Endive is a leafy green in the chicory family that can be eaten raw or cooked. It is native to India, but it is more widely cultivated in Europe and the United States, where it is a popular salad green. Many grocers carry endive, and it is often available year-round, thanks to its hardiness and ability to be grown in hothouses. It is also possible to grow the plant at home, if the gardener lives in a temperate climate and has access to a partially sunny area with loose, well-drained soil.
There are three main types of the plant: Belgian endive, curly endive, and escarole. Each looks and tastes quite different, and they can be used in different ways. Like all members of the chicory family, the green has a slightly bitter flavor, but the intensity of the bitterness varies depending on the cultivar of Cichorium endivia being grown and how it is handled.
Belgian endive, or white leaf endive, produces very tightly furled heads which look sort of like cigars, and it is made by harvesting the plant roots and all, cutting the growth off, and storing the roots in cool, dark conditions. The roots bud, producing a second growth of tightly packed white leaves with a very mild flavor and crispy texture. Some exotic cultivars will produce red to pink leaves.
Curly endive, also known as frisee, is the archnemesis of some salad lovers; like cilantro, it's a love it or hate it food. Frisee lovers prize the lacy texture and sharp taste. People who loathe this green complain that it's like eating bitter feathers, and they will meticulously remove it from salads and other dishes.
Escarole produces broad green leaves that are slightly curled. The leaves are tender, with a relatively mild flavor and a crisp texture.
Like many leafy greens, endive can turn quite bitter and woody if it is allowed to stay in the field too long. Young leaves are tender and flavorful, with a much more delicate flavor. Older ones can be more like cardboard in texture, and the bitterness overwhelms the other natural flavors of the green. When the plant has been allowed to progress to this stage, it can be salvaged through cooking; salting the leaves and rinsing them well in several soaks of cold water before cooking can sometimes draw out the bitterness.