
Pic6: bleached radicchio hearts 2014-10-26
- This plant looks very similar to a heading lettuce with leathery leaves.
- The red is only visible when the plant is tied up and bleached.
- Lack of bleaching makes the leaves excessively bitter.
- Notice the similarity with Belgian endive.
Belgian endive in my garden
I just had to try this at least once, if only from nostalgia because I was not able to obtain Belgian endive in the local stores. It might even have worked, but I was not familiar enough with the proper method for forcing the roots. I used a black plastic trash bag to cover the bucket, and the resulting lack of ventilation caused the shoots to rot. If I had kept the bucket in a dark closet, it would probably have given better results.
Pic7: Belgian endive seedling 2014-06-05
Pic8: thriving plants 2016-09-25
Pic9: going to seed 2014-10-26
Pic10: chicory roots 2015-01-26
Pic11: potted chicory roots 2015-01-26
Pic12: not a great success 2015-03-07