Endive, Chicory or Wilof?

What’s in a name? I’ve noticed over the years that different English speaking countries have different names for various vegetables and herbs. It certainly makes it a bit confusing when reading recipes! The simplest explanation for these differences lies in their historical adoption into these various countries – sometimes due the various immigrant populations that either introduced them or made special use of them in their native cuisine and thus became associated with these foods in their new homes. It is an interesting hypothesis that might enable us to look at cultural history through food terminology. Already anthropologists analyse cookbooks with this in mind – adaptations and cultural identity through cuisine as well as food choice and preparation. However, I’m not ruling out any other possible explanation as to why the same veg are called rutabaga (from the Swedish) in the US, swede in many parts of the UK and neeps (from the Old English) in Scotland. Or why the pale green leafy brassica is called, in some parts of the US, Napa cabbage (derived from a generic Japanese term for leafy green), Chinese leaf in the UK and wong bok or wombok (from numerous Asian terms) in New Zealand and Australia.

chicory_feature

But, for the purposes of this post, I’d like to address Belgian endive as it is called in the US, chicory in the UK and witlof (or witloof) from the Dutch meaning “white leaf” in Australia (at least according to my sources). All of this just to introduce a recipe by Jane Grigson in her Vegetable Book being explored by The Cookbook Guru!

It is an interesting vegetable discussed by Grigson, including tips on how to clean and store. Botanically, it is not a true endive, but is a member of the chicory genus, related to another favourite bitter vegetable of mine – radicchio. It is grown indoors or underground in caves, in sunless conditions in order to produce the tender blanched leaves. Like radicchio, it can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, a process which mellows the flavour and eliminates much of the characteristic bitterness. Grigson offers numerous recipes for this veg in her book. I’ve chosen one of the simplest braised ones which she claims is the best why of cooking chicory that she knows.

creamed_chicory2

Braised Chicory in Cream
Although Grigson indicates that many chicory dishes can be eaten on their own as a meal, this particular one is best as a side dish. It is very good with ham, a natural partner for this veg. I have reduced the amount made to serve 4, but except for cutting the larger heads in half, the instructions follow Grigson’s recipe fairly closely.

  • 4 to 6 chicory heads, depending on size
  • 2 oz. (4 Tablespoons) butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 oz. (85ml) double (heavy) cream
  • Salt & pepper
  • Parsley (optional)

Prepare your chicory by removing a very bottom on the core side and running the head under cold water before patting dry. If the heads are large, cut down the middle lengthwise. Since I had a mixture of baby chicory (approximately 3cm in diameter) and larger heads (approximately 6cm in diameter), I cut two larger ones in half and left the 5 baby ones whole.

chicory_prep1

In a large frying pan, melt the butter and then sprinkle on the sugar so that it dissolves. Place the chicory in the sugared butter and turn so that the whole thing is coated. Keep the chicory in one layer. Juice the lemon and pour this over the chicory. Place the lid on the pan (or cover in foil) and turn down very low. Simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the heads are soft and slightly caramelised.

chicory_prep2

Carefully remove the chicory from the pan and keep warm on a platter. Meanwhile, turn up the heat and add the cream to the residue of liquid in the pan. Boil for a few minutes until it is reduced to a silky sauce.

chicory_prep3

Test for seasoning and add salt and pepper if required. Pour the sauce over the chicory and garnish with chopped parsley.

creamed_chicory

Evaluation:

The sauce was very nice – lemony and creamy. The bitterness of the chicory was less pronounced than in the raw version, but the vegetable did have a tendency to stringiness since it was left whole or nearly whole. The general consensus around the dinner table was that, although they enjoyed this, they prefered the chicory salad I often make that is combined with apples and drizzled with a yoghurt based Stilton dressing. Also less calories!

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21 comments

  1. yes i think you are right. we do call it witlof in australia tho you do see the term endive occasionally. i think it is because we had a lot of Dutch migrants after the war. this looks like a tasty dish. the creamy sauce looks rather delicious.

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    • The creamy sauce was very good – particularly piquant since the chicory/wilof was braised in lemon juice. It made it a kind of hollandaise. I do like chicory, but may try this method of braising with another veg. I suspected there was a migrant solution to the Australian name. Same with rutabaga for swede in the US.

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  2. great post. I always wondered what rutabunga was! I love the different names we give vegetables and fruits but it can make it awfully confusing when reading recipes from another county 🙂 part of the charm I’m sure.

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    • Love that word rutabaga! It took me a while to figure out that the vegetable my mother-in-law called neeps was the same thing. Then, of course, the British supermarkets label it a swede. Very confusing. I guess that is what made me look at the market label for chicory. Normally, I wouldn’t look at anything other than the vegetable itself and on my shopping list it is written as “B. endive”. Imagine my surprise when I started doing a bit of research and discovered it was call yet another name in Australia.

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  3. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Have you ever wondered what Endive, Chicory or Witlof was? read on to learn and make sure you check out a delicious braised Chicory at the same time thanks to My Kitchen Witch.
    Happy Reading and Happy Cooking,
    Leah

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  4. This is interesting because yes we call the veg you cooked witlof, but we have a leafy salad green named curly endive and a bitter green with large oak leaf like divided tops that look like they might be related to kale known as chicory. It’s all totally confusing. I’ve only ever grilled witof, once was enough! I second the call for the salad recipe.

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    • We also (US and UK) have those leafy green endives. They are great winter salad fodder. I have no idea why they call this veg Belgian endive in the US as it is not an endive, but a chicory. I do like its close relative, radicchio, grilled, but it also can be stringy. I’ve had chicory wrapped in ham and cooked under a bĂ©chamel sauce (good, but not spectacular), and a caramelised chicory soup where the veg is purĂ©ed. I think the latter is preferable as a cooked version since it gives you the flavour without the texture. But, best of all in our family, is the raw salad. Will be posting on it later in the week.

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    • It isn’t just names that are different, but methods of cooking, too. I find it all fascinating as I am sure you do, too. All part of the complexity that makes up cultural identity – something, I think, that expats are really attuned to, trying to adapt to a new country, a new culture. What do you call this veg? What is it called in German?

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      • Absolutely – issues you are not confronted with until you step outside of your comfort zone! ChicorĂ©e (borrowed from their French neighbours) is what they call it in German… and I don’t recall ever having called it anything before I came to Germany… was not something I really encountered in my previous lives 🙂

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  5. Great post KW, this is down on my to do list. I love the stuff, although if is a tad bitter. I have eaten witlof in a salad and have also chargrilled it and dressed it as a warm winter salad in a sweeter dressing to counter its bitterness and served it with crab. That was a while ago but you have sparked a good memory there!

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    • It is an unusual veg and not something I would have known to cook. Except there was this encounter with it in France, sautĂ©ed, wrapped in ham and baked under a nice coating of cheesy bĂ©chamel. Always up to try something different, particularly when we are abroad. Glad that you like it – and yes, that crab would go very well with it!

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