Picture courtesy of Walt Hubis.
The Belgian endive is a pale green, torpedo shaped head of leaves, about the size of your palm. When you bite into a leaf, it yields a very smooth texture and a mildly bitter taste. They originate from the chicory family, and were discovered when a Belgian farmer was storing endive roots in a cool dark shed, with the intent of drying and grinding them as a coffee substitute. When he retrieved the roots, some of them had sprouted delicate white leaves, which is what we today know as the Belgian endive. Other plants in the same family include radicchio and curly endive. The Belgian endive continues to be grown indoors, to prevent exposure to light, which causes the leaves to turn green and become more bitter.
The endive leaf is quite versatile despite its seemingly delicate makeup. A former classmate once gave me a Proustian description of endive leaves simply dabbed with parmesan and and set under the broiler. They can be drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and thrown on the grill. You can also quickly chop up one small endive and a couple of anchovies and toss the lot with a quick vinaigrette for a very satisfying umami salad.