Rounded and curvy, with long stalks and fine green fronds sticking out atop its white bulb, fennel makes quite an impression.
Not everyone likes its distinct flavor, but I love it. It’s a sweet, cooling vegetable, reminiscent of licorice with a flavor that’s similar to dill or anise.
In fact, both anise and fennel belong to the Apiaceae plant family. You may see a vegetable labelled anise at the grocery store, but chances are, it is really fennel – only the seeds of the anise plant are typically used in cooking.
I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but have you tried it? Some people may feel intimidated by the strange look of this vegetable, maybe because they have no idea how to use it in their cooking. But actually, it’s easy to prepare.
What You’ll Learn
How to recognize if yours is fresh
Whether you get your veggies in a grocery store or at a farmers market, be on the lookout for these shiny white bulbs. They should feel firm and smell like anise, or even licorice.
If you notice brown marks on its white outer layers, you’ll know the fennel bulb’s best days are already behind it.
The stalks are edible, too. They should appear a vibrant light green, and with no dry or cut surfaces.
The green fronds at the end of its stalks should also be an intense color, without any wilted parts.
How to store the bulb
Fresh fennel is a sensitive soul.
Although it looks quite solid, it can easily acquore brown pressure marks and become soft. So treat it carefully – and be sure not to store it wedged between other vegetables.
The root vegetable is comfortable with cooler temperatures. The vegetable drawer of your fridge is an excellent place to keep it fresh.
Although you can store it wrapped in a brown paper bag on the counter for 2-3 days, you can also extend its shelf life up to 7-12 days total by covering it with a moistened kitchen towel, and keeping it in the fridge.
Freezing it is another idea that works out fine. This way, you can keep fennel fresh for up to 8 months.
An important step to remember: you must blanche it before freezing! Follow these simple steps:
- Quarter the bulb.
- Place in boiling water for 1 minute, with the juice of half a lemon squeezed in, to keep the fennel’s bright color.
- Place in zip-top bags, seal, and freeze.
How to use this veggie in the kitchen
Using fennel in your cooking is a wonderful way to add fresh flavor to your favorite dishes.
It goes well with many other vegetables – and one great advantage is that you can enjoy it raw, fried, or cooked. So whenever you’re looking for a raw salad ingredient or a warm vegetable side dish, fennel is a tasty all-around choice for both.
Plus, it’s incredibly practical that you can use all parts of it for cooking. Besides the bulb, the fine, green fronds are perfect for use in sauces, dressings, or salads. Their feathered appearance makes a nice garnish for soups or other dishes, too.
Before adding fennel to your meal, make sure it’s clean – sand or dirt can gather between the onion-like layers. With very large specimens, I also cut out the inside stalk, because it can have a bitter flavor and might too tough in texture to chew easily.
Determining how to cut it depends on the dish you will add it to. For raw salads, coarsely shredding it is a fine idea.
For stir fries, I like to chop it into chunks, either thin or thick. When cooked as a vegetable side dish, I love to cut it into quarters or thick slices – sometimes with the fronds still on – and serve it just like that. This looks fresh and fancy when it’s plated.
Whether you want to try it out for the first time or you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some tips describing what you might choose to combine with fennel in order to unveil its delicious, aromatic, full flavor.
If you haven’t done it before, try combining the bulb with Mediterranean vegetables – like sweet bell peppers, juicy tomatoes, or olives. Mushrooms like chanterelles or champignons are a delicious choice, too. You will see that the fresh flavor goes well with these kinds of ingredients.
A classic companion, this can be white fish, salmon, or more delicate seafood like prawns. Combined with a sauce of butter and white wine, it adds divine flavors to seemingly everyday dishes.
Just because fennel is an amazing pairing with fish doesn’t mean it won’t work well with meat! On the contrary, I love to serve fried slices of the vegetable with pan-seared pork chops or beef, along with some mashed potatoes or cooked rice.
If you’re more into turkey or chicken, fennel is the right answer. These lean meats combine with this vegetable just perfectly – especially when accompanied with a fruit and cream sauce, opening up some fresh flavor perspectives!
If you’re looking for a spice that works beautifully with the veggie, turn to curry powder. This mix of hot and fresh is a winner! Other aromatic spices like cardamom work better with fennel in certain dishes, but since I love to experiment, I recommend that you try out some other pairings and see what you like.
Don’t be afraid of mixing fennel with fruit. It pairs well with oranges and grapefruit, which have juicy, fruity aromas that are more than agreeable with that anise-like flavor.
How it can help to improve your health
As with so many vegetables and herbs, essential oils are responsible for the intense aromas and healthy compounds found within this vegetable.
These can bring relief to problems like bloating or digestive troubles. Plus, they can have anti-inflammatory effects – advantages found in the fresh bulb, as well as the seeds. Both parts may provide similar benefits.
The nutritional value of fresh fennel stands out, too. Have a look at how adding fennel to your menu can improve your diet:
- It contains twice as much vitamin C as oranges
- A medium-size bulb meets approximately 1/4 the daily requirement for calcium
- It is packed with iron, folic acid, phosphorus, and vitamins A and E
- Keeping an eye on calories? It only contains 24 per 100 grams
So, the next time you’re in need of a healthy snack, why not nibble on some fresh fennel sticks?
Maybe the wonderful veggie is already a part of your menu! Do you love the anise-like flavor of this interesting food? What do you like to combine it with in the kitchen? Share your experiences with fennel with me below.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.