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No matter how you say it, Belgian endive is good for you

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"I'll have the endive salad," I said to the self-assured, curly-haired server. I felt confident in my pronunciation (ON-deev) of the pale-colored leaves that are a member of the chicory family. As I watched him make note of my order, he responded, "The ON-dive salad is delicious this evening." He might have noticed my slightly crooked grin. It wasn't brought on by his mistaken way of saying endive. It was the framed picture of a pig's behind hanging on the wall just beyond the server's confident face that took me by surprise.

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The picture was a reminder that this restaurant specialized in pork, not vegetables. I let the error slide.

I could have told the young man that I met Rich Collins, president of California Vegetable Specialties, at a conference a few years ago. He was offering education to culinary professionals about California-grown endive. California Vegetable Specialties is America's lone producer of Belgian endive.

Collins is the one who cleared up my question of how to correctly say endive.

If you are referring to the sun-loving, curly-edged leaves with deep indentations, it's curly "EN-dive." When you are talking about a smooth, elongated head of tightly packed leaves, it is Belgian "ON-deev."

Unlike its daylight-loving curly cousin, Belgian endive is one of the most difficult vegetables in the world to grow. The first growth takes about 150 days in the field, where the chicory plant grows from seed into a deep root. Tops of the leafy plant are then cut off, roots dug up and placed in cold storage, where they enter a dormancy period.

As demand necessitates, roots are removed from cold storage for their second growth, which takes 20 to 28 days in dark, cool and humid forcing rooms, similar to mushroom growing. Thus, endives are available year 'round.

When shopping for endive, look for plump, pale, blemish-free heads of leaves holding tightly together like a bud. Red endive tends to be smaller than the white variety, but the two taste the same, so you can use them interchangeably. At home, store Belgian endive in your refrigerator's vegetable crisper, wrapped in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag. It will last for 10 to 14 days -- much longer than other lettuces.

Belgian endive's crisp texture and sweet, nutty flavor with a pleasantly mild bitterness makes it very versatile, whether raw or cooked. Braised, endives make a wonderful bed for cooked meat or seafood. Raw, the leaves can be tossed into salads with other fresh greens. The slender yet sturdy leaves make natural dippers as a replacement for chips. Their shape is well-suited to stuffing, too.

Light, refreshing and tasty, the single elongated leaves bring simple elegance to a meal of quinoa, chickpea and apple salad. Endive leaves can be filled with the easy-to-prepare salad before serving. Or arrange the leaves around the outer edge of a large bowl of the salad made with the ancient Peruvian grain that offers a balance of essential amino acids to create a gluten-free, relatively complete protein.

So, go forth with confidence, as you shop, prepare and eat Belgian endive. Load the leaves with Red Quinoa Salad for an ooh-la-la-classy meal that looks simply elegant. And then ask, "ON-deev, anyone?"

Red Quinoa Salad in Endive Boats

1 cup uncooked red quinoa

2 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 apple, cored and diced

1/2 cup whole raw almonds, toasted, roughly chopped

Fresh Belgian endive, about 2 heads

Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve until water runs clear. Drain and transfer to a medium pot. Add water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside off the heat for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.

In a large bowl, whisk together ground cumin, orange juice, salt and olive oil. Add the cooked quinoa and stir to coat. Add the chickpeas, apple and almonds, tossing gently to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Chill before serving. Garnish with orange segments or apple slices. Serves 4 or more.

Tips from the cook

--Toast almonds on a baking sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant. Immediately transfer to a plate to cool.

--Red quinoa is available in well-stocked grocery stores. White or black quinoa can replace the red quinoa in this recipe.

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