I just canâ€™t believe I havenâ€™t been eating this amazing vegetable for all these years! how come no one told me about it ?! I have recently (.. about a year ago) discovered Fennel! what a delicious vegetable it is! definitely under estimated, at least in my house. I know fennel might look a bit intimidating!! and trust me, I have always walked past it in grocery stores and never really had the intension to give it a try, it was one of those â€œout of my comfort zoneâ€ vegetables, so as a couple of Asian ones I have yet to try. Until one night I was watching one of Jamie Oliverâ€™s cooking shows, I think it was from the â€™30 mins mealsâ€™ series, when Jamie put up this super quick Fennel salad in like 5 mins!! and it looked absolutely delicious! .. So the following day I dared to buy one medium size fennel and tried his salad recipe, and the love story with Fennel started on that very special day. Thanks James! you know I love you, right?
The pharmacist in me always looks at the benefits of food and how it affects our bodies (just canâ€™t help it) and reading about fennelâ€™s health benefits just made me love it even more! it went straight to the top of my â€˜must eat vegetablesâ€™ list.
Let me tell you about some of the goodness in Fennel before we start preparing it together .. I know this is boring stuff .. but Iâ€™ll be quick and simple!
- considered an anti inflammatory, reducing chronic inflammation and improves immune response to infection.
- great for people suffering from constipation; itâ€™s high in fibre.
- and laaadies !.. this is for you .. it has natural oestrogen (female hormone), so good for your reproductive cycle and fertility. is this a YAY?!
- an excellent source of vitamin C too, which means it has antioxidants which improves the skin and general health.
- good for your heart, metabolism and decreases the risk of obesity.
** Itâ€™s high in Potassium though, so for those who are on a potassium restricted diet or others with kidney dysfunction or heart issues.. be aware!
Now, I was going to jump straight to the recipe but I thought you might need some help with how to prepare this vegetable for your dish.
Ok, so fennel is originally cultivated in the Mediterranean, very popular in Italian and Greek cuisines .. and I know for a fact that Italians are so creative with this vegetable.. when it comes to taste I recon it has a liquorice-like flavour .. but not that strong at all, just a hint really!
Fennel has a bulb which is the big base at the bottom, stalks which tend to be a bit woody, fronds these are the leafy top bits resembling dill, and seeds usually found in the spices section and they look similar to cumin seeds.
There are so many ways to eat fennel. Bulbs can be sliced thinly in salads or cut and put in stews and soups to add delicious flavour or even roasted. The stalks are usually used to flavour soups but are not the best to eat, trust me.. theyâ€™re tough!! The fronds are most commonly used for garnish to add some freshness to the dishes before serving, and last but not least are the seeds, they are flavoursome and can be used in many dishes where cumin seeds are used, I personally love using the seeds in fish dishes and in roasting vegetables. Back home in Egypt these seeds are commonly used in bread and pastries, adds a special flavour and aroma!
Here is a step- by- step guide on how to prepare your fennel.
1.wash your fennel thoroughly with water, pat dry with paper towel, then cut off the stalks with a sharp knife.
2. cut half to one inch off the base and discard..
** depends on the size of the fennel, the smaller the fennel the less you need to cut off the base.
3. peel off any brown marks on the bulb using a vegetable peeler, and discard (these marks are common on the outer layer so donâ€™t be alarmed .. but try to look for crisp and clean bulbs with the least brown spots when youâ€™re buying fennel, also the hairy fronds on the top should be bright green in colour).
4. cut fronds off the stalks using a scissor, put aside for garnish.
5. separate thinner stalks from thicker ones.
6. thick and thin stalks can be used to make soups and stews or as a bed for roasting vegetables or chicken. (use big stalks as is, or cut them in halves, add them to smaller ones and put aside for later use)
7. back to the bulb, stand it upright on its base, cut the bulb in half lengthways, all the way to the base.
8. now youâ€™ll see the core of the fennel, which youâ€™ve just cut in half. This part is tough and best to be discarded, so using your knife gently and safely cut at an angle from each side of the core as shown, repeat for the other bulb half. If you think this is too hard for you, then cut the bulb in quarters instead of halves and lean each quarter against the board then cut off the core part and discard.
9. at this stage, if your fennel is a medium to a large size one, you might find that the first layer is slightly tough, if thatâ€™s the case, then I prefer you remove it, cut it in halves or quarters and add it to the stalks pile for other uses.
10. now this step is for preparing our salad. Place the flat side of the bulb on your board and slice as thinly as you can.
*Note: when removing the first layer of the bulb you might come across this cute little baby fennel attached to the base. I love it !! I recon itâ€™s the best part .. slice it, squeeze some lemon on top and eat it just like that before anyone sees you â€“ yum!!
Here is my version of a zesty fennel salad .. enjoy!
- 1 medium to small size fennel bulb sliced thinly as shown above
- 2 cucumbers, slice each in half lengthways, then chop into half circles.
- 1 bunch of fresh aromatic mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- a couple of fennel fronds for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
- the zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 4-5 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil
- In a bowl, add fennel bulb slices, chopped cucumber and mint leaves.
- in another small bowl add dressing ingredients and stir, reserving some of the lemon zest for garnish.
- toast fennel seeds in a small pan on low heat for 1 minute or until fragrant.
- add dressing and toasted fennel seeds to the salad ingredients in the bowl, toss all together gently.
- transfer to a serving plate, garnish with fennel fronds and reserved lemon zest.