Pickled chicory!

220Prep time: 26 hours. I feel it is important to say that up front.  Oh, and happy 2015!!

In our last veggie delivery, we got two kinds of chicory — a bitter-ish green.  I believe it’s connected, somehow, to endive, because when you google it, you’re just as likely to come up with endive recipes than anything else. One, called castelfranco, was small and looked like a little lettuce with green leaves with little pink/red flecks. The other one, sugarloaf, was long and shaped kind of like a nappa cabbage, but less full and more lettuce-like in the leaves.

The little one became delicious salads. Its bitterness less pronounced, I figured the way to make it more delicious would be to counter it with sweetness or richness. I think my instincts were right. In one salad, I made my own sweet dressing using a pear balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a bit of mustard, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper. I used a mandoline to get thin ‘shreds” of carrot, radish, and a honeycrisp apple. I put the shreds into the dressing to marinate. The apple got a bit soft but the carrot and radish stayed crisp. At the last minute, I tossed the mixture with the chicory. Really nice. We ate it with Russian potato pancakes and the sweet/bitter notes were a nice counter to the savory potato-onion pancakes.

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For the other salad, richness in the form of blue cheese dressing. In this case, I took the ‘cheat’ and used store bought blue cheese dressing (the brand in the jars in the refrigerated section). On top of the creamy leaves, thin slices of ripe red pear. I had given some candied walnuts and cranberries for holiday gifts and so I also put a few of those I had remaining on the salad. The creamy chicory with the slightly sweet pear and the candied nuts was also a really lovely combination.

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I think either of these salads could convert anybody into a chicory fan. That little one (castelfranco) might be my new favorite vegetable.

The larger one had me stumped. Hello internet. I found a recipe that sounded good, but had no real measurements. Just numbers. From the U.K. I wasn’t sure if I was working in grams, milliliters, or something else. Maybe everyone in the U.K. automatically knows what to do when faced with this approach, but I was initially stumped. I cook, I thought. I can sort it out. I’ve done other pickles and make my own dressings a lot, so I ought to be able to sort it out.

Except I demonstrated insufficient reading. Twice. On day one, I was ready to make it after work, but it was already 7. That’s when I finally read it had to marinate 2 hours. So I made something else.

The next night I started making it (got home early to do so), and then really read it. It doesn’t marinate for 2 hours. The chicory is salted and then sits for 2 hours to drain and then it marinates in a dressing for 24 hours. So I made something else…but returned to the kitchen to make it — do the salting, get it into the dressing.

The other snag – the dressing has to cook and then cool, so you do have to do it first and then salt the chicory, and then use the salting time as your cooling time.

Day 3, I had to work late which included dinner, so I ate something else. At this point my chicory had been in the vinegary dressing 24 hours. It looked good when I got home, but I was too full to do more than taste it. I wondered what would happen in 24 more hours. Would it be overly pickled? Browning? Ruined?

Finally, on the fourth night, my ‘quick’ pickled chicory saga ends. Deliciously. The result is a sweet, gingery pickled green where the bitterness keeps things from being too sweet but the texture is still crisp which is nice, even after 24 extra hours in the dressing. Paired with a peppery steak, it was great.

End of saga…

If you wanted to make your own, you can consult the original source and have at it or try the following version I used:

Pickling liquid

In a small saucepan, combine:

  • One large knob of ginger (thumb sized) cut into thin strips – I didn’t even bother to peel it since it gets strained out eventually)
  • 40 grams sugar (yes, I weighed it). It’s probably under ¼ cup.
  • 150 grams of vinegar (yes, weighed). It’s probably ½- ¾ cup. I used straight vinegar rather than the white wine vinegar of the original
  • One dried chili pepper – I didn’t have a fresh chili pepper like the original recipe called for, but you could use one if you had it

Tip: OPEN THE WINDOWS and/or TURN ON YOUR STOVE’S FAN. You bring this mixture to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, and then set it aside to cool. I put it in a covered jar to try to minimize the vinegar-y air in my kitchen, but just in the boiling and simmering, the air will get quite pronounced. I left the ginger and chili in the hot mixture to continue to flavor the mixture as it cooled.

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Next, prepare the chicory. You can separate the thicker stems from the leaves, but I just chopped it up kind of like making thick coleslaw. I was afraid to chop it up too thin given the intensity of the heavy vinegar pickling liquid.

In a colander over a bowl to catch the liquid, combine:

  • The chopped chicory
  • 1 t. Salt

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Now you wait. The chicory is to sit with the salt for 2 hours. I wasn’t sure how well I had mixed it in, so I tossed it a couple of times during the 2 hours and discarded the salty water that was draining out of the chicory.   When the time has elapsed, I put the still a bit salty chicory into a bowl with the drained pickling liquid (remove the ginger and chili). The whole thing went into the fridge for 24 hours – in my case 48.

I did look at it after 12 hours.  The chicory was “shrinking” and “softening” in the liquid, but at 24 hours it looked and tasted even better.  I do think it helps to take the full time if you have it.  Still, it would have been perfectly acceptable to eat at the halfway point if that had been my timetable.

Unlike other pickles, it made sense to me why you didn’t salt the pickling liquid since the chicory was salty enough to provide that needed element to the pickling process. I might have been able to get away with using more salt, but I was wary given an earlier over-salting experience making bread and butter pickles. Coincidentally, that mistake was another case of incomplete recipe reading before I started and not realizing I had messed up until it was too late.

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Done. It’s the easiest of recipes as long as you get the timing of things right. And read.

In the original recipe they served it with a pepper-crusted steak and a side salad of arugula with a dressing that contains fish sauce, sugar, and lemon. I’m not against that, but I didn’t have arugula and the chicory pickling sauce seemed like dressing enough. I got a steak and did indeed make a pepper-crusted steak which I then sliced thin and served with the pickled chicory and some brown rice. It was pretty beige on the plate, so I added some grapefruit sections (I love citrus in winter!) and some pickled cranberries left from Christmas. It was both pretty and delicious. The spicy peppered steak along with the gingery chicory is a nice combination, but very strong flavors. It was nice to have some plain brown rice to balance it all out.   I think it would have been super nice even with a basic steak so I’m not sure the pepper crust was necessary.

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For the leftovers, I decided to make my own colorful udon bowl. I’ve had some curry udon noodles in the pantry for a while, so I decided to make it with shredded raw carrot, the leftover beef, some toasted walnuts, and the vinegary chicory.  I drained off a little of the pickling liquid, heated it just a bit in the microwave, and mixed in two spoonfuls of peanut butter to make a dressing to bind it all. It was even better, I think, than the original recipe’s steak-chicory combination. It’s nice having hot noodles, cold chicory, and uncooked carrot. It’s also a beautiful mixture of colors and textures.

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When posted on Fbook, a former student said that in France they wrap chicory in ham, cover it in béchamel, and then bake it. I’m kind of hoping we get more chicory so I can give that a try…

Could chicory be the new kale?

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