Witlof, also known as Belgian Endive or Chicory leaf or Witloof, is related to the chicory family that includes radicchio escarole, frisee lettuce, as well as the curly endive. With a crisp texture and a sweet and mildly nutty flavour, it is a great vegetable to use in a variety of dishes, either raw or cooked.
First marketed for Belgian consumers in 1846, a few other countries have also embarked on cultivating this interesting and complicated crop. South Africa also joined the brave few but it has, for the most part, been an imported product.
In the Koue Bokkeveld, Ceres grower Fanie van der Merwe of Bronaar (established in 1743), is the 9th generation of Van der Merwe growers in Ceres and the oldest ongoing family business in South Africa. Bronaar proudly established itself as a Witlof producer, aiming to grow the interest in this product across all their markets.
According to Bronaar MD Fanie van der Merwe, Witlof is a notoriously difficult vegetable to grow and requires a two-step growing process before it is ready to be harvested. “Bronaar’s specialised R7 million Witlof growing facility is equipped to handle all the technical intricacies and challenges of growing this crop that before now has never been sustainably produced in our country. We are here to change perceptions and be a constant, reliable producer of Witlof.”
High in fibre and delivers 10% of daily recommended B9 intake
He explains that Witlof requires very specific growing methods and climate conditions and everything, from moisture and temperature to humidity, is controlled in the facility. “We are excited about giving people all over South Africa the opportunity to enjoy it more often and to become familiar with this exceptional new low-carbohydrate vegetable (3.3g/100g) which is high in fibre (3.1g) and delivers 10% of the recommended daily intake of Folate (B9) along with a host of health enhancing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” says Van der Merwe.
Grown hydroponically, and in the dark, Witlof is unlike any other vegetable. What makes Witlof so interesting is its two-stages production: The first is the growing of the chicory root (unrelated to the coffee substitute) in the earth through between spring and autumn to maturity. “This particular type of chicory develops a large tap root, similar to a thickened parsnip, which is harvested, cleaned and refrigerated. Stage two is entirely in the dark to avoid the development of chlorophyl which ensures the leaf’s creamy white appearance and is grown in soil-free hydroponics. The chicons, the name of the leaf, take 22 days to produce before they are harvested as Witlof”, Fanie explains.
“At the moment we are the main commercial growers of forced Witlof in South Africa and our produce is available in most Woolworths Foods, Food Lover’s Markets, Checkers and quality grocers.
“Although we are 9th generation growers we are also known as innovators”, Fanie says of the latest growing and monitoring technologies they use. Bronaar is a business built on innovation, integrity and high standards, a trusted source that consistently delivers excellent products with service as solid as the ground we stand on and as a consequence our Witlof is a versatile flavour, great taste and delivers fantastic health benefits.”
Witlof now available 12 months of the year in South Africa.
Try your hand at some recipes prepared by Den Anker’s chef Doekle Vlietman:
Amuse – Witlof leaves /apple /tomato/with Crevette
1 Witlof separated into leaves.
1 tomatoes hollowed out and chopped finely
1 apples chopped finely
100g blanched small shrimps
2 Tablespoon thick mayonnaise
½ lemons juiced
20g chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredient together and serve in a Witlof leaf.
Pair with Liefman’s Fruitesse beer
Starter – Witlof/Goats cheese, pear/honey
8 small rolled balls (5g each) of chevrin goat’s cheese.
1 egg separated
Oil for deep frying
20g parsley, chopped
1 pear (skin on) sliced and sautéed in butter
40g walnuts, crushed
2 Witlof heads finely chopped
250g Mixed baby lettuce and micro greens.
4 teaspoon honey to drizzle.
50g Panko crumbs
Make 5g cheese balls. Coat half with egg white and Panko crumbs before deep frying until crisp. Roll the other half in chopped parsley.
Build the base of your salad with two leaves of Witlof and stack the baby leaf salad on top. Top with chopped Witlof followed by pear, walnuts and goat’s cheese. Drizzle with honey and garnish with micro greens.
Pair with Vedett beer
Main – Witlof au Gratin (Witlof wrapped in Parma ham, veloute, gouda and mash)
1 pack Witlof
160g Parma ham
200g gouda grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil 1 pack witlof in water with a pinch of salt drain well but retain the cooking liquor to make the veloute.
Boil the potatoes and mash.
To make the veloute melt butter and whisk in the flour folding in the Witlof cooking liquor until you reach a custard consistency. Add the cream and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Wrap the blanched witlof in cooked ham and place in a casserole dish, place the mash next to it.
Top the ham with veloute and top that with 200g grated Dutch Gouda.
Bake at 180 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbling.
Pair with La Chouffe beer.