The question here might not be “what is endive”, but “what are endives?” These leafy plants are chicories, bitter greens that descended from wild chicory, a weedy plant in the aster family that bears a pale blue bloom in the summertime. However, the best-known endive, Belgian endive, is not a true endive.
To get to the bottom of this, and to shed light on some of our favorite leafy vegetables for cooking and salads alike, read on as we take a closer look at curly endive and Belgian endive.
Endives in a Nutshell
- Endives are a cool weather crop, best enjoyed in the fall and winter, and have a mildly bitter taste.
- Belgian endive has a small, oval, densely packed head.
- Curly endive is also called frisée.
- Both Belgian and curly endive work well raw in salads, but hold up to brief cooking.
All About Belgian Endive
These tightly packed torpedo-shaped heads are basically all sturdy pale midrib, adorned with a thin fringe of soft yellow or dark magenta around the edges. They’re crisp, juicy, and succulent with a hint of sweetness. The bitter flavor is generally mild to non-existent in the yellow types; magenta have more of an edge.
Here’s an admittedly baffling bit of business: Belgian endives are actually not endives. They are technically a type of radicchio. To add to the confusion, witloof is what Belgian endive is called in many countries outside of the US. For purposes of clarity, we’re just calling it “Belgian endive” here.
How to choose Belgian endive: You want heads that feel dense and firm. The leaves should be closed and have a strong grip on each other. Avoid anything that’s fuzzy, looks dry and wilted, or has brown or slimy spots. You can remove a sad-looking outer leaf or two and still have a fine head underneath, but if there are healthier looking heads in front of you, go with those.
Because Belgian endive is blanched–grown away from light to keep it from totally going under photosynthesis–the individual heads are often wrapped in tissue paper for shipping. A produce manager in the know will keep them this way for display, but their eye-catching beauty often leads them to be unwrapped. If you see browned or desiccated tips, you’re paying a premium for luxury produce that’s poorly cared for; pass on it.
Where to buy Belgian endive: Look for them at your local farmers markets, of course. These are a year-round thing in grocery stores—shipped from California and other faraway places (mainly Belgium).
Ways to use Belgian endive: Cut the leaves into segments and toss them with salad. Their rigid boat-shaped leaves also make them popular for lightly stuffing and serving as crudités. Also, their sturdiness makes them excellent for serving with dips, and being so densely-packed makes them great candidates for cooking (grilling, roasting, braising—they won’t fall apart and turn to mush).
Recipes for Belgian Endive
- Provencal Endive Salad
- Endive Salad With Walnuts, Pears, and Gorgonzola
- Curried Chicken Salad With Endive
Curly Endive (Frisée)
Curly endives have the opposite head formation of torpedo-shaped Belgian endive: a loose, scraggly, fine tangle of pale green leaves. These leaves are, for chicories, delicate, and best showcased raw in salads. You may also see curly escarole called by its French name, frisée. In fact, the classic example of frisée in a salad is the bistro fixture salad Lyonnaise, a tossed salad of the raw greens with lardons of bacon and croutons dressed in a vinaigrette and topped with a poached egg.
Curly endive will wilt faster than other chicories, but if you wrap it in a barely-damp paper towel and keep it in a loosely fastened plastic bag, it should stay in good shape for a week or two.