Winter food is mainly about warmth and comfort, and rightly so. But I often yearn for crunch and punchy flavours to add some sparkle to a winter filled with rich, soft food. Step forward chicory (confusingly, also known as endive, escarole and witlof).
The bitterness of these beautiful, silky leaves can be an acquired taste, but there’s nothing better to perk up a jaded winter palate. In fact, depending on how you prepare them, chicory can actually be quite mild. The outer leaves taste more earthy than bitter when wilted in a frying pan with butter, lots of salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
In salads, chicory works brilliantly with other robust flavours like a mustard-spiked dressing or a vinaigrette made with anchovies and lemon. Strong cheeses like blue and goats’ also hold their own with chicory in the salad bowl. Alternatively, try foiling the bitterness with a dressing slicked with honey, or add chunks of pear, apple, dried figs or crisp fried lardons. And most nuts seem to love being parked with chicory, especially almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
The other benefit is that chicory provides its own serving bowls – the gently curved leaves are perfect for cradling goodies like dips or, as in this recipe, a finely chopped salad. My children love these little scoops – I think it’s the tasty mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruit that helps them forget they’re actually scoffing a highly nutritious vegetable.
Don’t worry if the presentation seems a little chichi – I thought so too at first. But actually, these little cups makes perfect finger food and saves on washing up. And there’s nothing pretentious about that.
Chicory Cups with Almond and Sesame Tabbouleh
- 45g flaked almonds
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 30ml red wine vinegar
- 60ml olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp ras el hanout
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 40g red onion, finely chopped
- 15g dried cranberries,finely chopped
- 1/2 red apple
- about 12 chicory leaves
1. Briefly toast the almonds and sesame seeds in a dry frying pan, shaking frequently, until they take on a little colour and smell lovely. Be careful: if you turn your back the nuts and seeds could burn. Set aside.
2. To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ras el hanout and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Pop the parsley, onion and cranberries in a salad bowl and toss.
4. Chop the cooled nuts and seeds to make a nutty rubble and add to the salad bowl.
5. Dice the apple very small – leave the skin on as it adds lovely colour – and toss into the salad bowl too. (Don’t chop it any earlier it will go brown).
6. Add the dressing a spoonful at a time, tossing well between each addition. Stop adding when everything is coated – you might not need all the dressing. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
7. Scoop a couple of teaspoonfuls of the mixture into each chicory leaf and arrange artfully on a platter if you like. Serve immediately.