This dish was designed around two main ingredients – locally sourced witlof and “ferally traded” coffee. The result was a sweet and bitter course, celebrating the tastes that are common in both coffee and endives. Witlof (Belgian endive) was cooked in coffee, with a hint of orange, and served with a herby couscous.

The unusual flavour pairing in this dish hints at witlof’s origins. Witlof was first cultivated accidentally from a replanted chicory root in the Schaarbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, during the war of independence in the 1830s. Chicory is often used as a coffee substitute in times of war or supply-line rupture (also used in US prisons) – witlof’s creamy leaf is grown by cutting the leaves from the growing chicory plant, then the living stem and root are kept in a dark place: underground, or just sub-soil surface. The new bud which develops is white, lacking the bitterness of the sun-exposed foliage. The painstaking process of growing it evades mechanisation, yet produces an ingredient primed as international commodity – a star player, laid bare to the efficiency fantasies of the assembly-line chef. A signature item, the Genuine Belgian Endive stays fresh for weeks, guarantees one calorie per leaf, ensures versatility and “adds superior value-perception to salads at minimum cost” making endive the perfect profit sell. (More details can be found at http://www.belgianendive.com)

Conversely, the Feral Trade coffee in which the witlof in this recipe is based defies all guarantees. It relates to a particular supply line disaster – a human drama – and the entropy inherent in repeat trade activity. As it happened, the latest coffee shipment – traded in over social networks from farmers in El Salvador since 2003 – derailed briefly when the request for ground coffee got lost in translation as grains, causing the misdelivery of 150 kg of product, ground too coarsely for European coffee makers. Faced with the opportunity to regrind each bag to standard and suppress the international incident, the trader chose instead to pass the error on to buyers, as valued artifact of the raw trade coordinates the project deals in.

  • 3 dl Feral Trade coffee
  • 4 shots Suze
  • 2 shots Triple sec
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 15 large witlof cut in two (or 25 mini witlof)
  • Feral Trade salt to taste
  • Water (if you prefer the coffee diluted)

Make coffee (we used an Italian moka coffee pot, but a filter coffee machine can work as well). Pour the coffee, Suze, Triple sec and salt in a deep, non-stick pan. Place the endives in the liquid and simmer until soft. Take the endives out of the pan and reduce the liquid to a viscous syrup. Pour the hot syrup over the endives just before serving. Sprinkle with orange zest.

  • ½ kg medium-grain couscous
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 handful fresh sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Salt to taste
  • 500 ml water
  • Dates and crushed peanuts (optional for garnish)

Boil the water. Place couscous in a bowl with olive oil and pour boiling water over it (about 1 finger-width above the couscous). Cover with a lid and leave to swell for about 10 minutes. Dry fry the resulting couscous with salt, pepper and sage. Garnish with sliced dates and peanut crumbs.

Feral Trade coffee was hand-delivered by Kate Rich to the Belgian depot at FoAM, after passing through several countries along the way. Witlof was hand-delivered by Rasa and Pieter De Wel (a Lithuanian-Flemish couple who cater for many FoAM events), and hand-picked by a friend of Pieter’s parents in the vicinity of Aarschot in Belgium. Feral Trade pink salt was hand-delivered by Sneha Solanki, originally from India. Suze and Triple sec were found on the shelf in FoAM’s kitchen, left over from a party (origin unknown). Couscous, dates and peanuts we bought from our local “dealer” in Molenbeek in Brussels. Olive oil came from a market in Maribor while visiting our partner organisation Kibla in Slovenia. We picked the sage from plants on the FoAM balcony.

(an sidebar recipe)