One of my favorite things to make in the fall–the time when I break out my roasting pans and dare to turn on the oven again–is fennel. It’s one of the more unique-tasting yet surprisingly versatile vegetables that is at its peak this time of year. With a light yet distinctive flavor resembling that of black licorice, fennel can be an acquired taste for some but is easy to get hooked on. Just look at those pristine white bulbs and playfully fringed stalks: how could you resist bringing home a bunch to meet the other members of your crisper?
Whether you’re already a fennel fan or just making its acquaintance, here are some delicious ways to prepare this sweet and crunchy ingredient. Enjoy!
- Fennel Salad: Trim off the stalks and cut the bulb in half. Using a mandolin or very thin knife strokes, slice the bulb into half-moon slivers. You can chop the stalks and add them to your salad for a nice variation in size and texture, as well as an added boost in that lovely fennel-flavor. The raw strips pair well with avocado, citrus fruit (I like orange slices), chick peas, and chunks of heirloom tomatoes. Sprinkle with mint and basil, toss with a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, and top with a dollop of Greek or soy yogurt. This is the perfect way to savor the last vestiges of summer.
- Oven-roasted Fennel: Chop fennel bulbs into medium-sized chunks (save the stalks for your salad, or a soup stock), drizzle with olive oil, and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for around 25 minutes (longer if your baking sheet is fuller), rotating halfway through. When the fennel is soft–but not mushy–and slightly browned, remove from the oven and let cool. This is a great side dish on its own, especially with balsamic vinegar. For a heartier version, roast the fennel along with other root vegetables like beets, parsnips, acorn squash or sweet potatoes, and sprinkle with nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper. A jewel-toned feast for the eyes and the mouth!
- Fennel Stir Fry: For a variation on your standard Asian fare, use fennel strips instead of peppers in your stir fry. In a large saute pan, cook a small, sliced onion and two minced garlic cloves in oil until translucent and fragrant. Add a protein, like tofu or seitan, and cook until just browned on all sides. Then add your fennel and any other vegetables you like or have on hand: carrots and radishes work well and add color. With a dash of coriander, this dish becomes a savory companion to brown rice or quinoa.
Bonus: Fennel is a wonderful source of powerful nutrients, including fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C–great preparation for the cold and flu season ahead. Its layers also contain antioxidants, the most noteworthy being anethole, which combats inflammation and cancer.
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling