Fall is here (although, it might not quite feel like it yet) and with it comes … fennel! (Okay, sure there is football and pumpkins and other things too, but let’s focus on fennel for now.) Fennel can be used from the bulb to the seeds to the leaves to the stalks. Typically, fennel is associated with a licorice or anise-like taste, which is true, but this is really only the fronds (or the leafy part which kind of resembles dill but does not taste like dill).
Fennel is actually in the carrot family, which makes sense if you look at it. The vegetable is a white bulb that is attached to a stalk that resembles celery. At the top of the stalk are greens, called fronds. All parts of fennel (including seeds, which can be purchased and used separately) can be used in cooking.
Fennel typically is used in salads, but it is one of the most versatile vegetables you can find. You can take the bulb and roast it, braise it, sauté it, or even pickle it. Let’s take a look at what you can do with this vegetable and how it can help your health.
Fennel is high in Vitamin C, fiber and potassium. While it may resemble celery or onions, the health benefits of fennel are much greater than either of these two foods. Because of fennel’s high antioxidant properties, some research has even been done to show that fennel may help prevent cancer. Fennel helps with digestion (fiber) and, therefore, can also be used with stomach or other digestive issues. Low in calories and high in nutrition, fennel is a wonderful addition to any meal!
The seeds of fennel have a nutty licorice flavor. Typically, fennel seeds are found in soups and other Italian dishes. While sausage is a common place to find fennel, this doesn’t fit with a vegan diet. However, what if you could make vegan, gluten-free sausage with fennel seeds? Give it a try!
Another way to involve fennel seeds is in a tomato sauce. Many Italian recipes use fennel seeds to provide extra flavor to their dishes. Add fennel seeds to roasted vegetables to give them an extra spice flavor. They can also be added in breads or homemade crackers.
As mentioned earlier, the fennel fronds are the wispy greens at the top of the fennel stalk. These fronds resemble dill and can be used as other fresh herbs are used (think of parsley or dill). The flavor does resemble licorice, so keep that in mind when you are adding fennel fronds to your dishes. However, they can easily be added to a slaw or a salad for a little extra zing in each bite.
Fronds can also be used in a marinade or a stock. If you’re really ambitious, use fennel fronds like basil and make a pesto. If you want to really utilize these greens, try Fennel Pies, which call for two cups of the chopped leaves.
Fennel stalks can actually be used in place of celery in a recipe. The stalks aren’t commonly used in recipes, but they are edible and can be eaten raw if desired. Try chopping them up and adding to salads or even wraps for an extra crunch.
Eat the Bulb
When people talk about eating and using fennel, they are usually referring to the bulb. The fennel bulb almost resembles an onion or a shallot and can be sliced in a similar fashion. The fennel bulb is crisp, like onion and has a slightly sweet taste. Slice the fennel bulb vertically and be sure the stalks are cut off when you start slicing it.
Fennel bulbs can be eaten raw, in salad, for example, such as this Arugula Fennel Salad With Creamy Lemon Dressing or a Fennel and Mulberry Salad. Another warm salad includes pomegranates and fennel bulbs. If you are looking to cook the fennel bulb with other ingredients, try a Beet, Fennel and Lime Pate.
These bulbs can be roasted, either by themselves or with other vegetables (try adding carrots, potatoes and some of the stalk tossed with olive oil and fresh herbs). Fennel bulbs can be braised and used in soups or stews, or they can be sautéed. While stir-fry doesn’t typically call for fennel, it can easily be added as a healthy crunch.
While it may seem intimidating to buy and use fennel, it is a very versatile vegetable. The bulb is the easiest and most commonly used part of fennel – although the stalk and fronds are also edible. The fennel fronds can be treated like any other fresh herb and added accordingly.
Even if you don’t like black licorice or anise flavor, don’t rule out fennel just yet. This vegetable hardly tastes like biting into a licorice stick! In fact, you may find the flavor is mild enough that it can enhance your favorite dish without being too overbearing. For more ideas on how to cook with fennel, here are 10 ways to use fennel (even in dessert!).
Lead image source: Warm Fennel and Pomegranate Salad