Belgian endive is a versatile and popular winter vegetable in Flanders and much further afield: crisp when you chop it up raw and buttery soft when you give the heads time to stew slowly. Taste is key, as is its high nutritional value, heap of minerals and low sodium content. Each leaf has only one calorie and zero carbohydrates.
Flemish people love Belgian endive not only in a bitter, fresh salad with steak and fries but also as a sweet, caramelised side to accompany winter dishes. The light-sensitive heads are wrapped in blue paper to protect them from the light: this way they stay nice and white. After all, this vegetable gets its white appearance by growing in the dark with its roots in rich, fertile soil (if grown in the ground) or in water (if grown in water). Light would make the heads turn green, and that simply wouldn’t do!
How did the Belgian endive come about? There are a lot of stories out there. One story goes that a Brussels farmer hid his chicory roots in a mountain of earth during the Belgian revolution in 1830. When the unrest began to settle down and the farmer went to dig up the roots again, they had developed beautiful white leaves. The former gardener of the Botanical Garden of Brussels is also linked to the discovery of Belgian endive. Franciscus Bressiers is said to have buried a number of roots under the ground in the cellars of the botanical garden as an experiment. The Belgian endive he harvested from the roots of the Cichorium intybus did not yet have the beautiful defined structure that we see today. It was propagators who made sure that the collection of loose white leaves were exchanged for a nice, defined head.
You can see from the names given to this vegetable in two more of our languages that Belgian endive is a vegetable typical of our region: in French it is referred to as ‘chicorée de Bruxelles’ and in German ‘Brüsseler Endivien’.