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Lunch with witlof at Den Anker, V&A Waterfront


Have you tried Witlof? You should.

PRO Brian Berkman invited us to lunch this week at Den Anker in the Waterfront as he is promoting Witlof, also known as Belgian Endive and to some of us as white Chicory. It is often confused with the lettuce-like curly endive a.k.a. escarole or chicorée frisée in French which is grown outdoors.

This is Witlof. It has a very interesting life and is rather complicated to grow, which makes it a little expensive. Growing endive is a two step process that straddles the seasons. The first step, which begins in the spring, is to cultivate it in fields for the roots, which need frost for the next process to occur. The second step, which takes place in the late autumn and winter, is to cultivate the heads, (called chicons) indoors under moist, total dark conditions so they develop into the classic white rocket shaped vegetable tipped with yellow. The ones we are sold in the Cape are grown near Ceres on Bronaar Farm, and spend their second growth in a hydroponic growing medium. They are much sweeter for it and have lost some of the traditional light bitterness. They are available all year round in good supermarkets and specialist delis. Bronaar is the only grower able supply Witlof in South Africa for 12 months of the year.

It is a vegetable that is regarded in Europe with the same fervour and enthusiasm as fresh asparagus and artichokes. It is seasonal and fairly scarce in the Cape, but we buy it whenever we see it and make one of our favourite dishes.

Den Anker has it on its winter menu and served us two very good dishes.

Witlof goes very well with beer and that is what we had with our lunch. Den Anker has an excellent selection of Belgian beers.

Grower Fanie van der Merwe describes the drought in the Op-Die-Berg area of the Koue Bokkeveld region of the Western Cape farming area, as the worst in a hundred years. While water is used in the hydroponic production of Witlof, it is less than a few householders’ consumption. More threatened, as they are thirsty crops, are the onions, apples and pears he also grows.

Our starter was a lovely salad of crisp fresh Witlof leaves topped with a crumbed ball of cream cheese and a fresh herbed ball of goats cheese, Small slices of pear and walnuts were added for flavour and texture. Lynne enjoyed this so much it has inspired her dish of the week for MENU.

The main course was cooked Witlof topped with a creamy cheese sauce, a blanket of ham topped with grilled cheese and a shard of crisp ham. It was accompanied by mashed potato. Witlof is simmered in water until tender and needs to be well drained before wrapping in ham. This is our favourite way of eating it, but there are many others.

The fresh Witlof. It seems this humble vegetable appears to have seriously good health potential, especially if you are a follower of Banting. Because it is grown in the dark and not affected by photosynthesis, this means that there is very little starch and, consequently, carbohydrate in the Witlof in its fresh state, and it is also among the highest natural sources of the valuable B-vitamin, folate. Farmer Fanie van der Merwe told us “that it may also hold the key to a rich supply of inulin, a natural ingredient touted for its medicinal benefits and uses in the confectionery industry as a sugar substitute. According to Dr Motlalepula Matsabisa, Director of Pharmacology at University of the Free State, inulin, a pre-biotic, currently imported at great cost, may play an effective role in managing diabetes. The university is also currently researching the impact of inulin on cancer cells as it is also believed that it might have a retarding effect on tumour growth”.

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