Fennel is an excellent choice ingredient for Spring!
Fennel is one of my top ingredients cooking this time of the year, both for its antioxidant power – it’s an excellent source of vitamin C – and its anti-inflammatory power.
Moreover, fennel is one of the best foods you can include on your plate when you want to improve digestion. Both the bulb and the seeds can have a calming, de-bloating effect all along your digestive tract, gut included, due to its rich combination of micronutrients and fiber content.
According to The Healthiest Foods website, fennel also contains folate and potassium, which are known for their positive impact on cardiovascular health.
Last but not the least, fennel has a very low-fat content and low-calorie count when eaten raw.
Fennel and me
I first heard of fennel when moving to the US. Imagine, I was 25… We have come a long way regarding the globalization of food.
My Danish best friends, Folke and Christine, were found of it and included fennel in about any dish they cooked. In those days, I seldom ate at home, so it was a long time until I learned how to deal with the thing. But I liked the sultry shape of the bulb. Inspired by my friends, for me cooking with fennel showed maturity and culture 🙂
Now, I love the taste of fennel, simultaneously sweet and salty. And the crunch – fennel adds a complexity of flavor and texture to your salads, so I strongly encourage you to try it.
I also love its calming effect on my tummy. As you already know, I am prone to bloating when I indulge in sugar or yeast rich foods. Oh, I so hate bloating!
How to prepare fennel
I eat raw fennel in salads, cut thin with a knife or a mandoline. And, even though I know the heat will impoverish its nutritional value, I also roast it often, mixing fennel with carrots, courgette (zucchini) and cherry tomatoes.
You should always choose bulbs that look and feel crisp, and show no bruises.
Slicing it vertically, you get a beautiful flower-like shape. Horizontally, you get little boomerangs. Up to you to decide which one you like best. For roasting, my favorite cut is the vertical wedge – check out the pictures to see what I mean.
Use the bulb for eating as such and keep the green stalks for soup. The fronds, if you’re lucky to get them, can be used just like you’d use any fresh herb – to top a dish, to add interest to a dressing or to make a more complex pesto.
Fennel seeds can be used as a spice or steeped to make a calming and digestive tea.
Their strong licorice taste requires getting used to, I think. In Portugal, they are not a typical ingredient, but internationally they are a seasoning of choice for meat roasts, sausages, vegetarian dishes, you name it.
India is a significant exporter of this healthy ingredient, and also a large consumer. Most Indian tables have a small cup full of fennel seeds, which are chewed raw after meals. They act as natural breath fresheners, but their excellent digestive and anti-inflammatory properties make it so much more.
To make the most of fennel seed’s taste in cooking, you should toast them lightly on the stove, before crushing them with a pestle and mortar. Then add the ground seeds to your seasoning, if combining, or directly to your dish.
To make tea, add a teaspoon of fennel seeds to a cup of boiling water and let it steep for about 7 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
You can also make a refreshing drink out of this tea, combining it with cucumber or ginger, a few mint leaves and ice cubes in a pretty glass.
You already have one of my favorite fennel salad recipes on the blog: it’s Pear and Fennel Salad, and you can find it HERE.
But no post should go without a recipe so I’m adding a new one, in hope that I’ll motivate you to try this wonderful veggie in your seasonal eating.
Roast Fennel with Courgette, Carrots and Mandarine Vinaigrette
For four generous portions
- Two fennel bulbs
- One medium to large courgette (or two small ones)
- 200 gr baby carrots
- One teaspoon dried oregano
- One tablespoon olive oil or melted butter
- Sea salt and black pepper for seasoning
For the mandarine vinaigrette
- 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed mandarine juice
- 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
- Sea salt and black pepper for seasoning
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC (390º F).
Wash all your vegetables carefully, paying particular attention to dirt between the fennel bulbs’ layers. Try not to separate them though.
Cut the courgette into thick matchsticks. Keep your baby carrots whole.
Cut out the very tough bottom of the fennel bulbs carefully not to separate all the layers, because we want them to hold together when we cut them further, vertically, in 1 cm wide wedges.
Line a large oven tray with baking paper or foil, and spread out the carrots and the fennel segments. Season them with the olive oil, salt and pepper and the dried oregano.
Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Add the cut courgette pieces to the tray and roast the whole thing for 20 to 25 minutes. Shake the vegetables at least once during this time, to prevent them from sticking to the paper.
Meanwhile, prepare the dressing: add all the ingredients in a cup and whisk with a fork or a small whisk, to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference.
When the vegetables are done, transfer them to a serving platter. Season them with part of the dressing and place the remaining vinaigrette in a bowl for adding at the table.
This dish is excellent as a side for your choice of lean protein, be it grilled chicken breast, steamed salmon or even roast tofu.
You can also cook your protein at the same time as the vegetables, with the same Mediterranean seasoning, in a separate oven tray. You might have to leave it 5 minutes longer, depending on how your oven react to being crowded.
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