Belgian endive, a member of the chicory family, has slightly bitter, juicy, and crisp leaves that grow in a tight, elongated head no longer than about six inches. The leaves are pale white, tipped with yellow-green or reddish-purple. The whole leaves, especially the smaller interior ones, make a wonderful spoon-like base for all kinds of hors d'oeuvres. Chopped crosswise, the leaves add a refreshing crunch to winter salads, pairing especially well with blue cheese and walnuts. Endive can also be cooked—wrapped with pancetta and then grilled, or stuffed and braised in stock, where it becomes meltingly tender and develops a rich nuttiness.
In salad, try other bitter winter greens, such as frisée (curly endive) or radicchio.
Endive should be snow-white, with just a little yellow or red at the tips. The ribs and bases should not show any browning. White heads of Belgian endive are most common, but you may run across red-edged heads, too.
Pull off any wilted or brown leaves and wipe the head of the endive with a damp towel. Wait until just before serving to slice raw endive; its cut edges brown quickly.
Endive that has been in the light for more than a few hours will start to turn green and may taste bitter. So tuck the heads right into the vegetable crisper, keep endive away from light, and plan to use it within a few days.