Delectable raw or cooked, Belgian endive, curly endive, escarole, frisée and radicchio are part of the chicory vegetables family of leafy greens. Each variety offers an appealing hint — or in some cases more than a hint — of bitterness, and are available year-round.
Belgian endive is pale green; the lighter the color, the milder the taste. The red variety, burgundy with thin creamy-white ribs, tends to be slightly more bitter, but pleasing nonetheless.
Curly endive takes bitterness up a notch but balances it with gentle sweetness. It looks like a bushy head of deep-green lettuce with frilly tickle-producing edges. Frisée, a sub-variety of curly endive, has smaller, more delicate leaves that are creamy-yellow at the base and turn an apple green toward their tops.
Escarole offers a mildly bitter kick, too. It looks like lettuce, but the leaves are thicker, white at the ribs and dark green toward the softly frilled edges.
Radicchio, the most colorful member of the chicory family, has a bracing bitterness and pleasing crunch.
This information is excerpted and adapted from Melissa’s Great Book of Produce: Everything You Need to Know About Fresh Fruits and Vegetables by Cathy Thomas ©2006, reprinted by permission of Melissa’s Produce.
The chicory vegetables are excellent source of vitamins A and K; they’re good source of potassium, zinc, copper, and other minerals. Aside from the common vitamins and minerals, they also contain other beneficial compounds and antioxidants. All the chicories are very low in calories, contain no fat, and are good sources of fiber. See a detailed overview of the chicories’ nutritional profile here.
The torpedo-shaped veggie ranges from 4 to 6 inches long. The color ranges from almost white to yellow-green, and the leaves have an appealing crunchiness. Light-colored leaves tastes the mildest — slightly sweet with soft bitterness.
Red Belgian: This variety of Belgian endive has the same shape and similar flavor as its paler cousin, with a burgundy red color. It also has an appealing crisp texture, and be slightly more bitter than white or light green Belgian endive.
Frisée, a sub-variety of curly endive
FRISEE & CURLY ENDIVE
Frisée comes in loose heads with a yellow-white heart and tightly ruffled deep-green edges. The leaves have a chewy texture and an assertive bitterness.
Frisée and curly endive are often thought to be one and the same. They’re quite similar, but actually, frisée is a sub-variety of curly endive. It’s smaller, with delicate ragged edges and a more tender texture. There’s a bit of sweetness to balance the bitterness. Here’s more detail about the distinction.
Escarole Looks like thick, sturdy romaine or butter lettuce with curled, ragged edges. It has a chewy texture and refreshing, mild bitterness. The paler inner leaves are more tender and less bitter. Its flavor mellows in cooking or braising.
Though it’s available most of the year and is usually quite inexpensive, it’s most often used as a winter vegetable in soups and sautés.
There are several varieties of this colorful member of the chicory family, including the most common, Chiogga, a version that looks like a small, round head of wine-red cabbage with white streaks. Another variety, Treviso, is elongated and has a milder, less bitter flavor profile.
The leaves have a bracing bitterness and pleasing crunch. Often we see bite-sized pieces mixed in with milder greens in bagged salad mixtures. The bright red color lends a visual perkiness to the package, plus its wake-up taste adds flavor interest. Lightly sautéing or stir-frying radicchio mellows its bitterness a bit.
BUYING AND STORING THE CHICORY VEGETABLES
Belgian or red Belgian endive: Look for crisp, firm heads without brown edges. Choose paler Belgian endive for milder flavor. For storage, place endives in a perforated plastic bag (or loosely wrap in moist paper towel or cloth and place in plastic bag) and refrigerate up to 5 to 7 days. Longer storage increases bitterness and increases the chance of unappealing wilting.
Curly endive, frisée, escarole, radicchio: choose heads that are crisp-looking and free of brown spots or wilting. Refrigerate, unwashed, in perforated plastic bag (or wrap in damp paper towel or cloth and place in plastic bag) for up to one week. But as with all perishable greens, these are best used sooner than later.
Belgian or red Belgian Endive: Prep just before serving raw or cooking. Pull off and discard any outer leaves that are discolored or wilted. If cooking whole, trim base (root end), leaving enough behind so that head stays together. If using raw for canapé “boats,” trim bases so that leaves can be separated; pull leaves apart. If using in salad, simple cut into bite-sized strips, crosswise.
Frisée or curly endive: Just before use, rinse briefly in cold water; avoid soaking. Remove tough, lower ribs near base if serving raw. For salads, tear into bite-sized pieces.
Escarole: This leafy green can be sandy, and there’s nothing like crunching into grit to ruin the enjoyment of a dish. Plunge chopped escarole into a large bowl of cool water. Swish it around to loosen any grit. Lift the escarole into a colander. If you see a lot of sand in the bowl, drain and rinse the bowl and repeat. Either way, give the escarole another good rinse in the colander.
Radicchio: Remove outer leaf or leaves, if discolored. To cook, cut off at the base, or root end, and trim leaves as needed. To use in salad, simply cut or tear into bite-sized pieces. To grill, cut into quarters lengthwise, leaving the root end intact.
Easy ways to use the chicory vegetables
Regular or red Belgian endive makes an appealing scoop for dips
Belgian endive or red Belgian endive: Leaves make convenient and crunchy canapé boats to use in place of crackers, chips, or breads. Their gentle, curved shape surrounds the filling on three sides. Or chop and serve raw in salads, adding milder lettuce for flavor balance.
Boat scoopers: Use individual Belgian endive leaves as scoops for dips. Or use as appetizer boats to hold a filling like Vegan Hot Artichoke Dip.
Braised Belgian endive (either variety): Preheat oven to 375º F. Cut in half lengthwise. Heat a small amount vegan butter or olive oil in large, deep ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat. Add endive halves, cut side down. Lightly brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn endive and add vegetable broth about 1/2-inch deep. Cover and place in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until fork tender. Serve warm or at room temperature. Season with salt and pepper.
Escarole: Delectable in bean soups, minestrone, or the classic white beans and escarole soup. Escarole is a lovely addition to pasta dishes and simple sautés. If you enjoy the mild bitterness, you can use a small amount in salads, much as you would romaine lettuce. Here are a few recipes on this site:
- Sautéed Escarole with Red Onions and Almonds
- Pasta with Escarole and Two Beans
- Escarole Soup with White Beans and Potatoes
Frisée or curly endive: Combine with milder greens in salads, or use as frilly-edged liner for salad bowls or cold platter presentations. Also can be used in stir-fries or sautés, cooked down quickly and briefly.
Radicchio: This vivid, maroon-red leafy veggie is most commonly used raw, in salads mixed with other greens and vegetables. It can be braised, roasted, stir-fried or sautéed.
To grill: Cut into quarters lengthwise, keeping the stem end intact. Brush lightly with olive oil and cook on a hot grill or grill pan on all sides until nice grill marks show.
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