Fennel : A secret with a unique flavor

If you have wondered what the cross between an Onion and Celery looking vegetable is, you ar not alone. Fennel, the vegetable, is very new to me too. When I used to think of Fennel, only the Fennel seeds (Saunf in Hindi) used to come to mind. But Fennel, the vegetable, is very new to me and I had a bit of learning to figure out what it is and how to use it, and to realize that Fennel seeds come from the Fennel plant.

Fennel comes from a flowering plant and it originated in the Mediterranean region, particularly Italy. The flavor is difficult to describe but delightful. Several have described it to have a Star Anise like sweet, spicy and bitter flavor. I would agree with the spicy (not up-front, but runs up your nose type of spicy) but I also think it taste fresh (for lack of a better word). Think of fresh grass and now taste it, a spicy freshness it what Fennel tastes like to me. Fennel can be eaten raw (just like celery), but it can also be transformed for different uses by roasting, braising or sauteing.

  • Raw – Shave into paper thin slices using a mandolin and add to salads for a crisp texture and a distinct flavor
  • Sautee – Chop and cook with choice of spices until the Fennel is tender
  • Roast – Cut into chunks, drizzle some Olive Oil and roast to tender, sweet perfection
  • Braise – Choose a cooking liquid (Wine, Citrus Juice, Water, Broth etc.) add the Fennel and allow is absorb the flavors as it tenderizes

Remember, Fennel is a multi-purpose vegetable. We have only scratched the surface of what it can be used for by talking about the bulb. The stalks and fronds also have great uses. The stalks can be used just like celery to flavor a vegetable broth or a stew. As for the fronds, they also impart a delicate flavor and can be a good substitute for other herbs such as dill or tarragon. I even used the fronds in a Tzatziki sauce and a raita. Better yet, use them as a garnish on a soup or in a green smoothie.

Why eat Fennel at all? Because the vegetable itself has a substantial amount of fiber, which is sure to keep your system clean. Fennel is also a surprisingly great source of Vitamin C. In addition to this, Fennel is known to have medicinal benefits such as being a digestive aid or providing relief from flatulence or other gastrointestinal discomforts.

Quick tips: To alleviate stomach discomfort, chew on a handful of fennel seeds for 5-10 minutes. Do not swallow the seeds, only take in the juices. After this time period, you can either expectorate the seeds or swallow them. You can also chew on a handful of Fennel seeds after every meal to aid in digestion.

What are some other things to know about Fennel?

  • Fennel is grown in cold seasons, but it is now available all year around
  • When buying Fennel, make sure that the bulbs are firm and clean with no cracks or brown spots. Also make sure that the stalks are firm and the fronds are feathery and not wilted
  • Fennel should be wrapped in plastic wrap and be stored in the refrigerator for no more than 4-5 days. Otherwise, it will dry up and will lose flavor

A vegetable and a spice lumped in one. This is truly a vegetable that deserves more popularity than it has today. I know that my impression of Fennel has changed, has yours?

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