Top 5 Ways to Use Fennel
I love picking up a gorgeous bulb of fennel at my farmers market when it’s in season. The fresh, crunchy anise flavors of fresh fennel in salads just can’t be beat. For centuries, fennel has influenced the cuisine of the Mediterranean, where it originates. Roasted with greens and beans, caramelized with onions, flavoring savory foods, fennel pairs particularly well with fall and winter flavors, such as apples and pears.
Related to parsley, dill and cumin, fennel has a white or pale green bulb with green, celery-like stalks, topped with a delicate fringe of leaves. Every part of fennel—seed, bulb, stalk, and leaves—is edible. And it’s super-nutritious; for only 27 calories in 1-cup sliced, you get a reward of 11% DV (Daily Value) fiber, 17% DV vitamin C, 6% DV folate, 10% DV potassium, and 8% DV manganese. And fennel also contains unique phytochemicals with antioxidant activity, such as rutin, quercitin, and kaempferol.
Fresh fennel has a firm, healthy bulb with straight, upward stalks, is lightly fragrant and shows no sign of flowering. It looks similar to dill and is often confused with anise for its lightly licorice scent and flavor. If you are lucky enough to find whole fresh fennel—bulb, stalks, and feathery leaves—don’t be afraid to use the whole fennel, root to stem. Lots of recipes call for sliced fennel bulb. But the stalks, fronds (and even seeds, for that matter) offer so much texture and flavor to dishes, as well. To prepare, cut the stalks where they meet the bulb and slice the bulb into salads and sandwiches. Sautéed or braised, bulbs are traditionally paired with savory dishes, while the stalks add subtle flavor and texture to soups, stews and stock. Feathery fennel leaves lend subtle flavor and enhance beautifully as a garnish.
Top 5 Ways to Use Fennel
1. Perk Up Salads! Fennel is made to take salads to the next level. Its crunch and subtle licorice nuance have a way of pleasing any palate with its unexpected presence. A natural in Mediterranean cuisine, this recipe for Tuscan Asparagus Fennel Farro Salad celebrates all of the flavors of the Tuscan countryside: fennel, onion, olive oil, lemons, pine nuts. Plus, a springy addition of asparagus livens this salad right up!
2. Grill it. Cooking over an open flame may not come to mind when you think of fennel, think again. Slices or wedges of this bulb become mellow and delicately sweet. Drizzle wedges with lemon zest and juice, olive oil and fresh herbs, like chives or thyme, or use slices in salads, or mixed into a savory rice or bean dish.
3. Roast It. The magic of caramelized fennel is matched only by onions. Give it a try with your favorite veggies to roast—zucchini, butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, or a combination of several. Just put veggies on a sheet pan, toss with olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper, and oven roast at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, tossing once halfway through. Drizzle with red wine vinegar before serving. This would be a great addition to my recipe for Roasted Kohlrabi with Pumpkin Seeds.
4. Get Creative. With so many usable parts that resemble other go-to veggies—onion, celery, dill—don’t be afraid to try fennel in new ways. A basic substitute for these veggies is a great place to start. In place of onion, slice fennel bulb onto a sandwich or veggie burger, like my Edamame Ancient Grain Veggie Burgers, for example. Rather than celery, serve the stalk in your next crudite plate, or dice and use in dips. The leaves can be added to most anything, from salads to soups, but don’t let their feathery beauty go unappreciated—they have magnificent garnish potential!
5. Soup it Up. Fennel’s unique flavor makes it as much a seasoning as a main ingredient. For this reason, I love to add any part of it to soups and stews, cooking it into mellow deliciousness that won’t scream out licorice flavor, but will instead induce pause to put one’s finger on that interesting flavor. A great way to soup it up is in a cool, refreshing gazpacho, like my Easy Gazpacho, where it’s right at home with other crunchy textures, but brings out a whole new spectrum of flavor.
Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN with Lori Zanteson
Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
For other Top 5 Ways guides for enjoying whole plant foods, check out these: