Roots and Fruits  

Belgian endive has a tangy flavour with slight bitterness.  (Photo: Contributed)
Belgian endive has a tangy flavour with slight bitterness. (Photo: Contributed)

Belgian endive – a mistake worth making

by - Story: 52294
Jan 27, 2010 / 5:00 am

What do potato chips, Popsicles and chocolate chip cookies have in common with a leafy vegetable from the chicory family? They were all discovered by accident. The difference is, Belgian endive is a much healthier choice than the other three.

Whether you pronounce it, EN-dive or on-DEEV, Belgian endive was one of history’s better mistakes. In the 1830s, a Belgian chicory farmer discarded some plants in a darkened cellar. Several weeks had passed when he discovered white, spear-shaped heads emerging from the roots beneath the soil. It was nearly three decades before his discovery was introduced to market.

Experimentation by a Belgian botanist who used coffee chicory plants to cultivate endive resulted in what we now know as Belgian endive and what the Belgians call ‘white gold.’

Also known as witloof (white leaf), Belgian endive resembles a slender, cone-shape of tightly-wrapped, white leaves with light green tips. The growing process still involves forcing a second growing stage from the roots of the chicory plants, ensuring the head stays covered in soil or with straw to preserve its colour, making Belgian endive a much more complex and lengthy process than simply sowing seeds.

When purchasing, select heads that are firm, with leaves that are white and tightly-bound with closed tips. To prepare, slice a small section off the bottom, then core about a half-inch of the inside to reduce bitterness. Rinse the head and shake thoroughly to remove any excess moisture, and pat with a dry cloth.

Although it’s 90% water, Belgian endive has a tangy flavour with slight bitterness mostly from the base of the leaf. Whether fresh or cooked, Belgian endive is extremely versatile, bringing zippy flavour and elegant presentation to appetizers, soups, salads and entrées.

Endive enhances old favourites such as Waldorf salad and vegetable vinaigrettes, while cream of endive soup, and individual leaves filled with crab, chicken salad or chopped fruit and cheese bring something new to the table. Lightly wilted in olive oil and sprinkled with seasonings, grilled or steamed, Belgian endive retains its refreshing crispness and zesty taste.

Each little head of Belgian endive is high in fibre and full of potassium, folate and Vitamin A. And with just one calorie per leaf, you know you can’t go wrong.

Also known as carambola, star fruit is a berry.  (Photo: Contributed)
Also known as carambola, star fruit is a berry. (Photo: Contributed)

Star fruit in the spotlight

by - Story: 52135
Jan 20, 2010 / 5:00 am

With the many red carpet celebrations taking place including the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild awards and Oscars, the time is right to shine the spotlight on star fruit.

Also known as carambola, star fruit is a berry ranging in size from two to six inches long, with five ribs along the sides. And when sliced crosswise, a star is born.

While believed to have originated in Malaysia or Sri Lanka, star fruit appears widely throughout Southeast Asia, and also performs well in the tropical climates of Florida and Hawaii.

Star fruit can be purchased when it’s still green and left in its cello packaging to ripen at room temperature. When the fruit has turned a golden yellow, with brown edges on the ribbing, it’s time to cut in. Just like in Hollywood, signs of a good star include firm, smooth skin with no brown aging spots. After ripening, the fruit will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

To prepare the fruit, wash thoroughly then trim the brown edges off the ribs. (If there are no brown edges, it hasn’t ripened enough). Cut the ends off the top and bottom and discard. Then slice crosswise through the edible skin to reveal beautiful five-pointed star shapes.

Star fruit is a complex character. It smells like a combination of apple and pear. But then the plot thickens. The translucent yellow pulp is juicy, but firm. It tastes like pineapple without the sweetness an apple with more bite a mild grapefruit with a kick of lemon.

There are two types of star fruit - sweet and sour. The tart fruit is generally smaller with thinner ribs than the sweet version. As with even the most talented of performers, star fruit is enhanced by its supporting players, working well in fruit salad, marinated and grilled or simmered in a sugary syrup. The tart fruit with its sour, lemony flavour works best when used in cooking, while the sweet star has the added benefit of pleasing the palate on its own.

At only 40 calories per cup, star fruit is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, low in sugar, sodium and acid, and high in fibre.

As good as it is, star fruit should be avoided by those with kidney disease as the oxalic acid it contains can cause severe illness and fatality. Star fruit can also inhibit certain enzymes, affecting various medications including those prescribed for cardiovascular conditions. For individuals taking medications, it’s best to check with a doctor to ensure star fruit is a safe choice.

Which goes to show that although stars may look perfect, they still have their flaws. If I had to rate it, I’d give star fruit four out of five stars.

