You’ve probably seen endives in your produce section, nestled between more commonplace salad greens like romaine and iceberg. Because it’s sturdier, less leafy and, to be honest, a little bitter, endive may not be your first pick for your grocery list. But did you know the endive is not only packed with health benefits, but can also be grilled to silky, sweet perfection? Keep reading to see what plant experts, nutritionists and chefs say about the versatile and delicious endive.
What is endive?
“Endives, scientifically known as chicorum endivia, are leafy vegetables that belong to the chicory family,” says Zahid Adnan, gardener, plant expert and founder of The Plant Bible. Endives often are grown in the spring, but they’re hardy and able to withstand both hot and cold temperatures.
“They come in in different varieties, including Belgian endive (also known as witloof chicory or French endive) and curly endive (also called frisée or escarole),” says Adnan. While both Belgian and curly endives are part of the same family, they do have some difference in appearance and flavor.
When you think of an endive, the Belgian endive is probably the type you’re thinking of. It’s light in color and stiff with closely bunched leaves. It also comes with red leaves, though these tend to be more bitter in flavor.
Curly endives resemble arugula leaves in appearance. They’re bushy with frilled leaves and edges. Curly endives are less stiff and sweeter than their Belgian counterparts.
Health benefits of endive
Endives are leafy greens, so it’s no surprise that they’re good for you. But you may be surprised at just how healthy this humble green is. “Endives are a good source of endives of vitamins A and K, as well as dietary fiber,” says Carol-Ann Robert, RD, registered dietitian from Team Nutrition. Vitamin A is important for vision and bone health, and it helps fight disease. Vitamin K helps your body heal from injury, and it may also prevent cognitive decline. (Click through for more benefits of adding vitamin K to your diet.)
Endives also contain important minerals, like calcium and potassium, adds Adnan. And, as it turns out, their bitter flavor is a health feature as well. “The flavor compounds present in endives, such as chicory intybin, have been linked to potential health benefits, including aiding digestion, supporting gut health and providing antioxidants.”
How to cook endive
Before you set out to make a dish with endives, there are a few important things to keep in mind, says Jay Weinstein, chef-instructor of Plant-Based Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. For one, endives don’t need extensive cleaning like other greens. “Because they’re generally free from grit and impurities, many cooks find washing the endives unnecessary,” says Weinstein. “Any pesticide residue applied would be on outer layers that have been removed before packing.” (This doesn’t apply to all kinds of lettuce — click through to see how to clean other leafy greens.)
While you may not need to scrub your endives, it’s important that you only prep them when they’re ready to eat. “Cut endive leaves [turn brown] just as quickly as crisp lettuces, such as romaine. For that reason, cooks don’t cut endives until immediately before use,” explains Weinstein.
If you’re worried about your endive tasting too bitter in a dish, try this chef’s secret: Cut up the lettuce as usual, then simply soak in a bowl of water for 5 to 15 minutes. The harsh-tasting compounds in the lettuce will leach into the water, leaving the greens with a milder flavor.
Endives can be enjoyed raw, like most other salad greens. Unlike other greens, however, their flavor and hardiness makes them suitable for cooking over heat as well. “Endives develop unearthly silky textures when cooked,” says Weinstein. “Grilling endives softens their flavor through tamping down some bitterness and adding a balance of smokiness and char,” he adds. “Endives also sear well in the skillet for use in warm salads and sautéed side dishes.” (Click through to see how you can even make an endive salad in an air fryer.)
- Sautéed or grilled: Sauté or grill endive halves or quarters with a drizzle of olive oil until they are slightly caramelized. This cooking method helps to reduce the bitterness and develop a richer flavor.
- Braised: Braising endives involves cooking them slowly in a liquid, often with some added sweetness like honey or balsamic vinegar. This method can further soften the bitterness and create a tender texture.
One caveat: When introduced to heat, however, endives may develop a gray color, which is safe but unappetizing. Weinstein recommends using citrus juice in your cooking liquid to prevent any color change from occurring.
Because they’re sturdy and love the cold, endives can last for a long time if stored properly. “Held in ventilated plastic bags (either with holes or open on top), uncut endive heads can keep for up to 14 days in the refrigerator,” says Weinstein. “When their outer leaves begin to brown at the edges, remove those until you reach unblemished inner leaves, which remain perfectly good.”
Wnat to add more endives to your diet? Check out these recipes that bring out the best of endive’s crunchy and flavorful bite.
Endive Apple Salad
Spinach, endive and apples are tossed in a honey-Dijon vinaigrette for this elegant yet easy salad.
- 3 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbs. honey
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 5 heads endive, trimmed, cut into 1” pieces, about 3 cups
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 green apple, cored, cut into ¼” matchsticks
- ½ cup walnut pieces, toasted
- ½ cup crumbled goat cheese, about 2 oz.
- In large bowl, whisk apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper until combined. Gradually whisk in oil until blended.
- Add endive, spinach and apple; toss gently until coated. Divide mixture evenly among 6 serving bowls or plates. Top with walnuts and goat cheese.
Grilled Belgian Endive with Balsamic Butter
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 3 medium-small heads Belgian endive (trimmed and halved vertically)
- Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
- 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary
- Preheat grill. Lightly steam endive, then coat with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper. Grill, cut side down. Sear, turning once, until golden brown but still firm in the middle. Transfer to heated serving platter.
- To prepare sauce, simmer vinegar in a small saucepan for about one minute. Remove fro heat and whisk in the butter, a small amount at a time, until smooth. Whisk in the chopped fresh rosemary. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper.
- Drizzle the balsamic butter over the endive and serve.
Endive with Blue Cheese, Apple and Hazelnuts
Apples that don’t brown quickly, like Fuji, work well in this tasty starter that you can even eat as finger food.
- 3 Tbs. mayonnaise
- 1 Tbs. plain Greek yogurt
- 1 large apple, cored, cut into 1⁄8″ pieces
- ¾ cup finely chopped celery
- ¾ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 36 endive leaves, from 5 large heads
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
- In medium bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt and ⅛ tsp. pepper. Gently stir in apple, celery and blue cheese.
- Fill endive leaves with apple mixture. Transfer to platter. Sprinkle with parsley and nuts. Loosely cover and chill if not serving immediately.
Want to learn more about the wondrous world of leafy greens? Check out our stories below.