This perennial has just come into season in Houston so keep your eyes peeled for it, because it really is a worthy and versatile addition to your pantry. Fennel is a tasty Mediterranean relative of the carrot that thrives from the winter until early spring. Also known as Florence fennel, sweet fennel, common fennel and finocchio, this cool season plant is often described interchangeably as an herb and a vegetable, but it's grown as a vegetable crop. So which is it? Well, actually a bit of both, as the bulb, fronds and seeds can all be used differently. Fennel is low in calories and high in potassium and Vitamin C.
How to Use Fennel
The crisp, sweet bulb is nice raw in salads, or you can braise, roast, grill or sauté it. The flavor is similar to anise or licorice. Fennel leaves, which are also known as fronds, visually resemble dill weed, but taste unmistakably like what it is. Fennel goes well with soups, vegetables and roasted fowl. Try it in stir fries or sauté it and spoon over fish. Steep a teaspoon of fennel seeds in hot water for 10 minutes to make a tasty tea which you can sweeten with honey and/or flavor with lemon. Fennel seeds turn brown when ripe and can be dried for later use.
Fennel can be added to egg, chicken or tuna salad, potato salad, salsa or coleslaw to impart a gentle anise flavor and of course a nice crunch. It pairs well with citrus fruit to make salads or side dishes, and it can also be served as part of an antipasto platter. The leaves can be chopped and used to garnish meat, seafood or grains. The stalks are good for adding to stocks, chowders, stews and soups.
When buying fennel, look for a firm, clean white or greenish bulb which is not bruised, split or browned. The leaves should be green and the stalks firm. Flowering fennel is past its prime. It should smell fresh and rather like licorice. Fennel will keep in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days.
In a Starring Role at: Helen Greek Food & Wine
Fennel pairs particularly well with citrus flavors, which is why you should try the citrus and fennel salad at Helen Greek Food & Wine. Pomegranate, red onion, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and herbs complement the anise-like fennel flavor and pucker of tart citrus. The Greek donuts include fennel sugar and they are topped with Greek yogurt whipped cream. If you like the taste of licorice, these are a must-try! Helen blends traditional Greek recipes with local, seasonal Houston produce, for the ultimate in both freshness and flavor.
Recipe: Warm Fennel Salad with Asparagus
The anise-like flavor of fennel pairs with asparagus and radish in this warm salad recipe. We are using onion, capers and vinegar to make a piquant dressing, and this salad is gorgeous served warm as an appetizer or side dish. This recipe serves four people. Although we suggest dill weed for the garnish, fennel fronds would also work if you want a stronger fennel flavor in this dish.
- 5 ounces radishes, cut in half
- 1 large sliced fennel bulb
- 7 ounces trimmed green asparagus
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Small bunch of chopped dill weed, for garnish
For the Dressing
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons baby capers
- 1/2 finely chopped red onion
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
Preheat a griddle pan and toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil. Meanwhile, combine the vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, then stir in the capers and onion. Grind in some salt and black pepper. Set this dressing to one side. The griddle pan should be hot by now, so you can add the vegetables in one layer and cook for 2 minutes or until you see griddle marks. Do this in two batches if your griddle pan isn't so big. Arrange the crisp-tender vegetables on a serving dish and grind over a little salt and black pepper. Now drizzle the dressing over the vegetables and sprinkle dill weed on top. Serve immediately, perhaps with some crusty baguette bread to soak up the delicious juices.
Stay tuned every week to learn more about what's fresh and exciting at the market and where you can enjoy the flavorful bounty of the season.