At a Belgian gathering recently, I had the good fortune to be served this soup and was assured by the Belgian Ambassador himself that this was very much a national signature dish. As soon as my much better half returned from Cairo, I decided this was a dish to be recreated and enjoyed. Again.
The endive itself seems to have been (originally?) in ancient Egypt and while the Romans knew it – they had their own relationship with Egypt of course, it seems not to have been known in Europe before the 19thcentury. Wiki dates the Belgian connection at 1830, while Oxford dates the Belgian popularity to the 1890s, which seems a more likely date as Belgium, or at least prominent Belgians were having influence with the Khedives; developing the railways and Heliopolis (Misr Gedida) and more.
To get to the bottom of the story, probably much more food archaeology/history needs be researched to be definitive on the subject. Whatever the history, as fascinating as that is, it is relatively easy to prepare and packed with nutrition and tastes a great delight. The cooking suppresses the bitterness, though the result is far from bland.
Take a leek and cut the usable bit below the flag finely. The ‘flag’ or stiff green leaves are set aside for making vegetable stock, so we do not cast them aside and add to food waste.
After cutting the white part into rings, we set that aside and out of six endives, we finely chop five, setting those aside and the sixth endive, we carefully peel the leaves off whole and set aside until later.
Taking two tablespoons or equivalent of butter, we heat the butter to release its moisture and toss in the leek until translucent. As soon as that operation is done we toss in the chopped endive, combining with the leek until the leaves wilt. As soon as the leaves are wilted, at this stage a teaspoon of minced garlic before adding the stock (vegetable, chicken or meat as per preference) and cook for about 10/15 minutes on a medium heat. Roughly a litre of liquid is added in a stock/water combination and add a teaspoon of sea or rock salt – I added Himalayan Rock salt and pepper to taste. During this time, lightly steam the whole leaves of the sixth endive and with some mushrooms lightly fry, slow fry them as a confit in butter, tossing to prevent burning.
By now, the soup is coming together and time to purée with a stick blender. Add 125 ml of thick cream to combine, stir in the cream and grate some nutmeg and after stirring everything lower the heat, so the food is cooking, but in a gentle way. Give yourself time to cut dill, chives or parsley as a garnish. The whole operation can take between 30 to 40 minutes, depending of course on your cooker and patience.
To serve, spoon in the soup, add a complete endive leaf, topped with a couple of confitmushrooms and chopped herb. Serve with a lemon slice and/or croutons.
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