Belgian endive boats are made with citrus, fennel, blue cheese and walnuts. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

By Sarah Nasello for Area Voices

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. These Belgian Endive Citrus Boats are filled with the best of winter flavors: citrus, fennel, mint, nuts and cheese, all nestled in the delicate but sturdy shell that is 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, Cara Cara 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.

The peel is removed from citrus. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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.

Sections of citris are cut out to exclude the skin between wedges. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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!

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