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Discovering the World of Chicories: A Guide to the Bitter and Nutty Greens (and Purples!)

by ocotlam

A Guide to Chicories, the Crunchy Greens (and Purples!)

The Rise of Chicories in the Culinary World

These leafy greens are having their moment in the spotlight and for good reason. They visually stunning with their vibrant shades of red and purple, but they also offer a unique texture and bold flavor profile that can elevate any dish.
But what exactly are chicories? They’re a group of leafy vegetables that belong to the same family as lettuce.
However, unlike traditional lettuces, chicories have a heartier texture and slightly bitter taste that sets them apart from other greens. Some popular varieties include radicchio, endive, escarole, and frisée.

Chicories as Nutritional Powerhouses

Chicories add visual interest and flavor to dishes but they also pack quite a nutritional punch. These greens are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene that can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
They’re high in fiber which promotes healthy digestion and helps keep you feeling full.
Chicories have been found to contain compounds that may help prevent cancer such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, and quercetin.
Eating chicory may even help reduce inflammation which has been linked to many chronic diseases such as heart disease.

How to Incorporate Chicories into Your Cooking

Now letś talk about how to use them in your cooking. One popular way is to use them raw in salads which allows their signature crunch and bitterness to shine through. A simple vinaigrette or creamy dressing can balance out the flavors.
If you’re feeling adventurous, chicories can also be grilled or roasted which enhances their smoky flavor and gives them a softer texture. They can also be used as a base for a warm side dish when braised with garlic, olive oil, and herbs.
Chicories are versatile greens that deserve more attention in the culinary world. Whether you’re looking to add nutritional value to your meals or simply switch up your flavor profile, these greens are worth exploring.

The Different Types of Chicories

Radicchio: The Bold and Bitter Beauty

Ah, radicchio! The queen of chicories.
With its striking red color and bitter taste, it adds a pop of flavor to any dish. Radicchio is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in dishes like risotto or pasta.
Its bitterness can be tamed by soaking it in cold water for 30 minutes before use, but I say embrace the boldness! There are different varieties of radicchio, each with their distinct shapes and flavors.
My favorite is the round head, which has crisp leaves with white veins running through them. When sliced thinly, this chicory adds texture to salads while its bitterness balances out sweet dressings.
If you are feeling adventurous, try grilling or roasting radicchio to bring out its sweetness while still maintaining its bite. Trust me; this will make you fall head over heels in love with the bold and bitter beauty that is radicchio.

Endive: The Elegant and Delicate Darling

Move over iceberg lettuce; endive is here to elevate your salad game! With its narrow elongated shape and pale leaves tinged with yellow-green hues, endive has an elegant appearance that makes any dish feel more refined.
But don’t let its delicate looks fool you; endive has a slightly bitter taste that makes it perfect for balancing out rich ingredients like cheese or nuts. Its size also makes it ideal for appetizers like stuffed endive boats or as a vessel for dips like hummus or tzatziki.
When I want to indulge my fancy side without spending too much time in the kitchen, I turn to endive. It’s easy to prepare yet adds sophistication to any meal.

Escarole: The Hearty and Nutty Green Giant

Escarole may not have the looks of radicchio or endive, but it more than makes up for it with its hearty and nutty flavor. This curly-leafed chicory is a staple in Italian cuisine, where it is used in soups, stews, and meat dishes. When eaten raw, escarole has a slightly bitter taste that pairs well with sweet dressings or citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruits.
But when cooked, escarole transforms into a savory and rich addition to any dish. I love using escarole in my lentil soup recipe.
Its nuttiness complements the earthy flavors of the lentils while adding bulk to the dish. Escarole is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, making it a healthy choice for those looking to boost their immune system.

Frisée: The Curly and Peppery Princess

Last but not least on our list of chicories is frisée. With its curly green leaves and peppery taste, this princess of chicories adds texture and depth to salads. Frisée can be tough to prepare due to its curly leaves that trap dirt easily.
However, once cleaned and trimmed, it adds crunchiness to salads while also providing a subtle bitterness that balances out sweet ingredients like fruits or honey-based dressings. Frisée is also perfect for breakfast dishes like a poached egg salad with bacon lardons as its peppery taste cuts through the richness of egg yolk and bacon fat.
It’s no wonder why frisée has become increasingly popular among chefs looking for new twists on classic dishes. Each type of chicory brings something unique to the table (pun intended).
Whether you are looking for boldness in radicchio or sophistication in endive; heartiness in escarole or crunchiness in frisée, there is a chicory out there for everyone. Don’t be afraid to experiment and discover which chicory reigns supreme in your kitchen!

Health Benefits of Chicories

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals

Chicories are packed with essential nutrients. These crunchy greens are an excellent source of vitamins such as A, C, and K. They also contain minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
In fact, a single cup of radicchio contains more than 40% of your daily recommended intake for vitamin K! With all these nutrients in one plant-based package; why wouldn’t you want to incorporate chicories into your diet?

