Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wild Chicory

Wild chicory is unbearably bitter. But it's exactly what your liver needs in springtime, to cleanse and renew itself after the long winter struggle with reduced sunlight, and the body's tendency to go into hibernation mode (i.e.: storing fat, reducing circulation, and general stagnation). It is one of the many wild bitter herbs that pop up in early spring.

Chicory is a useful medicinal plants with several properties and uses. The leaves are mostly known for their cleansing and liver-protecting properties (either when eaten raw or cooked; or when dried and used in teas or other medicinal preparations). Leaves also can be used to redue skin inflammation and swelling.

The roots are often dried and roasted to prepare a coffee substitute, or are even added to coffee to extend its nutty flavour. It's interesting to note also, that chicory root also balances the stimulating properties of coffee.

Aside from the medicinal properties, chicory leaves provide a marvellous culinary experience for those who appreciate wildcrafted foods and the often neglected benefit of bitter flavour. Fresh leaves may be added to salads (use only the tender young leaves). Larger leaves may be steamed or sauteed and prepared similarly to kale, as a warm salad drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. You may feel the need to balance the bitterness with a little sweet touch of Silan (date molasses), honey or coconut palm sugar, or a handful of chopped almonds and raisins.

The Arabic cuisine in the Galilee includes a fascinating pastry, in which simple flatbread layered with with a mixture of steamed chicory leaves (known as "Elt") are seasoned with red chili pepper, salt and fried onion. The dough is than rolled and baked, and served along with other mezze and dips, or as a side dish with more hearty dishes such as mujadarah or lamb stew.

Note: Cultivated types or relatives of chicory include radiccio (also extremely bitter) and endive, which is grown in the dark to keep the leaves pale and tender (and also a little less bitter).

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