Unlike dessert bananas, Plantains can be eaten at various stages of ripening.  (Photo: Contributed)
Unlike dessert bananas, Plantains can be eaten at various stages of ripening. (Photo: Contributed)

Go bananas for plantain

by - Story: 51981
Jan 13, 2010 / 5:00 am

How many times have you seen those over sized green bananas at the grocer and just passed them by? While we wouldn’t hesitate to scoop up a bunch of familiar sweet, dessert bananas, those poor Plantains are often sadly neglected. It was only by chance and a bit of coercion that I was introduced to Plantains as a teenager while visiting my big sister in the big city. I spent a week with her in the cold depths of an Edmonton winter, which she delightfully warmed with many recipes borrowed from a West Indian co-worker. Curries, coconut, roti, and of course, Plantain.

Popular in Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean, Plantains are indeed bananas, but longer, starchier and thicker skinned than our regular Cavendish variety. But that’s not what really makes the difference.

Unlike dessert bananas, Plantains can be eaten at various stages of ripening, boasting three distinct tastes and textures. So whether they are green, yellow or black, Plantains are ready when you are.

The little sticky label on Dole-brand Plantains provides a brief description on how to use them. When green, use like a potato when yellow, it’s perfect in soups or deep-fried when black, use as a dessert.

You won’t know the real story, however, until you peel back the layers. When green, Plantains are starchy, quite bland-tasting, and not suitable for eating raw. The flesh is dense and creamy-coloured with a hint of pink. I like to use them in place of potatoes for hash browns as they crisp nicely in the pan, with their firm flesh requiring less oil than potatoes.

Once the skin has turned yellow, the Plantain becomes softer and slightly sweeter, yet still requires cooking. Whether you add some slices or cubes to soups and stews, bake whole with the skin slit open, deep-fry or mash, it’s all in good taste.

Weeks can go by before a Plantain reaches its fully ripened stage. While it may look unappealing entirely encased in black skin, this is where the Plantain takes its sweetest form and can be eaten raw. By now the inside flesh has turned a rich yellow colour, and is much softer with a tangy taste of banana just not as sweet. These ripe Plantains can also be sliced and sautéed with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar or baked and drizzled with syrup.

Plantain can be purchased at any stage of ripeness, just make sure it’s not bruised or moldy. Plantains ripen slowly, taking up to a month or more before the peel is completely black. Be patient, they will ripen in their own sweet time.

Plantains are much harder to peel than regular bananas and require a knife to remove the ends. With the tip of the blade, cut a slit from top to bottom on each section of the Plantain, and peel the skin away from the flesh with your hands. Occasionally, when very ripe, the peel can become woody and will need to be sliced off.

High in carbohydrates and a good source of potassium, magnesium, fibre and vitamins A and C, a half-cup serving of raw Plantain contains about 90 calories.

How’s that for appealing?


Fennel is juicy and refreshing, boasting that sweet, tangy taste of licorice.  (Photo: Contributed)
Fennel is juicy and refreshing, boasting that sweet, tangy taste of licorice. (Photo: Contributed)

Fennel – a special treat

by - Story: 51506
Dec 16, 2009 / 5:00 am

I must have inherited my love of licorice from my father. Throughout my childhood, I could always find a package of his beloved Licorice Allsorts tucked away in a kitchen cupboard or perhaps stashed in my dresser drawer. While I loved the licorice, the “allsorts” part didn’t much appeal to me, so I spent a considerable amount of time picking away the neon-coloured candy coatings to get to the delicious licorice embedded inside.

Whether it was black Nibs, Whips, Sen-Sen breath mints or ice cream, the flavour of licorice always added a kick to sugar treats that I couldn’t resist. Eventually my insatiable candy cravings were curbed by too many encounters with the dentist’s drill, yet I still enjoy the occasional binge on the black stuff.

But there is another way to fill your face with the sweet taste of licorice without the dentist filling your teeth with composite. It’s called Fennel.

Fennel has three distinctive parts, giving it quite a unique appearance. It looks like conjoined onion bulbs sprouting white celery stalks, topped with bright green fronds resembling dill. Now before you go rushing out to find some Fennel, here’s a heads-up. You may discover Fennel seems impossible to find. That’s because quite a number of grocers mislabel the bulb as ‘Anise.’

When choosing Fennel, ensure the bulb and stalks are firm, white and free from cracks and blemishes, and that the green fronds are not dried or wilted.

To prepare, remove the stalks at the base of the bulb and use them as you would celery. The fronds can be chopped and used as a garnish or herb. Last and best, is the flavourful, aromatic bulb. It’s juicy and refreshing, boasting that sweet, tangy taste of licorice. Fennel mixes equally well with meats, chicken and a variety of vegetables. Slice or grate and add to salads and coleslaw. Cut in quarters and grill. Chop and sauté with onions and carrots. I like it best raw, as cooked Fennel tends to lose some of its licorice flavour.

Unlike a bag of Licorice Allsorts, a Fennel bulb has just 35 calories, contains potassium and calcium, and also provides 15% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C. Delicious and healthy... Now that’s a real treat!

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