Curly endive, also sometimes called frisee or chicory, is a bitter dark leafy green used in salads and other dishes. Like other endives, the curly one has a characteristically sharp, bitter flavor which greatly enhances the flavor of green salads, although some consumers find it distasteful.
The outer leaves of curly endive are dark green and lacy, enclosing a tightly furled pale heart of leaves. The darker the leaf, the more bitter it tends to be, which is why some cooks prefer to use the more pale inner leaves. The characteristic lacy, ruffled greens also add interesting visual contrast to salads, as well as a fair amount of nutrition. This green is high in folate, fiber, and vitamins A and K, making it a great addition to any diet, especially for pregnant women.
Most people use curly endive raw in salads, typically in small amounts so that the bitter flavor does not become overwhelming. The green can also be briefly wilted and served warm. As a general rule, it does not do well with prolonged cooking, so if it is added to a dish such as soup, it is thrown in at the end. Plan on using curly endive within five days, since it will start to go bad after that.
To pick out curly endive in the store, look for a tightly furled, crisp specimen which has a fresh look about it. Avoid those with spots of slime or extreme discoloration, which indicate that the greens were not handled well. Since May to November is the season for this salad green, regard this green at other times of the year with suspicion, since it may not be of very high quality. Once purchased, keep the greens tightly wrapped in the vegetable crisper.
To grow curly endive at home, plant out seedlings or seeds after the last frost. Some gardeners like to make a mixed bed of salad greens, harvesting and replenishing as needed. In temperate climates, salad greens can be kept growing for six or more months out of the year, bringing a fresh, clean flavor to green salads. For classic white endive, blanch almost matured heads by covering them for three to five days, but make sure to keep the leaves dry so that they do not experience rot.