How they aid digestion and promote gut health

Chicories are loaded with fiber which is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. The high fiber content helps move food through your intestines and keeps things moving regularly.
Furthermore, chicories contain a prebiotic fiber called inulin that feeds the good bacteria in your gut. As if that wasn’t enough, chicory also stimulates the release of digestive enzymes which can help prevent indigestion.

Potential cancer-fighting properties

Research suggests that chicory may have cancer-fighting properties due to its high levels of antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids. These compounds have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells while also protecting healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Additionally, studies have suggested that chicory may reduce the risk of colon cancer due to its high fiber content. Incorporating chicories into your diet could have some significant health benefits!
They’re not only packed with essential vitamins and minerals but also low in calories making them an ideal choice for anyone looking to maintain a healthy weight. The potential cancer-fighting properties combined with their ability to aid digestion and promote gut health make it hard not to love these crunchy greens!
So next time you’re at the grocery store – why not pick up some radicchio or endive and give them a try? Your body will thank you!
Culinary Uses for Chicories

Raw salads with citrus or creamy dressings

If you’re a fan of salads, then chicories are going to become your new best friend. Radicchio, endive, escarole, and frisée all have unique flavor profiles that can add depth and complexity to any salad. Their crunchiness and bitterness go particularly well with citrusy flavors like lemon or grapefruit, which can help balance out the intenseness of the chicory.
Alternatively, you could opt for a creamy dressing like blue cheese or ranch to mellow out the bitterness. One way to elevate a chicory salad is by adding fresh fruit like pears or apples.
The sweetness of the fruit will also help counteract the bitterness of the greens while adding some needed texture variation. Throw in some nuts or seeds for an extra crunch factor- walnuts are great with radicchio while pine nuts pair perfectly with endive.

Grilled or roasted for a smoky flavor

If raw salads aren’t quite your thing but you still want to embrace these crunchy greens, try grilling them instead. Grilling or roasting brings out a smoky flavor that pairs beautifully with slightly charred chicory leaves. Cut up your chicories into smaller pieces and toss them in olive oil before grilling them alongside other vegetables like sweet potatoes or beets.
Roasting is another great option that brings out more caramelized notes in the leaves. Toss your chicories in olive oil and seasonings like garlic powder and smoked paprika before roasting them until crispy and tender.
Braised with garlic, olive oil, and herbs for a warm side dish
Braising is an excellent way to prepare chicories as a warm side dish perfect for cool weather days. Braising means cooking something low and slow in a liquid, which results in tender, flavorful greens.
Cut your chicories into wedges and sear them in olive oil before adding garlic, herbs like rosemary or thyme, and some chicken or vegetable broth. Allow the chicories to simmer until they’re soft and infused with all the delicious flavors of the broth.
Braising is a great way to make your chicories more versatile- you could serve them as a side dish for roasted chicken or pork, toss them in with pasta or grains like farro, or even enjoy them on their own as an earthy and satisfying vegetarian main course. However you choose to braise your chicories, be sure to savor every bite of their rich flavor.

Pairing Chicories with Other Ingredients

Cheese: Creamy Companions for Chicories

When it comes to pairing chicories with cheese, think tangy, creamy, and sharp. One of my favorite combinations is grilled radicchio topped with crumbled blue cheese and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. The bold bitterness of radicchio cuts through the richness of the blue cheese, while the balsamic glaze adds a hint of sweetness.
Another delicious option is endive boats filled with creamy goat cheese and topped with chopped walnuts. The sweetness of endive complements the tanginess of goat cheese while walnuts add crunch and nuttiness to each bite.
But don’t shy away from experimenting with other types of cheeses such as ricotta or feta. They can offer a new dimension to your salad or side dish.

Nuts & Seeds: Crunchy Additions for Texture

Nuts and seeds are an excellent way to add crunch and subtle flavors to chicory salads. Toasted almonds or pine nuts pair wonderfully with escarole greens that have a naturally nutty flavor, creating an earthy taste explosion in your mouth. Another option is pairing frisée leaves with sesame seeds to make a traditional Middle Eastern tahini dressing.
The bitter frisée combined with nutty sesame creates an interesting contrast in flavors that are pleasing to the palate. Try adding pumpkin seeds or sunflower kernels for extra texture in salads.

Citrus Fruits: Sweet Tangy Notes for More Flavor

Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits offer a refreshing burst of sweetness that pairs well against the bold bitterness of chicories. Segmented citrus fruits can be tossed into any chicory salad, providing not only flavor but also color contrast as well.
Endives can be stuffed with grapefruit segments and a sprinkle of cilantro, providing a refreshing twist to the usual goat cheese pairing. Try adding lemon or lime juice to dressings for an extra kick of acidity and flavor.


Eating chicories is like discovering a whole new world of greens. These crunchy, bold, and bitter leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals that keep our bodies healthy. Pairing them with cheese, nuts & seeds, or citrus fruits adds layers of flavors and textures that make these greens truly shine in any dish.
So next time you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market, don’t pass by those curly leaves without giving them a chance to impress you. Experiment with different pairings until you find your favorite combination – after all, isn’t that what cooking is all about?

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