Fennel- member of the carrot family that doubles as a pretty, bee friendly garden addition and yummy culinary additive. As expected for a bulbous vegetable, fennel is low calorie and fat negligible packing roughly 40% dietary fibre by weight. A 100g serving will get you about a third of your vitamin B requirements for the day and over your calcium quota- worth remembering for vegans or dairy intolerant types. Also noteworthy phosphorus, magnesium and iron content.
On from the science bit, fennel is really nice, even for this foodie who is generally against anise or liquoricey dominant flavours. I actually hate liquorice but find the similar tones in fennel a gentler, cleaner version of the taste that makes a fine addition to soups or stews and a magnificent dimension to green salads. I probably wouldn’t sit and eat a whole one though. The chunky texture adds crunchy substance to low calorie/fat plates that so many a dieter despairs over so give it a go if you are watching your waistline in a non-lettuce-enthusiast kind of way.
In cooking you can use a fennel bulb much the same as you would an onion as a sauce base or to chunk out soups and stews. It works well with lemon or basic Mediterranean flavours and seafood. I particularly enjoy a bulb chopped and fried off with carrots then briefly boiled in some stock before adding some meaty white fish for a quick, light fish soup. Make sure you include the feathery herb ends from the top.
Weight for weight it is maybe not the cheapest veg going so I prefer to enjoy it fresh, raw and in season for maximum taste and nutritional pay off. Simply wash, cut the end off and thinly slice for salad or coleslaw bulk or even lightly pickled to top fish cakes, burgers or hotdogs. You can use the feathery herby ends in dressings or to make tea if that’s your thing.
Below is the dish that got me on to fennel some years ago, a summer staple from the repertoire of my lovely Step Mother* so thank you Helen for this one.
Fennel Step Salad
Serves 8 as a side
3 heads of fennel
1 large cucumber
50ml lemon juice
50ml good quality olive oil
2 big handfuls fresh parsley, well chopped
2tbspns caster sugar
Wash and slice the fennel. Peel the cucumber if you prefer then deseed it (stick the seeds in a smoothie later!) and chop.
Combine all other ingredients in an empty jar or bottle and shake roughly to mix until the sugar dissolves. Dress the cucumber and fennel well then chill before serving with BBQ meats, cold cuts, quiche etc.
* advance apologies to multiple other individuals now likely to claim violent rights to either this recipe or my enjoyment of fennel