Fennel takes me back to the school days. Mostly every school in India would have street vendors outside the gate of the premises selling school kids their favourite food stuff like salted raw mango slices, amla slices, karvand (bush plum), ber(Indian jujube), tamarind and fresh fennel seeds on fronds! Little did I know at that time that this very fennel has bulbs from which the stalks grow and that the bulbs are edible raw as well as cooked!
Fennel is used for medicinal as well as culinary purposes. There are early references to fennel in Sanskrit writing where it is referred to as Madhurika. Indians have been cultivating fennel since almost 2000 BC. The ancient Greeks used to call fennel marathon and for them fennel was symbolic to success. The famous battle of Marathon was fought in a field of fennel and thus the name. Fennel is native to Mediterranean region and used in Italian cooking as well.
Florence fennel or sweet fennel or finocchio, as it is commonly know, is a plant with aromatic leaves, stalks, bulb and seeds that are edible. The flavour is similar to anise. The seeds are dried and used as a spice extensively in Indian and middle-eastern cooking. The most obvious use of dry roasted fennel seeds is as mouth freshener. The seeds are also used for oil extraction. They are one of the ingredients in the Chinese five spice powder.
The fronds with leaves are mostly uses as a garnish. The stalks can be boiled to flavour the vegetable/meat stock. The bulbs are crunchy and sweet can be prepared in a number of ways. Firstly they can be sliced thinly and used raw in salads. They can be braised, sautéed or grilled to soften them. Fennel can be used to flavour pastas and pairs very well with sea food as well.
While choosing the fennel bulbs, pick up small or medium sized tightly packed white bulbs. Avoid the ones that are cracked or have started rusting. The stalks should be crisp and not limp or rubbery and the fennel fronds bright green. Fennel needs to be refrigerated packed in a plastic bag to maintain the freshness and stays good for a week.
I prefer mandolin to thinly slice the bulbs. First trim off the stalks and save the stalk and the fronds for other purposes as explained above. Cut off the bulb into half straight down through the root. Peel off the outer layer if rubbery. The bulb can be further cut into quarters and then can be sliced thinly using a mandolin.
Now that you know how to select and cut the bulb, here is a classic combination of fennel with apple in a refreshing crunchy salad. The freshness and crunch of the fennel goes very well with the sweet thin slices of apple. Don’t peel the apples as it will add to the crunch and colour. Cranberries give a good sweet and sour balance along with the vinaigrette dressing. Toasted walnuts/almonds are not to be missed. Fronds will add colour and extra flavour.
Apple and Fennel salad
- Fennel bulb medium – 1
- Apple – 1
- Pomegranate seeds – 1/4 cup
- Dried cranberry – a handful
- Toasted Almonds/Walnuts 4-5
To be mixed into a dressing
- Apple cider vinegar 1 tbsp
- Olive oil 1 tbsp
- Honey 1 tbsp
- Pepper 1/4 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Mix the dressing ingredients together.
- Using a mandolin thinly slice the quartered fennel bulb and the apple. Reserve the fronds as as garnish.
- Toss together the sliced fennel, apple, pomegranate, cranberry, and walnuts and the dressing as desired. Garnish with the fennel fronds and serve cold.
This salad makes me nostalgic about the the school days every single time I eat it. Fennel is a good antioxidant and is rich in Vitamin C, folate and potassium. If you are a fennel fan, this salad will definitely refresh your palette. Give it a try and let me know how you liked it.