Endive season is beginning. If you have never eaten this strange little vegetable, I highly recommend a trip to the nearest grocery store or farmers’ market.

whole endive

Vegetables are naturally gluten-free, and of course endive is no exception. It’s in the chicory family, related to other bitter vegetables like raddichio and frisée and escarole. It’s also full of fiber and vitamins (A and K, to be specific).

Why should you care? Why does endive deserve a special place in the hearts and pantries of the gluten-free community?

One simple reason: it’s the perfect scoop.

Yes, it’s true, endive is delicious in many ways: grilled, braised, chopped up raw and added to salad.

Because of its bitter taste, endive pairs well with foods that are rich – like cheese, oil and nuts – or sweet, like fruit. One of the most common ways it’s served in restaurants is in a salad with blue cheese, walnuts or pecans, and pears or cranberries.

endiveHowever, I find myself eating endive leaf by leaf more than any other way. It’s the perfect gluten-free substitute for bread or crackers. The leaves are strong enough to act as reliable conveyer belts for other foods, and they don’t crumble apart like many rice cakes and crackers tend to.

Endive is also easy to transport, and doesn’t require too much washing, chopping or other prep work – so it’s perfect for packing in a lunchbox or picnic basket.

Once I’ve got a small stack of endive leaves, I use them to make short order of:

OK, pretty much anything. A drizzle of good olive oil and another of balsamic will work, too.

If you’re looking for some ways to bring this wonderful vegetable into your diet, here’s a list of endive recipes from California to get you started. Not all are gluten-free, but many are and the others can be modified.

If, like me, you use endive as a bread substitute, what are your favorite gluten-free toppings?