Califonia Bountiful

Elegant endive... and other winter stars

Nov./Dec. 2008 California Country magazine

Belgian endive is a versatile holiday vegetable.

Belgian endive is a versatile holiday vegetable. It was actually a chance discovery in Belgium where farmers grew a variety of chicory for its roots, which were dried, ground and used in place of coffee. In 1830 some of these stored roots were forgotten, and when they were uncovered, there were fresh, nubile white leaves sprouting forth. These sprouts quickly gained popularity.

Today California Vegetable Specialties in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is America’s major source of Belgian endive. First the chicory is grown outside, then the roots are harvested, brought inside, tightly packed and placed in irrigated growing trays—in the dark! Weeks later the beautiful sprouts are ready for your festivities. While Belgian endive is harvested year-round, the holiday season sees the heaviest volume.

Creative ways to serve Belgian endive

  • The individual spears are the perfect delivery vehicle for a host of delectables, including: Julienned cooked beets and a segment of orange, smoked salmon, plus a few capers and a touch of finely chopped onion or shallot, and Cream cheese, plain or gussied up with chopped fresh herbs.
  • For an elegant salad, pair with watercress, ripe Comice pear, blue cheese and toasted pecans. Dress simply with good-quality olive oil and a dash of champagne vinegar.
  • Braising brings out the best flavor and a natural, nutty sweetness. Place in a single layer in a buttered ovenproof dish, spritz with the juice of half a lemon, place several pats of butter on top and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and bake at 325 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes or so until fork tender and rich gold in color.

Andy Powning is a produce specialist with GreenLeaf, a San Francisco-based produce company. Send questions or comments to him at

Ripe for the picking

Try these other winter stars in your holiday menus:

Horseradish: An unsung flavor hero, this ancient root is harvested in the autumn. While originating in Eastern Europe, our very own town of Tulelake, in Siskiyou County, has the honor of being the “horseradish capital of the world.” Prepared horseradish is available year-round, but no holiday prime rib is complete without it.

Dates: More than three-quarters of the nation’s crop is grown in the desert regions of California. The fruit is harvested in late fall through early winter from the giant date palm tree. For your next soiree, stuff pitted dried dates with cream cheese and peanut butter, then roll in powdered sugar.

Wild rice: California produces about two-thirds of the U.S. supply, which is actually a long-grain marsh grass native to the Great Lakes. Prized for its slightly chewy texture and full, rich flavor, this sumptuous grain is often a luxurious holiday staple.

Persimmons: A decorative, delectable holiday fruit! The Hachiya variety is conical and pointed on one end. Jelly-like when ripe, it’s used primarily in baking. The Fuyu variety is flat, squat and firm when ripe. It can be eaten out of hand and is also great in salads.

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