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Belgian endive boats pack in flavor and nutrition

Belgian endive boats are made with citrus, fennel, blue cheese and walnuts. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 4
The peel is removed from citrus. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 4
Sections of citrus are cut out to exclude the skin between wedges. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 4
Belgian endive boats are made with citrus, fennel, blue cheese and walnuts. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service4 / 4

FARGO — Our focus on healthy eating continues this week with a recipe that showcases a dazzling assortment of winter produce, including one of our favorite winter greens, Belgian endive.

Belgian endive (pronounced either en-dive or ahn-deev) is a cool weather green and member of the chicory family. Unlike its sister plants, the curly-leaf frisee and broad-leaf escarole, Belgian endive completes its final growth phase in the dark. This process stops the leaves from turning green, and helps the plant develop its signature white leaves and narrow, rocket shape.

Belgian endive lettuce has a fresh, sweet flavor with just a hint of bitterness. The elegant, boat-shaped leaves are mostly white with a flowery, pale-yellow tip, a combination that results in a tender texture with a delicate crunch. The leaves can be easily removed by gently peeling each one from the head, and they are surprisingly sturdy, in spite of their delicate appearance.

Belgian endive is not only pretty, it's also good for you, boasting a wealth of nutritional properties that includes vitamins A, B1, B6, C and E, as well as folate, copper, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Belgian endive also contains intybin, a substance that produces the slightly bitter taste and also acts as both an appetite stimulant and digestive aid. These properties make this green ideal for serving as a pre-dinner appetizer or post-dinner palate cleanser.

For this recipe, each endive leaf is filled with an assortment of citrus fruits that have been sectioned so that the membranes are removed, leaving just the pretty, sweet fruit to enjoy. Our selection includes grapefruit, oranges, and clementines, and you could also use other varieties of oranges as well as tangerines.

To section citrus fruit, use a sharp knife to remove each end so that the fruit can stand upright. We prefer a serrated knife, like a tomato knife, for this purpose. Next, remove the peel by placing the knife between the fruit and the peel, slicing from top to bottom. Let your knife follow the curve of the fruit as you slice and be sure to remove all the outer white membrane.

Once the peel has been removed, hold the fruit in one hand, and use your knife to gently remove the fruit by slicing downward between each section of membrane, gently lifting out just the sectioned fruit. Save the juice from the peel and fruit scraps for use in other recipes, like cocktails and vinaigrettes.

To create the salad boats, fill each endive leaf with the sectioned citrus, accompanied by bleu cheese crumbles, chopped walnuts, fresh mint, sliced fennel and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Our Belgian endive boats can be served as a dinner appetizer or party hors d'oeuvre, or as a salad either before or after the main course. This dish is elegant, refreshing, delicious and even delightful when guests are encouraged to forego the utensils and simply pick it up with their hands. Enjoy!

Belgian Endive Citrus Boats

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

12 to 16 endive leaves, white ends neatly trimmed

1 grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, diced into bite size pieces

2 Cara Cara or blood oranges, peeled and sectioned, diced into bite size pieces

2 to 3 clementines, peeled and sectioned, diced into bite size pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh mint, cut chiffonade style

Bleu cheese crumbles

Fresh fennel, cut into thin strips (about 3 to 4 strips per boat)

½ cup walnuts, chopped into bite size pieces

Balsamic reduction to finish

Directions:

Use a damp paper towel to wipe the endive head, then remove any wilted or brown leaves. Wait to trim the white ends until just before serving to prevent browning.

Place the diced citrus fruit in a medium bowl, and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Season with a light sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper, and gently toss just to combine.

Lay the endive leaves on a platter or individual plates. Fill each boat with an assortment of the diced citrus, then scatter the bleu cheese crumbles and chopped walnuts around the citrus. Place 3 to 4 fennel strips on top, then sprinkle with the fresh mint. To finish, drizzle balsamic reduction over each boat just before serving.

Balsamic Reduction

Ingredients:

2 cups regular balsamic vinegar (not high-end, aged variety)

Directions:

Place the vinegar in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it reaches a boil. Lower heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the vinegar has reduced by half, and a syrupy consistency is achieved, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer to a squeeze bottle, if available, and refrigerate for up to one month.

Sarah's Tips

• Belgian endive contains intybin, a substance that can stimulate an appetite and aid in digestion, making this an ideal dish to serve as an appetizer or end-of-meal palate cleanser.

• Belgian endive browns quickly, so prepare boats just before serving.

• Extract the juice from the peel and sectioned fruit; save for later use in other recipes for cocktails or vinaigrette. May also be frozen for at least 2 months.

• Save and freeze the fennel stalk and fronds to use in stocks and soups.

• For a heartier appetizer, add strips of prosciutto or homemade bacon bits to each boat.

• For added spice, add finely chopped chives or thinly sliced red onion to each boat.

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