Chicory – made in Belgium
Chicory is hugely popular in Belgium and France. High time to spread the love a little further! Find out more about this little known endive here.
Chicory is in season from April to September. It’s hugely popular in Belgium and France with the average Belgian eating around nine kilos every year! Never heard of chicory? Time to give this bitter tasting endive a whirl.
Chicory – a brief history
The bitter vegetable is a direct descendant of wild chicory that once grew across Europe, North Africa and Asia. As far back as the 17th century, coffee lovers dried and roasted the leaves to make a cheap coffee substitute.
It was the Belgians who first stumbled across a way of growing these blanched endives, albeit by accident. In the late 19th century, farmers were surprised to find pale shoots emerging from chicory roots left in a greenhouse over winter. This is why chicory is sometimes known as “Belgian endives”. Alongside France and the Netherlands, Belgium still remains one of the main growers and exporters of chicory.
And did you know that to ensure its trademark paleness chicory needs to grow in complete darkness? The 10 – 20 cm long vegetable only develops its bitterness when exposed to daylight. One reason you might not immediately spot it in your local supermarket – it’s kept covered up!
Bitter is the new sweet
Chicory is well known for its bitter flavour, making it ideal for bitter-sweet salads with mango, orange, fennel or carrots. But it can do much more than just salads. Try adding chicory to wok recipes or wrapping it in ham and melting cheese on top.
Chef’s tip: if the chicory is too bitter, soak the leaves in warm water with a pinch of salt for a few minutes. You can also use milk.
Red chicory is a close relation that came from crossing chicory and radicchio. As well as dark red leaves, it differs from its paler cousin by having a less bitter flavour.
Storing & prepping
As mentioned above, chicory needs complete darkness to grow and the same applies to its storage. Keep your fresh chicory in a cool, dry place and store for no longer than four days in the fridge.
When choosing your vegetables, make sure the chicory has no brown spots. And remember, the greener the leaves, the more bitter the taste!
Wash and clean chicory before prepping. Never use an aluminium pan, pot or wok to cook chicory in as the leaves will turn black.
What are your favourite chicory recipes? Let us know! Buon appetito!