Free Food: Chicory

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An Acient Edible Weed

Chicory, a perennial (comes back every year) herb plant with a blue to lavender flower is a great free food that can be found growing wild in many areas. You can find Chicory in open areas, on the roadsides, and even in grassy areas of parking lots, In the United States and Canada.

Chicory is one of the oldest recorded types of plants. It is native to Northern Africa, Western Asia and Europe, and was cultivated in Egypt in ancient times. It was later grown by Medieval monks in Europe, where the Dutch started adding it to coffee. It came to America in the 1700s and been used as a coffee substitute or an added ingredient to coffee since around 1800.

But Chicory isn't just for beverages! The palnt can be eaten. The leaves of Chicory are best eaten in the Spring and Fall. Summer heat brings out a bitterness that isn't so good. You can toss Chicory leaves into a salad. Many people blanch them first. Or you can cook them in with other greens. Or you can cook them alone, like you would spinach or mustard greens.

Chicory looks a bit scraggly, and often stands alone without companion plants, but can be found with other weeds. The plant branches out and makes leaves that resemble dandelion leaves, along with the flowers which only open on a sunny day, and at the exact time every day!. It flowers from July to October.

All parts of this plant can be eaten, but the flowers are very, very bitter. Chicory is sometimes called endive, frisée, escarole or radicchio. The plant has a single long tap root that can be eaten as a vegatable, or roasted to use with coffee.

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Chicory Cream Brulee

Cream Brulee", actually means "burnt cream," and is a popular dessert,specially in New Orleans. It's fairly easy to fix and it can be flavored with just about anything you like. So here's a cream brulee recipe using intensely flavored chicory and coffee.

1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1-1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup instant coffee or
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 large egg yolks
Roasted ground Chicory root to taste.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300ºF. Arrange six custard cups in a large roasting pan.

Combine the cream, milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the coffee, Chicory, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and coffee. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl or a pitcher.

Divide the custard into the cups. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the roasting pan and bake until the custards are firm but jiggle slightly when shaken, 30 to 40 minutes more. Remove from the water bath and let cool. Refrigerate until chilled.

Sprinkle with brown sugar and/or instant coffee to taste.

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