We hear about them nearly every day: the latest and greatest superfoods certain to lower cholesterol, help us lose weight, clear up our skin, and improve our score on memory tests . Lately publications have trended toward kale (not knocking it — I am totally down with kale), and in recent years we’ve been inundated with promises that berries, quinoa, or chia seeds (yes, the chi-chi-chi-Chia Pet variety) hold the answer to long life, vitality, and yes, superhuman powers.
Belgian endive seldom makes this esteemed list, but why not? Better yet, maybe a new category of nutritious food designation ought to be implemented to our vernacular. Super-roots? Powerproduce? Uberfood?
Belonging to the chicory family, Belgian endive (pronounced ON-deev) provides an impressive roster of benefits: it’s loaded with Vitamins A, E, C, and K, offers high levels of folate and potassium, and delivers the dietary fiber required to keep our pipes happy and healthy — just to name a few.
What I found more interesting, though, in my quest to learn more about my new favorite veggie-of-the-moment was the origin of this delightful deliciousness. Commonly credited to the Belgian botanist Brezier, this particular variety of endive was discovered by pure chance in 1846: Brezier accidentally left some chicory root in his dark, warm cellar. The root began to sprout light yellow and white leaves that, when he tasted, had a delicate, somewhat bitter but pleasant flavor. Personally I’m grateful that he was the man to discover it; had it been me, Belgian endive would have remained a mystery. There’s no way I’d even think about tasting some random growth out of my basement.
Contemporary methods for harvesting this elegant endive are considerably labor-intensive and involve several steps. Chicory seeds get planted, the leaves harvested, and the cut root then becomes the foundation for a “forced growth” of Belgian endive. This process must be kept dark and hidden from the sun to achieve and maintain the endive’s pure white appearance, less the hint of subtle green at its tips.
I recently stumbled upon this overlooked vegetable while watching “Essential Pepin”, where Jacques Pepin effortlessly whips up a simple recipe blending endive with olives. This inspired me to search for more ways to incorporate this versatile veg, and I was surprised at the bounty of options: soups, grilled, raw, even used as handheld appetizers filled with various creations.
Let me know your favorite way to enjoy the Belgian endive. Pick some up the next time you are wandering the produce aisles looking for that night’s dinner. You’ll find it’s an easy addition to your vegetable rotation and a perfect excuse to include uber-nutrition to your diet.
Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected] *Vote for Jodilyn as Denver’s A-List top trainer here*