Belgian Endive with Cheese Sauce and Ham

When asked for a typical Flemish dish, award winning chef Jeroen Meus immediately mentioned Belgian Endive with Cheese Sauce and Ham.
At home we found the recipe in my mother’s kookschrift, a notebook with recipes she learned as a young woman. She would cook the dish often, typically on a Sunday evening, and serve it with mashed potatoes. Her recipe is fairly straightforward: wash and clean the Belgian endive and cook it for 30 minutes (the recipe is from 1950!) in salted water. Then make a béchamel sauce, add cheese, wrap the endive in ham, spoon the sauce over the vegetables, add butter and breadcrumbs and transfer the combination to the oven for 15-20 minutes. Done!

Actually, her recipe is not very different from how Jeroen Meus prepares the dish. He doesn’t use breadcrumbs and he adds nutmeg and a splash of lemon to the sauce. He suggests steaming or braising the endive.

Most recipes mention removing the bitter core of the Belgian endive. Perhaps that was necessary in 1950, but today’s Belgian endive is not as bitter, so there is no need to do that. Belgian endive must have some bitterness.

Wine Pairing

Enjoy your Belgian Endive with a nice glass of red wine, one with a bite and not too complex. For instance a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from France, a Carmenère from Chili or a Spanish Rioja (Crianza or Joven). 

What You Need

  • For the Endive
    • 4 Belgian Endive
    • 4 slices of Excellent Organic Cooked Ham
    • For the Cheese Sauce
      • 20 grams of Flour
      • 20 grams of Butter
      • Milk
      • 75 grams of grated Cheese (preferably a combination of Gruyère and Emmentaler)
      • optional: one Egg Yolk
    • Nutmeg
    • White pepper
  • For the Mash
    • Root Parsley
    • Parsnip
    • Nutmeg
    • Fresh Parsley
    • White Pepper

What You Do

Chop the bottom of the base of the endive and remove the outer leaves if they don’t look great. Steam the endive or braise it in butter. We prefer braising in butter, which may take 30 minutes on low heat. This way you keep all the flavors and the texture. If steamed: make sure you squeeze the endives gently to get rid of the water excess.
Make the cheese sauce with flour, butter and milk, adding most of the grated cheese when the béchamel is ready. Add grated nutmeg and white pepper to taste. You could turn it into a classic Sauce Mornay by adding one egg yolk to the sauce.
Preheat the oven (200°C or 390 °F). Wrap a piece of ham around each endive and arrange in a shallow baking dish. You don’t want any space between the endive. Spoon sauce over the endive. Sprinkle remainder of the cheese over the sauce. Bake until golden brown on top, 15 to 25 minutes. We prefer using the grill.

For the Mash: clean and dice the root parsley and the parsnip (ratio 1:1). Cook quickly in a limited amount of water. When ready, drain and mash using a blender. Add nutmeg and white pepper. Just before serving add lots of finely chopped fresh parsley.

And The Winner Is…

The 2022 Johannes van Dam prize will be awarded to Belgian Chef Jeroen Meus during the Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food on February 11th. Jeroen Meus is well known for his inspiring daily TV program Dagelijkse Kost (Daily Food). In this 15 minutes program he shares the fun of preparing food, for instance crumble pie with pears and raisins, monkfish with a mustard crust or penne with chorizo and red bell pepper. His aim is not to cook on Michelin Star level, his aim is to help everyone prepare tasty, good food, every day of the week. His books and website (in Dutch only) support this goal in a very helpful way.

He is a true TV-chef in the sense that he is in contact with his viewers. He is entertaining, professional, funny and never arrogant. He balances traditional Belgian food with changes in our culture (more focus on vegetables, more variation, different cultures). His food reflects these changes and inspires us to follow his friendly culinary adventures.

The prize is named after culinary writer and critic Johannes van Dam who was not only known for his reviews of restaurants but also for his massive collection of books on food and drinks. The prize is awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the dissemination of the knowledge on international gastronomy. Jeroen Meus, through his tv programs, books and website, has clearly done so. His cooking brings people together and broadens our culinary scope.

Previous winners of this prestigious prize include Yotam Ottolenghi, John Halvemaan, Carlo Petrini, Alice Waters, Claudia Roden, Harold McGee and Alain Passard.

Jeroen Meeus Atribution: Arne Aelterman, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Jeroen Meus – attribution: Arne Aelterman, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons